The groundwork for change, the search for purpose- What keeps us impassioned? With all the abject poverty that surrounds our children here in the Philippines, and multiplying by the masses, how do we get from here to there? How do we begin to infuse ambition, drive, and hope in our children? When you encounter mothers and fathers who sacrifice everything, work to no end, and then are still unsure of how to earn enough for their family’s next meal- when the equivalent of a mere $40 tuition for their children’s education is beyond reach, the inability to pay for their children’s school uniforms and school supplies; are these the experiences that empower us to actually address the hardship and help our kababayan? Is it when you’ve finally come to realize that you’ve been blessed many times over in your life that you stop to say thank you, and then truly offer your blessings to those of lesser fortune?

For all that I am unaware, for all the things that I don’t know, I am certain the Bisdaks have a greater knowledge for giving, service, and purpose than I’ve ever possessed or demonstrated in my lifetime. I can pray for change, pray for my people…and never lift a finger to help. I can hope and wish for blessings for our children and never make a difference. It seems that so many can, without knowing, set out on a course for just average, to do average things, to plan for just average results. The APFI extends its heart-felt thanks to a group from Cebu that understands that if we are to make sense of all this and truly make a difference we cannot begin without extraordinary planning, sacrifice, and care. The Bisdaks efforts would prove to be atypical and far more than just average.
From the moment Tessang, Justice, and I touched down, the Bisdaks were grassroots and essentials. Just moments to settle in and we were off for a quick mission briefing over dinner with Bang Longakit, Egay Salvacion, Raul Luremae, Fastinio Astillo and Victor Astillo, to name just a few. As though they left nothing to chance and given only weeks to prepare, they drafted Misyon Regalong Handog with little conjecture. I suspected Tessang was at ease and comforted in knowing that the Bisdaks had truly poured countless hours and effort into planning what would be an extraordinary day.

For perspective, think about that at some point today, most of us will say a prayer, fight the morning rush, spend most of the day indoors, spend time with our spouse…spend countless hours online, spend time with our children, eat too many calories…fill in our free time watching television in a home where there are more televisions than people to watch them- be fascinated by the rich and famous, argue over celebrities, quarterbacks and random nonsense…and come nightfall , maybe think about where to take our hopes and dreams. Reset to Sitio Kamanggahan, Barangay Guadalupe, Cebu City- for just a day, and imagine a small village against the world, against global competitiveness, against the world economic forum. A town, unkempt and course, most indicative of the Philippine provinces I’ve come to know, yet a town that is trying its best to be more than average. I couldn’t begin to tell you how the typical day plays out, how an ordinary person in Guadalupe fills the day, or even how to define average here. What I can tell you is that for a child in Barangay Guadalupe, it will not be a question of faith or what they desire and where their dreams take them, but rather who will believe in their dreams, who will teach and give them reason to aspire and be more than average. In my estimation, Misyon Regalong Handog is more than an ephemeral gifting of food and hygiene. Dig deeper and it is the brainchild for change, a model to be more than average. On August 7, 2010, the Bisdaks captured the day’s worth and made the children’s happiness their focus and duty.

The day began with an early brunch with Raul Luramae, Mila Aguilar-Lasquites, and Lucy Itoh. Keyed up and ready to take on the day, we arrived at Sitio Kamanggahan and made the acquaintance of Counselors Dino Faelnar and Micheal Gacasan, teachers, notably Mylene Tura, and fellow volunteers alike. Following the natural preparations of assessment and set-up, we fell in for a 1:00pm assembly- a volunteer orientation and at 2:00pm began the day’s work with a prayer. Following Lyla Gecain, Bang Longakit, Egay Salvacion, and Julie Romano’s welcome remarks and announcements, Tessang would address the assembly and share a personal note of praise and gratitude that Arnel had forwarded to her the night before. To start, John Al Arenas from the Department of Health would donate his time by sharing lessons of proper hygiene with the children.

