It seemed curious, but I observed that the staff and volunteers who joined the retreat and team-building of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro shared a common theme in their assessment of the recent activity—GRATITUDE.
Literally all of them were in the thanksgiving mode—expressing their gratitude to God, to KKFI and to their respective families.
In that respect along, the May 25-27 retreat was a success, although the event did not start with flying colors. The venue on the first day was a trial, to say the least. The original venue was not as beautiful as depicted in its website. And that is an understatement.
Despite the initial disappointment, we trudged on and conducted the planned activities. We are reminded that God is with us.
We started with the retreat by reading the Bible text:
22Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”
25 The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him;
The first activity was writing in “Post-it” papers and discussing in groups the things we were thankful for. We had a good discussion on how grateful we are to God and His daily provisions. We had long lists in our Praise List.
Then we placed our lists in a paper heart on the floor. As we sang songs of thanksgiving, we felt God’s faithfulness and that His love is not consumed, it new every morning, great is His faithfulness.
After a 10-month hiatus, my fate brought me to Manila once more. Peacefully living in the isthmus of Bataan where I enjoyed the fresh air, morning breeze, and green pastures, my body longed to respond to my first call–service—both community involvement and youth empowerment.
Teaching is part of our family heritage. Most of us are involved in this ministry. In fact, for the last eight years, I was part of 6 Daily Vacation Church Schools in Bataan. I used to teach in Sitio Boracay, which is the total opposite of Boracay in Aklan. Houses there are made with wood planks. The community is quite isolated that one needs to take a short ride on a raft. Everything in Sitio Boracay is superlative.
Haunted house, vampires, manananggal, white lady, name it. These were the first words that popped in my mind on my first attempt to visit Manila North Cemetery as Likharal teacher. I stared puzzled at every mausoleum filled with appliances, mausoleums that serve as flower shops and sari-sari stores, and home for the living and the dead at the same time. It sounds crazy but, yes, it is real! For my longest time living in this world, it was the most shocking community I have ever seen.
My first day was disastrous. Nobody was listening. I tried every single strategy I usually do and nothing seemed to work. I asked one of my students, a nine-year-old, who was staring blankly at some object.
“Anong natutunan mo?” “Wala,” he replied, to my dismay.
“Ano na lang narinig mo sa kwento ko kanina?” I continued.
“Wala, hindi ako nakikinig. Iba iniisip ko,” he answered in a very strong voice.
“Anong iniisip mo?”
“Kung ano pwede kong pagkakitaan mamayang hapon.”
“Hingi ka na lang kila mama at papa mo.” I urged.
And he replied fiercer, “Baka ako pa nga magbigay doon e.”
I was at a loss for words for a moment. I didn’t know why but, somehow, I feel the burden that this child was bearing. He and his friends chose to stay away from the group. I continuously approached these boys and kept on feeling the atmosphere.
After some time they started sharing their stories. Most of them dropped from school and their ages are no longer suitable to their last grade level, making it harder for them to come back. Days passed and the class of 30 was divided into three.
“Bawal ang pangit sa grupo namin; dapat magaganda lang lahat,” an 11-year-old uttered.
A commotion broke out 20 steps away from me after class when another girl shouted “Gyera na!”
Emotions were stirred and one thing led to another, prompting a understandably nervous parent to whisk her daughter away from the scene.
Earlier during a game, a group refused to accept defeat and initiated a fight. I was caught off-guard. When confronted them, nobody wanted to take the blame. I tried to talk to both sides, but they both ignored me. What they wanted was to continue throwing punches at each other. I admit I was at a loss of what to do at that moment.
Teaching the good news (the theme of Likharal 2017 was “Tell the Good News”) was really a huge challenge! I could not even tell if my students learned anything. They seemed vent on denying me the pleasure of knowing they absorbed something, anything!, from me. I wanted to give up and let the week just pass me by. But then I was reminded of our Likharal’s lesson: the Lord empowered Paul, formerly known as Saul, to tell the good news perseveringly amidst imprisonment.
