Sunday, November 23, 2014.
It’s my first visit in Cagayan De Oro City. For some, when they hear about Cagayan De Oro City, first thing that will come to mind are whitewater rafting, the long zipline, Camiguin Island tour and other adrenaline-filled activities one can do while at CDO. I didn’t do any of that. Instead, Rhaine, the head of Child Protection Brigade Volunteers and one of hosts for my sudden visit, invited me to join him and his friends for a few hours of visit to the Boys Town in Brgy. Lumbia, Cagayan De Oro City.
I’m a public school teacher so I’m very much exposed to stories of kids living in high need areas and them being underprivileged. I am also part of the advocacy of equality of education for every Filipino child. I thought I’ve seen it all. I was thinking visiting these kids will not be different from my daily tasks. I’ll just teach them a song and then help distribute some hygiene kits we had come up with, share some merienda, then take photos and the day will be over, I will have another story of adventure and sharing when I get back in Manila later that afternoon.
A few hours of interaction but the memories and realizations about my visit will never fade away. It is etched in my heart.
As soon as we start walking into alley towards their session hall, everything felt different. I saw teenager boys playing basketball at the nearby court. They then stopped playing and rushed to their rooms to get dressed. I met their social worker, Ate Marish, who then helped us set up and prepared the kids that day.
It took a little while for everyone to be gathered so I got the time to chat with the younger kids who were too excited about our arrival and were very much ready to welcome us. These are kids, I told myself, I can handle them. So, I asked for their names and ages and then Joseph, 12, one of the boys told me, “Nung isang Sabado lang ako dumating dito.” Then, it strucked me, these are not ordinary kids, I may be working with kids in high need areas, but most of them still have their families. These kids are mostly orphaned, disowned, abused or whatever might suffered from cruelty from whoever.
The conversation continued…
“San ka galing?”
I actually don’t remember what place he answered for that question. I think he said he is originally from Butuan.
“Iniwan ako ng nanay ko sa palengke ng 2 years old pa lang ako.”
“Eh bakit isang linggo ka pa lang dito”
“Namatay na kasi yung umampon sakin.”
“Tapos nagpagala-gala na ko. Nakita lang ako ng pulis at dinala ako dito.”
“Kumusta ka naman? Mas ok naman dito diba?”
Then he smiled.
Then the program started. Rhaine introduced each of us -- Me, Lala, John and Imee. We all went into a circle and introduced ourselves. I’ve met 21 boys ranging from ages 4-20 years old. A great number are teenagers and are studying under Alternative Learning System or ALS. They were all smiling when they introduced themselves. A bit shy but still smiling.
Thoughts were already running through my head. I am not in a classroom. I am somewhere else where kids have been through a lot and they probably are undergoing healing, getting support from each other and trying their best to live a normal life. I was thinking of teaching them our Community Song in school as a reiteration that they live in a community and that they have to work and help each other.
I tried my best to look composed, I introduced myself again.
“Hi, ako si Teacher Kat. Grade 3 teacher ako sa isang public school sa Quezon City. Katulad lang din ng school nyo yung nandyan malapit sa labas.”
We played Simon Says, a bring-me game which I wasn’t really prepared for. So I tried to be fun as much as I can. I asked for a Gray Hair, Toothbrush, a Flower and a School ID. All of which they enthusiastically brought to me. The kuyas were so competitive that they ran outside and into their rooms to get the items.
Then, it’s time to teach the song. I started to sing. They were all silent. I tried teaching them the actions of the song, but I seem to have been lost.
“Pasensya na kayo, kinakabahan kasi ako.”
Then one of the older guys shouted.
“Wag kang kabahan, ituring mo kaming parang nakakabatang kapatid mo lang.”
I felt relieved and tried my best to be composed and excited about the song. The big boys look so cute while dancing and the younger ones where trying their best to sing the song as well.
Still, I was rattled. But then, the day went well and Rhaine took over the next part of the hour and did some more games until it’s time for some meryenda. Everyone gladly took their share. We shared two trays of banana bread and a big jar of juice. It was a very humble meal and, everyone gladly fall in line and took their share.