I must say that I admire Justice who, despite fever and flu, would not be deterred in her duty as she made it a point to be a part of the day, refused to withdraw from her responsibilities- while combating sickness and nausea, still managed to contribute a great deal. She has been a radiant example of volunteerism. (Many thanks to all the Bisdaks who took turns in seeing to her wellness.) The day progressed like clock-work, timely and with order. The children were treated to fun and games with a quintet of dancers and two amazingly talented, tireless clowns who would entertain a growing crowd for literally hours on end. Bisdak volunteers would remain high-spirited and purposeful even as the day wore down and the children fell in line one by one to receive their gift-bags. To my amazement, the children remained unduly enthused and involved. Unusually attentive 3-5 year old children- and I thought, to no degree are these children average or second-rate as the natural social order will attempt to deceive them into believing. And I know that however lasting or evanescent our work here proves to be, each remains a remarkable gift. I will not be cheated into believing that one child is more significant than another based on where they live or how they survive. All are valuable. All have the ability to make the biggest difference. They will suffer fourth-class conditions, endure a seemingly pitiless environment, but they are first-rate in capacity, intellect, and heart. We must always see them in this light. May we teach them nothing less than to know their value. They are worth everything.

I’d like to share with you the efforts of a teacher that I came to know at Misyon Regalong Handog. For perspective, there are 9 Barangays in what is called District 3. Of all the Guadelupe Daycare Centers accredited by the DSWS, there are a total of 7 teachers. Now, of the 31 total daycare teachers in all of District 3, Mylene Tura, per an educational 2009 Evaluation Program, was awarded 2nd place for District 3 by the Department of Educational Ranking. The program consists of oral, written, and live classroom demonstration. Mylene Graduated UC Secondary Education, has been teaching for 4 years and is currently teaching at the “Little Angels Daycare Center” in Sitio Kamanggahan, Brgy. Guadalupe Cebu City. Her expertise is in teaching grades K1, 1-3yrs and K2, 4-5yrs. She begins her day at 8am teaching a class of 23 students. At 10am she then teaches another group of 27 students. At 1pm, she faces yet another 38 students for the total responsibility of 88 children. For now, the classes are held 5 days a week outdoors under a tent. (There is a small classroom under construction, suitable for about 15 children at a time.) Her students come from families that cannot afford to send their children to the local public school where the tuition is roughly P2000 or $44. Parents will compensate Mylene Tura P75 or $1.60 per month for their children to attend her daycare center- a salary of a little over $100/month. Of this, she will actually allocate, out of her own pocket, whatever materials she deems necessary to help her children learn. She explained to me that she uses a methodology of teaching that doesn’t require books- my modest guess, a subsequent practice born as the result of a harsh reality, but an actual concept of education nonetheless. I truly see Mylene Tura as nothing less than a hero. Should any of my life’s work come even remotely close to her daily routine of teaching our children in the outdoor heat under a make-shift tent, might I have achieved something of relative significance in my lifetime? I ask that anyone interested in providing aid, learning more about Mylene Tura, her challenges and the “Little Angels Daycare Center” to kindly direct your questions or comments to the APFI website. I will personally be more than happy to contact Ms. Tura on your behalf.

For the APFI, many thanks to all the Bisdak volunteers and to all the donors of Misyon Regalong Handog. Your efforts are a model of heart, kindness, and generosity. Consider the archetype of Misyon Regalong Handog and you will arrive at life’s purpose. Together, may we make every effort to help our children overcome average, to be significant, outlast failure and show them how to get from here to there.

I speak only from observation and reflection in that we can often act as though we are squeezing the priority of our children into our schedules. But let us believe that they are the most important part of our lives. If loving our children is to be the greatest aim of the APFI, let our example here echo in abundance. I believe that the Bisdaks, in their toil, have revealed a paradigm or sorts and exposed to us all what our true objective in life should be. The most enduring impact we will have on this earth is how we love our children. We will never know a greater work nor possess a more significant identity. We will never find a more meaningful purpose. To love our children is to love God. May we not need a lifetime to learn this.

Will Mallari – APFI Volunteer
PHOTOS by volunteer Justice Flores at the site gallery. Thank you!

Bisdak volunteers:
Lyla Gecain, Arlene Gecain, Bang Longakit, Raul Luramae, Jogi Gecain, Mila Lasquites, Lucy Itoh, Egay Salvacion, Sonny Alquizola, Cherry Yap Limboy, Jennifer Solis Yap, Ethel A. Olandria, Faustino C. Astillo, Victor Astillo, Jr. Loudette D. Alquizola, Recy P. Romano, Julie Anne Romano, Marvin G. Dullo, Mappi Kusuno, Anabelle Pajo, Mark Mantua, Naomi Vernaiz, Sophiya Vernaiz