I was reminded that when Jesus called His disciples, they were not at their best. It is the series of tests that made them faithful followers of Christ. It is the series of tests that enabled them to see the unbelievable and fight for the doubtable. It is through and by faith that they were able to follow Christ while He was preaching, healing, and praying. And once when the disciples doubted, Jesus got up and calmed the storm.
“Bakit ka bumabangon?” One time Ate Love told me after a very tiring day of ALS class. “It is because you love and care for them.” That is the exact feeling I have for my Likharal students. This time I cannot be what I once was. I could not make them silent, I chose to be with them in making noise. As the saying goes, “If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em.” I chose to enjoy and learn what others see as a chaotic world. I mingled and tried to understand. I learned not to beg for what they cannot give. In a dim world, I lit a candle of hope, telling them that I strongly believe in their capabilities. I knew from the start that they might not memorize the things I taught them, but I trust that they will not forget them. What the mind can’t remember, the heart can.
Matapos ang dalawang taong pakikibahagi ko sa “LikhAral” ng Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI), dumating din ang pinakahihintay kong pagkakataon ngayong taon na ito.
Dati ay tagasaway lamang ako ng mga makukulit na batang kasali sa LikhAral. Bukod nga pala dito ay taga-ayos din ako ng mga kalat at tagabili ng pagkain ng mga mag-aaral at titser na nagutom matapos ang dalawang oras na sesyon. Ngunit ngayon taong ito, iba na ang level ko. Isa na ako sa mga guro ng LikhAral!
Nag-umpisa ito nang anyayahan ako ni Ate Christian Love D. Gagno na maging bahagi ng “Trainor’s Training” na ginanap sa Baguio City ilang buwan lamang ang nakakaraan. Nakasama ko doon sina Flora Mae Tatoy at Raquel Fabre, na pawang staff ng KKFI. Maraming iba pa ang nakasali sa nasabing pagsasanay at sila ay pawang nagmula sa mga local churches ng United Methodist Church (UMC).
“Tell the Good News” ang tema ng Vacation Church School (VCS) ngayong taon, at ito ay pinag-aralan namin sa loob ng tatlong araw. Ang mga participants ng training ang may responsableng ipahayag ang nasabing mensahe. Naitanong ko tuloy sa aking sarili: “Kaya ko ba?”
Ito at iba pang mga tanong ang naglaro sa aking utak. Siyempre pa, kinakabahan ako pero, ewan ko ba, may galak akong naramdaman sa aking puso. Totoong natutuwa ako sa karanasang aking pinagdaanan sa Baguio. Nakakilala ako ng mga gurong may kanya-kanyang katangian at kakayahan. May masungit at may mabait. Ngunit hindi ko naramdamang hadlang ang iba’t ibang pinagmulan dahil iisa lamang ang aming layunin—ang maipalaganap ang Mabuting Balita sa mga kabataang lalahok sa VCS, o ang KKFI version nito na LikhAral.
Nakakatuwang isipin na may iba’t ibang pamamaraan upang ipahayag ang pag-ibig ng Diyos sa sanlibutan. Sa Baguio, nakita ko kung paanong pinagsama-sama ng Panginoon ang mga taong hindi magkakakilala upang magkaisa. Sadyang kahanga-hanga kung paano itinuturo ang pag-aaral ng mga kanta, ang paggawa ng mga bagay-bagay mula sa malikhaing kamay ng mga kalahok at ang paglalagay ng tamang aksyon sa mga liriko ng kanta.
Tinuruan kami kung paano magpatawad at humingi ng tawad sa mga taong nakasakit at nasaktan namin. Kung magagawa umano ito, masasabi mo na kung kaya mong magpalaganap ang salita ng Diyos.
