“I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.”
~ The Greatest Love of All by Whitney Houston
There are some, if not many simple things that a man experiences in his lifetime which impacts the way he perceives things. Through these experiences, he learns more about his environment and gains a deeper understanding on how the most simple units of society operate. In this manner, he becomes a better version of himself.
One of my perspective-changing experiences happened on a scorching Saturday afternoon in the quaint town of Silang, Cavite, adjacent to the tourist city of Tagaytay. It was in Tita de Guzman-Angels of Hope Foundation, Inc., that I came to gain a broader perspective of life. Angels of Hope is an orphanage housing 28 children who, in their young lives, have more harrowing experiences than any normal child usually do at this phase in their lives.
This marks the first time that I entered an orphanage so initially there was a feeling of unease and wariness. I had no iota on what to expect upon entering such institution. Though I have heard and read a lot of literature on orphans and orphanages, it still didn’t prepare me with what I will witness and feel that fabled Saturday afternoon.
“The Eyes Are The Windows To The Soul”
When the time came for us to meet them, 28 pairs of sleepy eyes were ushered into the common hall. They have just been awoken from their scheduled nap after entertaining a different group of goodwill ambassadors. “The eyes are the windows to the soul” is an adage that came to mind as I foolhardily tried to peek into their innocent eyes. I just couldn’t begin to fathom how I felt that moment. I cannot, for the life of me, look straight into their eyes.
“How must these children be seeing us?” I asked myself. What horrors and miseries could these innocent eyes have witnessed? What spin of fate have brought 28 children into the confines of this orphanage? Is it such a cruel world we live in? These are just among the questions that bugged me that very instance. I believed that what these children have experienced transformed them into bitter individuals. BUT I WAS PROVEN VERY WRONG.
As I probed deeper into their eyes, I was expecting anger, I was expecting pain, I was expecting accusatory glances. My pseudo-trance state was only broken when the children were asked to perform for us. Still unsmiling and a bit wary of us, the children danced like automatons programmed with microchips. I later on learned that dancing is just among the activities that these children are being taught and the visits are great chances to showcase their dancing skills.
When the mini-program was done, we catered the food to the children. There was still a feeling of tension in me. Because of this, I unconsciously created a bit of distance from the children. I was too nervous I became aloof. But after the children ate, the gloomy and monochromatic mood that initially beset the event were cast away and in its place, a livelier and colorful mood set it.
Their energy replenished, the children started playing and goofing around. As the mood picked up, my colleagues started mingling with them, asking them questions and exchanging anecdotes. The once bemusing eyes turned into one of delight and of curiosity. While the children were gamely throwing questions to my colleagues, I just absentmindedly witnessed the proceedings from my own vantage point.
The Stick Person
I was raring to talk with these children but something was holding me back. I really wasn’t so sure how to establish even a semblance of communication with them. But I didn’t have to torture myself further as a frail-looking approached me and started playing with my watch.
“What is your name?” I asked.
“Samuel,” he said.
“How old are you?”
“I am eight years old.” It came as a shock to me because he didn’t look like how a normal eight-year older would do. He is too thin and too short. This gave me a general idea on how these children were raised. Do note that we were barred from taking photos of the children and from asking them personal questions.
He then took a piece of sticker paper and a pencil then started drawing a stick-person. Once done, he placed it on my watch.
Curiously I asked, “Who did you draw?”.
“You,” he responded.
“What is he holding?”
“Espada (Sword)”. I drained my brain trying to think what the sword symbolizes. Could it be that these children look up at us to defend them from the horrors that they’ve witnessed at such young age. That is what I have surmised.
What Sam next asked me threw me off-balance. “When will you come back? Will you be coming back on June?”. A lump suddenly formed on my throat and it rendered me speechless. How can I even begin explaining to him that the chances of us meeting again is virtually nil.
I didn’t want to perk up his expectations because I blindly wanted to protect this frail child from the harsh realities of our world. For me, he is too young and I didn’t want to gamble on the off-chance that he is prepared to accept the fallacies that I can throw his way. I breathed a sigh of relief when my colleague answered him with a “safe” answer.