Then it’s time to distribute the hygiene kits Rhaine prepared for them. Inside it are two sachets of shampoo, a toothbrush and a small bar of bath soap. He asked me to give it to them one by one, I was a bit hesitant because I was just there as an invite and that it was really him who made this visit possible for all of us. So, as a starter, I asked what the importance of clean body is and how to keep ourselves tidy. They all jovially answered. Then I reminded them, that it’s important that they keep themselves healthy and clean because they have to finish their studies and later on, be the ones helping other people. I even kidded that they are not yet allowed to have girlfriends, that they have to finish their studies first. Then, every time get hold of their loot bag, they say, “Thank you.”
As a thank you gift, the Swagger Group, a group of dancers they have in there, prepared a hiphop-techno dance for us. The two youngest boys also joined they really captivated the audience with their own groove. They also know the steps, and they look for adorable trying to dance the steps just like their Kuyas.
While everyone was trying to have some good time, I asked Ate Marish about the other things these boys would need. She said that they have so many clothes. I asked if they have a library, she said, they currently don’t have. Also, I noticed that their utensils are not that much, so I guess, kitchen and dining pieces are also needed.
It’s time to end the program. So Rhaine, said our goodbyes and the boys started to go on their own ways. Back to their usual Sunday stuff I guess, the young ones were still in the room hanging out with us. All smiles. I know they wanted to say more but I personally have a hard time understanding their dialect.
I was trying to check out the property, asking Rhaine about the orphanage when Ate Marish came and we said our exchange of thank you and goodbyes. Then, I saw Joseph again.
“Magpapakabait ka dito, ha. Bibisitahin kita ulit.”
“Makikita kita sa TV!” was the last words he said and then left.
I actually don’t know why he said that. But, it felt good that somebody had thought that I am a celebrity. Haha
Our program ended early because it was really an impromptu one so we still got the time to visit one of Lala’s friend within the vicinity for some refreshment until we are ready to go back to the city as I have a plane to catch later that afternoon.
The visit lasted only for a few hours. I was leaving the place with a heavy heart. Not because I pity those kids but because I wasn’t prepared for it. Would they even remember I visited them? For sure, a lot of other people and organization had been reaching out to them. Will they even remember the song? Will they even realize the meaning of the song? I don’t know. I haven’t really taught them anything that they don’t know. But they did teach me something.
Their smiles. That’s one of the best smiles I’ve seen. These kids had been through a lot and still they had manage to smile. They share their life openly not because they want other to pity them, but it’s a sign that they had accepted their situation and that they are trying their best to life their life just like any other child.
They are family. They may have lost a family in the past, but they had found a new one and a new home. I am so happy that they had seen me as an “Ate” even though I just met them for a few hours. It meant so much, to be respected and to be trusted by their healing souls.
They sing and dance to tune of the music. I really didn’t do well teaching them the song, my hands were all over, my voice was a bit tense but still they got me going. They made the song lively and they danced happily to it. They can find the happiness in every little thing.
They say “Thank you.” With a smile. What we gave them would seem very small yet their thankful. Endlessly thankful. I’ve heard the word so many times that day, uttered smilingly. It felt great. We’ve only given them a few but their grateful, I wonder what more if we can them something big and something that won’t fade.
The bristles of the toothbrush will grow old and would need to be replaced, I am sure though that their smiles will always be there.
The shampoo and bath soap may ran out, I am sure though that their souls will stay clean and free from hate from whatever dark past they had.
A few hours of interaction that had left a mark in my soul. They taught me many things. I had always loved my parents but visiting these kids, made me love my parents more. I am such a blessed soul. I can say that I am positive person but there will really be days that I feel that the whole world is against me but these kids reminded me to keep my positivity ALWAYS. I may not know all their name, their stories, but I know that they have been through a lot, far more than I can imagine, yet they manage to smile and get through the day and accept what life had to offer them.
I promised to come back. As to when, hopefully, as soon as the school year ends. This time, I want to share to them something that doesn’t fade nor ran out. I want to share to them my love for reading, I want to share that wonderful experience of being lost in the pages of imagination and opportunity.
Just like any other kid living with their families, they deserve to know. They deserve equal opportunity in education that will open more doors and windows for brighter future. When, how and what would it take for me to get this done, I still have to figure out. I know I am not alone. I have Lala, Rhaine, Imee and John to back me up. See you again CDO. See you soon, Boys Town.