Maaaring maiksi lamang ang tatlong araw sa ganoong klase ng pagsasanay pero ang mga aral na natutunan ko ay naipunla na sa aking puso at isipan. Siyempre, hindi natatapos sa Baguio ang aking pagkakatuto sapagkat ibinahagi namin nina Flor at Raquel ang aming mga natutunan sa mga kabataan mula sa Tondo, Manila North Cemetery at Bulacan. Ang isang guro ay patuloy na natututo habang siya ay nagtuturo.
Ang pinakamahalaga kong natutunan ay ang katotohanang Malaki ang impact ng tatlong araw na LikhAral sa buhay ng mga bata. Nakakagalak sa aking puso ang makita silang nagpupursigeng magawa ang iniatas sa kanilang gawain. Kay gandang tingnan na ginagamit nila ang kanilang malikhaing kamay, mga boses, mga kamay at paa sa pagsunod sa liriko at ritmo ng bawat kanta.
Wala ngang imposible sa Panginoon. Sino ang mag-aakala na 40 kabataan ng Tondo ang tatanggap sa leksyon ukol sa pag-ibig ng Diyos? Kaya’t ang epekto sa akin nito ay tagos sa aking pagkatao dahil nakakataba ng puso ang kaalamang mahal ka ng mga kabataang-Tondo.
Alam kong naituro namin nang maayos ang mga dapat matutunan ng aming mga estudyante, na siya namang magtuturo sa mga batang lalahok sa limang araw na pag-aaral sa Tondo, Paredes, MNC at Bulacan. At hindi nga nila kami binigo dahil maayos nilang naisagawa ang LikhAral sa mga lugar na nabanggit.
Nakakapagdulot ng ligaya na maisalin sa mga estudyante ang mga leksyong aming natutunan sa Baguio. Kung minsan nga ay nananaginip ako na nagtuturo ako at nag-uunahang sumagot sa tanong ang aking mga mag-aaral, sumasali sa bawat palaro, gumuguhit gamit ang krayola at papel at nagbabasa ng mga assignment.
Alam naming hindi perpekto ang aming mga nagawa. Maaaring may kulang. Pero tiwala kaming naihayag namin ang kailangang iparating na tema na “Tell the Good News.” Nananampalataya ako na ang bawat batang nakilahok sa LikhAral—sa kanyang bawat pagkanta, pagkembot sa saliw ng awit, pag-memorya ng Bible verse at pagpapatotoo na mahal sila ng Diyos—ay nakapiling ang Panginoong Jesus sa mga panahong iyon.
Alam ko na hindi natatapos dito ang mga katuruang inihatid namin. Sa kapangyarihan ni Jesus, ito ay simula lamang.
The sound of children’s laughter grows as the KKFI car approaches the rotunda near the entrance gate of the Manila North Cemetery.
As our driver Bong Lanuza turns the first curb, I could clearly see a bunch a class running and playing a parlour game in the relatively spacious area of the cemetery under the care of Kuya Larren Jo “LJ” Basilio. I approached them and asked them how they were doing.“Mabuti po!” they answered in unison.
I nodded at LJ and walked some 50 meters further down the concrete road where, in the gated empty mausoleum, younger children were busy drawing on a paper under the supervision of Teacher Joanna Merced.
Another bunch of children between 6 and 8 years old are eagerly listening to Teacher James Aguilar’s story-telling while Christian Love Daroy-Gagno, the acting Program Department director, stands in a distance observing with apparent satisfaction.
Vince Eliver, the coordinator of the area, arrived with a container of water, a plastic of ice and a bag of biscuits for the students and staff members’ merienda or snack. Teacher Flor Tatoy was also there to handle yet another class of kids from the MNC. Halie DeGuzman, a volunteer intern from California, USA, was there, too, and I heard later on that she was such a hit among the young students because of her pleasant personality, especially her sweetness to them.
