by Rex Dayao
It was four in the morning. I woke up to the sound of roosters and motor boats passing by the shallow river nearby. It’s another pre-sunrise scene in our small Manila Bay island. My mother sat near the stove made of recycled tin, fixing slippers. She would cut those which were too big, sew which strands were broken or have it burnt to fix holes. They were those seen floating in the sea the day before.
“These are for your brothers and sisters”, she told me with a smile.
My mother always smiled. She never complained.
I know that our daily work in gathering oysters and algae is causing a toll on her and it wasn’t easy to raise twelve children. Still, our daily struggle to have food at the table seems bearable because she can make any difficult situation to be easy, worn out things to be something new.
“Drink your coffee and grab a piece of bread, we will gather oysters with your brother. I’ll paddle the boat while you can throw away the water that’s coming in. Our boat has many holes and you need to be quick in getting rid of the water for us not to sink”, my mother said. I immediately had breakfast.
My brother helped me in pushing the boat out of the bamboo podium and my mother started paddling the boat towards the oyster farm.
We had the boat full of oysters. I ran towards the nearby deep well and took a bath. I needed to rush since I still had to go to school. It’s almost eight in the morning when I reached the school. Teacher Evelyn was checking the attendance when I arrived. After that, I she started to narrate a story of Dr. Jose Rizal when he was young.
“Pepe, the young Rizal, decided to roam around Laguna Lake with his older brother Paciano. He was so fascinated with the water that he soaked his feet on it, and his slipper was taken by the strong current. Long before Paciano can ask him what had happened, Pepe grabbed the other slipper and threw it the water. Paciano asked Pepe why did he throw away the other piece and Pepe replied, ‘to make sure that the one who may get it will have a complete pair’.”
I smiled. Somehow, Rizal and my mother are almost the same. Rizal cares for those who may get the slipper while my mom is making scavenged slippers into something new.
In August 2014, the maker of our slippers died. That was the first time we encountered death in the family. We grieved, but the amount of support that we got from relatives, friends and co-workers made the process bearable. Even at the time that we were able to bring her to her interment, there’s still money left out of the benevolence.
I told my family that the said money was not ours, but our mother’s. And she couldn’t bring the money to heaven. “Is it possible for us to give back to the community as our mother’s legacy?” we thought.
We came up with the idea of connecting our friends to the people of our small island-barangay by introducing “Project Slipper,” an opportunity for the generous people to extend acts of kindness by donating a dollar or its equivalent to buy a pair of slippers for someone in Pamarawan island in Bulacan who might be in need of them. The said slippers would be named after the donor so that the recipients would realize that someone cares for them. We asked for the assistance of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) to provide its services.
Inhabited by more than 5,000 people, majority of which are children who are sons and daughters of fishermen, the way of living here has not changed for generations.
I posted a status in Facebook in September about Project Slipper. In less than 24 hours, more than one hundred people responded to the call and are willing to be part of the project. Few days before my mother’s 40th day in heaven, more than 300 donors gave their pledges.
The first Project Slippers in 2014 were able to reach 384 children. In 2015, pre-schoolers from the Seigakuin International School sold cookies to raise funds and donated it to KKFI. Together with the students of La Grange College Georgia, we visited six communities in Manila and Bulacan and have provided more than 600 slippers to children. In summer, local donors also gave slippers to participants of the Vacation Church School and made more than 400 children beaming with pride.
In January 2016, the Seigakuin students raised at least $700. KKFI staffs immediately facilitated the purchase of slippers and with the help of the students of La Grange College Georgia, we have provided 700 slippers to students of West Fairview Elementary School, learners of Alternative Learning System at the Manila North Cemetery and to children living at the dumpsite in Pulilan, Bulacan.
Children of Pamarawan during the First Project Slipper.
After 22 months I could still feel the agony of the terrible loss. There were mornings that I wished that I’d woken up to find her by the makeshift stove fixing slippers. It was her who taught us how to care, and now it is her legacy that told us to care for others. Caring for others heals me.
I have more than 20 pairs of slippers and shoes now. I thank my mother and those who helped me have a better life. My mother was able to give me hope through her hand sewn slippers, KKFI and its donors were able to give children dignity. In less than 22 months, we were able to give more than 3,000 slippers.
Children posing with their slippers at the Manila North Cemetery last January 2016. Funds for the slippers were raised by Seigakuin students.
I thank Rizal for teaching me to think about other people. I thank my mother for setting a good example on how to live, and how to help others and appreciate life. My mother and Rizal are my heroes and I will always remember their examples in reaching out to people.
Project Slipper’s journey has just started and I know that there will be more feet that will be in need today, and in the coming days. It will always be my personal mission to provide soles for the souls.
(Rex Dayao is the Program Director of KKFI. He is very close to his mother and wishes to honor her memory. He hopes more partners would continue support Project Slipper.)