CANDLE OF HOPE

by Larren Jo N. Basilio

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.

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Larren Jo Basilio, fondly known as LJ, leading in a prayer during the Likharal at the Manila North Cemetery.

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.

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LJ (left with Flor Tatoy and James Aguilar teaching a dance during the LIkharal.

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.

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