It was the third day of the two-week-long LikhAral, a version of Vacation Church School initiated by the United Methodist Church (UMC) and to which the KKFI added a twist. LikhAral is a combination of two Filipino words “Likha,” meaning to create, and “Aral,” which means to learn. Hence, LikhAral is not a traditional experience for kids. And they love it!
Aside from the MNC, the teachers from KKFI also conducted LikhAral in other parts of Manila like Tondo and the KKFI compound and in Pulilan, Bulacan, particularly in Gilead Center, Tramo and Looban. All in all, the educational sessions lasted for two weeks, from April 25 to May 5.
As I was looking at how the children of MNC enjoyed attending LikhAral, I was amazed at how much the poor and underprivileged children crave for knowledge and experience of creating something. I saw it in their eyes.
I thought: “I am happy God allowed us to come up with LikhAral. I am happy that KKFI is able to provide these kids such an experience.”
We have been conducting LikhAral for a decade now. It was already in place when I started working for KKFI six years ago. I am glad someone from the staff of KKFI during the time of my predecessor, Mrs. Priscilla Atuel, thought of such an innovative project.
I am proud of my staff for their selfless dedication and their talent in teaching kids. I know how tiring and uncomfortable the conditions they had to endure, considering it was suffocating heat of mid-summer.
Their effort was well worth it, they told me. Seeing children enjoying and learning at the same time is priceless. Such dedication make me double proud of them.
“I am happy because I have proven to myself that despite poverty, one can succeed,” shared by Hazel Dungog, 22 in the vernacular. “I was determined to succeed because I do not want to disappoint or break the trust given by Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) management and staff.”
Hazel, a KKFI scholar, is the first Alternative Learning System (ALS) passer to finish a four-year college course. She belongs to the first batch of students in Sampaloc, Manila who pioneered the ALS program of KKFI in August 2011.
Last March 31, she graduated with a degree of Bachelor of Science in Criminology from the University of Manila.
In my previous interview with Hazel in March 2013, I have seen how determined she was to achieve her dreams. She was teary-eyed when she narrated to the hardships she was undergoing.
She is eldest of five children of a construction worker. Though their mother helps augment the family’s income by accepting laundry and selling bananas, their income was not enough. Hazel had to stop going to school and help earn money.
“Before, my dream was just to graduate and pass the board examination and be a faithful and honorable law enforcer. Now, I want to give a better and comfortable life for my family,” expressed by Hazel.
“I am thankful to KKFI for being supportive. They even gave me a place to stay during my last year in the university,” added Hazel.
Hazel was referring to her one-year stay at Kapatiran dormitory when their rented room in Mayhaligue, Sta. Cruz, Manila was demolished. Though they were able to save money for the room rental fee and down payment when they stayed at their grandparents’ place, the room they could afford was too small.
She said she enjoyed staying at the dormitory where she was comfortable. She was a diligent student whose routine is dorm-school, home-dorm.
Most of all, she is thankful to KKFI for giving her a chance to finish school and achieve her dreams.
“I am grateful to see and know the importance of education,” she exclaimed. She added, “I am happy to experience the importance of unity in a group and to be able to participate in the activities of KKFI.”
Hazel was referring to her stint as a volunteer assistant teacher at the Child Development Center and as a teacher at the LikhAral (Create and Learn) Program. She was also able to experience the Lakbay-Aral and team-building activities for KKFI staff and volunteers.
At present, Hazel is working as a collector at the CMDCO Cooperative. She believes in the mission of CMDCO to help vendors expand their business and to increase their capital by providing loans to these vendors at low interest rates.
Hazel plans to continue working while reviewing for the comprehensive examination for would-be law enforcers. She intends to save as much as she can in order to help out in her family’s expenses.
She advised her fellow scholars and ALS students to continue what they started and to never give up and give in to trials and difficulties. She said they should focus on their dreams and be determined to succeed and not to break the trust given by KKFI and to prove that it did not make a mistake in helping them.
Her wish for KKFI is stability. She hopes KKFI will continue its mission of helping the needy and underprivileged. She prays that KKFI would have more recipients and beneficiaries.
