In hardship and poverty it should be easy to agree on which symbols are worth fighting for. In a place where lack of asset and fortune are perfectly matched, how important is a child’s perception of education? In today’s world, celebrity advocates are commonplace. There are celebrities who pretend to be humanitarians, founders and co-founders that pretend to make reform. What is uncommon is to chance upon one whose devotion and drive come from a genuine desire to make a difference by the agency of what he himself once bore. The Mobile Street School Project marks the beginning of Arnel’s true, inherent vision. It is the promise of education and a child’s pursuit of knowledge that the APFI assumes to help facilitate and fulfill.
May 30, 2010. Quezon City. It’s Sunday morning and I see familiar faces… pleased to see some new. I’m inspired to witness a growing family of APFI volunteers. I recognize them as people genuine and ready to give of themselves. They are a growing list of friends and affiliates. A few moments of chit-chat and table-talk and Tessang briefly recounts the day’s activities as Justice Flores hands out our APFI T-shirts. If Tessang were capable of predicting how the day would play out we might never leave for congratulations and gratitude. As it was, we changed into our new APFI shirts, crowded into the APFI mobile van as Paul Cajipe, ever-dependable had us on our way.
We arrived at Sitio Bakal Barangay, Bagong Silangan, Quezon City in extreme rural outskirts of town. Picturesque and provincial, equally unrefined and rough; Paul parked as close as the roads would allow. We toppled out of the van one by one into the heat, unloaded school supplies, toys, and provisions as we all shared the payload; one by one, two by two, we started on a hike through course plains once flooded by Typhoon Ondoy, and where in the sad aftermath floated carrion and debris through the same fields. About 20 minutes later we reach our destination.
An open concrete building played host, small in size but adequate in need. Just minutes after our arrival the children started to roll in. Tessang addressed the crowd as we punched the clock and began our assignments. Despite close quarters and brute heat, volunteers were undeterred and focused. It was a clear message of purpose. Divided into teams surrounded by children, group by group, they made acquaintance. To my recollection Anne and Rowie Gutierrez, Rowena Cruz, Myrna Casastano (Nina,) Celine Sabitsana, Loyda Gutierrez (Dhang,) Helen Cabatbat, Danny Agoncillo, Jeffrey Dublado and Michelle Inciong carried on the immersing task of interviewing the children, sizing their situation, evaluating their standing, level of education, gathering information that might later be used to help assess their character. Kelle Llorera and Mohammad (Moha) prepared the provisions, organized and distributed school supplies, food, drinks, toothbrushes and toothpaste. We worked as a group with one accord and attempted to actualize an ambitious vision.
About 2 hours in and a handful of children emerged, select in both comprehension and astuteness. Nina measured “Melody Inoseda” an attentive child who aspires to be a doctor. Rachelle Cartalla, grade 4, yearns to be a singer, and even hung a note for Nina to hear. Anne Gutierrez concluded that “Phillip Rebullido,” 7 years, showed clear signs of increased aptitude. All these were promising and positive associations.
As the day unfolded Justice made the memorable acquaintance of “Virgilio Y. Sibbaluca Jr.” It was a human connection with a boy on crutches of whom she felt may have been overlooked, dismissed, or just lost in the mix. Justice made sure that he was not discounted. In a show of concern and affection, she secured a notebook and other school supplies. Incidentally, and in her own thoughtfulness, Kelle had set aside a few toys for the specific reason should any children go casually unnoticed. Suitably, Justice asked Kelle, “Are there any toys left?” And in this manner, together with the school supplies Justice placed a yellow toy truck into a gift-bag. I reasoned that her consideration must be mentioned as it was an instinctual act of a whole heart. It was an unconscious act of kindness; not taught, and is a clear message of proper human behavior to us all.
When the day was done I asked Tessang, “What did we accomplish today?” She replied without delay, “We were able to introduce the APFI to this community. We were able to supply them with school supplies, educational material. We interviewed children, gathered information regarding their lives, their home-life, their parents; we let the community know who we are and what our purpose is.”
The day marked the first steps of Arnel’s long-standing dream. Education is the fundamental basis of who we are and who we are to become. Whatever your station in life, there is always a place for it; always room for growth and in turn growth with one another. There is no exclusion to the rule. It is outright and absolute. We are all bound by it to evolve and to advance. Congratulations to the donors and volunteers; together the day was made possible. In the end the greatest achievement will come when the efforts of the APFI are not needed and the Philippines itself falls in love with the idea of what it could be and what its children can achieve.