“May Papa na si Bensan”
After Sam, a bunch of other kids approached me and tried playing with me. One is John Paul (J.P.) who, like Sam is eight years old and also too frail and too short for his age. I often hear through television about malnourishment but this is my first heads-on encounter with it. I didn’t realize that is was that widespread.
The first girl to approach me is Bensan. She is nine-years old has two brothers with her staying at the orphanage, Josuel and Benson. Compared to the others, she isn’t as timid and as shy with her colorful words. I had to scold her for using a profane word to describe her fellow child. Despite the reprimand, she remained by my side the rest of our stay and amused me with stories about the other children.
One of the children, Lyca, who uncannily resembles her namesake, The Voice Kids’ Lyca Gairanoid, noticed how Bensan stuck by me said “My papa na si Bensan,” or roughly translated, “Bensan now has a daddy”. I just smiled Lyca’s quip. Bensan grew on me and I on her that even when we left, she enthusiastically looked at me and waved goodbye.
Having the most loquacious child by my side definitely helped a lot in placing names to various faces. Bensan is one natural Scheherazade that she told me who among them were already adopted. One of them is Heaven.
Now Heaven is the complete opposite of Bensan. He is as timid as Bensan is talkative. He just stayed on a corner away from us, reading a leaflet. We tried to get him to talk with us but he just shrugged us away. He was so aloof that it caught me by surprise when he approached me and sat on my right lap. Bensan was already seated on my other lap.
I asked him questions and he hesitantly answered with his meek voice. I learned that he is also eight-years old and is also in the same malnourished condition as J.P. and Sam. He was also already adopted by Spanish citizens. Do note that Angels of Hope only have an international license which means they cannot have the children be adopted locally. DSWD has issued local licenses to only two orphanages.
With the two children in tow, we watched as the other children sang and performed. Unfortunately, me and my colleagues didn’t prepare any presentation for them. To close the program, we were all asked to speak one-by-one. Tears started welling up my eyes as the programs started drawing to a close that I couldn’t bring myself to say the things I wanted to.
Then the time finally came for us to wave goodbye. The children resoundingly said goodbye to us but there were some who were also overtaken by emotions. They couldn’t easily let us go as we do with them. But ultimately we all have to learn to deal with life’s harsh realities, and it’s doubly hard for these children because they have to learn to say goodbye every single time someone visits them.
Though Bensan waved me goodbye with a wide smile, the most memorable and emotional goodbye was given by Heaven, when he dashed towards me and hugged me. Taken by surprise, I returned his hug and twirled him around, at the same time, muttering to his ears that he be a good boy. I don’t know, he I grew up on him for some unknown reason, and it touched me deeply.
A Roller Coaster Afternoon
After interacting with the children, I felt so emotionally drained. It was one harrowing roller coaster ride. Though it didn’t start the way I would’ve wanted to, I ended up learning a lot about myself and about these children. Our territory manager pointed out that the children naturally liked me. What can I say, children are just so dear to me.
This experience left an indelible mark on me that on the next day when we attended a mass, the children’s images still filled my mind. To keep myself at bay, I prayed for them, that He help them cure the maladies that their innocent eyes have already witnessed, and that He strengthen their resolve as they sail for greater things in life.
The mark left by this experience is so strong that the stick person that Sam drew of me is still with me. I kept it on my wallet, to remind me how blessed I am. It serves as a reminder that there are just things and experiences that one could never trade for anything else in this world.
Though I am saddened to leave, there’s a voice of relief and hope in my heart. These children, even though they didn’t start well in life, will finally get a second shot at living. But one thing that I am even prouder to say is that they are Filipinos. The qualities of resilience of Filipinos run through their blood, and I know deep down that whatever life will bring them, they’d battle it through and survive, just as they already did. Lest we forget, these children are our future.
“The youth are the hope of the nation.” Parting words from our National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal
P.S. For those who wants to donate and allot a portion of their time to these children , below are the contact details:
Tita De Guzman Angels of Hope Foundation Inc.
Address: Purok 5, Pulong Bunga, Silang, Cavite
Email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: (46) 637 5939 | +63918 507 4440 | +63917 515 3303 | +63930 955 8641