“Thank you to all the staff of KKFI in the Administration, Resource Development and Program departments most especially to Sir Vincent Eliver, Sir Rex Dayao, Ma’am Nancy Nicolas, Ate Love Gagno and Ate Judith Ramirez,” as Hazel enumerated the staff who proved instrumental in her success.
“Thanks too to the donors and partners of KKFI like Ma’am Ruth Flores, Sir David Ahearn, Sir Philip Myers and to the LaGrange College.”
In conclusion, she thanked everyone for the unending support and assistance to the scholars and ALS students, saying, “May God bless you. Mabuhay po kayong lahat!”
A loud cheer greeted the Rev. Olympia “Oly” Hidalgo’s announcement during today’s (May 2, 2017) morning devotion of Kapatiran staff that she will stay as the chaplain of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI).
The Philippine Annual Conference (PAC), where the KKFI belongs, held its yearly meeting in Tagaytay Mission Camp in Tagaytay City last week. On the last day of the holy conferencing, Manila Episcopal Area (MEA) Resident Bishop Ciriaco “Cerrie” Francisco announced the church assignments of pastors and deaconesses. Some of them had new assignments and some were retained.
“You have to bear with me a little while longer,” she told the KKFI staff jokingly. Pastor Oly is set to go to Iowa state in the United States a few months from now (probably August 2017) to do mission work there as a United Methodist Church (UMC) church worker. It was an assignment she had been waiting for in more than a year.
Bishop Francisco’s decision was what exactly Pastor Oly was praying for. She needed to be assigned within Metro Manila, at least, to allow her to work on her visa for her U.S. assignment. She was almost assigned to a mission church located in a remote part of Batangas. She had to ask for DS Max Gabriel and Bishop Francisco’s understanding and consideration in order to make her wish come true.
Of course, I am very happy to welcome back Pastor Oly, even if only for a few months more. I am also very glad that Pastor Maricel Osias, Pastor Oly’s replacement once she leaves for the U.S. sometime between this month and August, agreed to wait.
Choosing the chaplain for KKFI must be a bit more difficult for the bishop. The chaplain of Kapatiran must possess certain qualities that should fit the position. Aside from the KKFI staff, the “congregation” of the chaplain includes the 300 dorm residents, the beneficiaries of KKFI program such as the students of Alternative Learning System (ALS) and scholars, the senior citizens who gather weekly to join the Day Center for the Elderly and the total population of the University Belt (U-Belt) in Manila where the Kapatiran compound is located.
I also glad to have female pastors as chaplains of KKFI. We are contemplating on coming up with an aggressive campaign against sex predators in the U-Belt. I had a chance to talk to an acquaintance who happens to be active in the fight against human trafficking and sexual abuse. I was aghast when he told me of pastors of the church and professors of universities who take advantage of their young female church members or students sexually.
Hence, a female pastor as KKFI chaplain is a preferred choice. She has a long list of things to do for the Foundation. Only one thing I can assure her: Working in KKFI as a chaplain is an exciting and memorable experience.
Again, I greet Pastor Oly a big “Welcome Back!” I am also looking forward to the time Pastor Maricel will start working for KKFI as the head of its Pastoral Care Department (PCD).
Pastor Maricel is not new to KKFI. She stayed with us when she, her husband Darryl and their cute one-year-old daughter was still looking for an apartment to rent. Pastor Maricel is from Mindanao, where she and Darryl, the Administrative Assistant of Bishop Francisco, first met.
When the bishop was re-elected last year, he chose the Manila Episcopal Area (MEA) and reappointed Darryl to the latter post. Hence, the whole Osias family needed to transfer from Kidapawan City to Manila. And, yes, the bishop also decided to appoint Pastor Maricel to the chaplaincy of KKFI.
So, to Pastor Oly and Pastor Maricel, the whole KKFI family says: “Welcome back home!”