THE 44-YEAR-OLD KOLEHIYALA

Yup, that’s me. And this is my story.

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HOW IT ALL STARTED

I have never denied the fact that I totally suck at Math. When I was studying in UP during the early 90s, it had always been my waterloo. I took Math 11 (College Algebra) three times, Math 14 (Trigonometry) six times, and Math 101 (Statistics) three times. During my last sem, I got a conditional grade of 4.0 in Math 100 (Calculus) so I took a removal exam. That was back (way, way back!) in 1994. I was already working and pregnant with my first child when I learned that I failed the exam. However, things that were much more important than trying to pass my Calculus started to happen almost all at once.

First, we had baby #1. Then, I had to quit my job because my husband’s work required us to move to the province. Baby #2 came along, and baby #3 after just another year. A few short years later and it was time to send them all to school. Then, we had to move to another province.

Before I knew it, more than two decades had already passed me by.

When two of our children were about to graduate in the same university that brought me and my husband together many years ago, I decided to take a leap of faith and enroll Math 100. I’ve been thinking, wouldn’t it be nice if the three of us all graduate at the same time? A mother and her two children. Also, I wanted to surprise my parents. They had no idea that I didn’t graduate in 1994. I just fed them with the lie that, during that time, I didn’t want to march with a protruding belly.

 

IN PURSUIT OF A DIPLOMA

Going back to school had not been easy for me, though. It was, in fact, extremely difficult and challenging.

Every Tuesday and Thursday for a total of four months, I had to wake up at 3:00 AM to prepare my family’s breakfast and make the commute from Bulacan to UP Clark for my 2-hour class.

My classmates were too young, younger than my youngest child. They called me Tita, and would always talk to me with po and opo. Thankfully, my teacher was almost my age. However, she had the annoying habit of addressing me Ma’am. In shame, I wished the ground would open and swallow me up each time she would do that.

In my desire to pass Math 100, I had to rekindle so many long-forgotten relationships that I would rather bury in oblivion — with X and Y, with Sin and Cos, and with Limit, Derivative and Integral. As a long-time wife and mother, my brain has been wired to dealing with and solving domestic issues and conflicts, no longer to decoding the complicated relationships between equations and functions!

I also had to endure the humiliation of being tutored by my son. I knew that it was equally hard for him (he was often my shock absorber cum emotional punching bag especially when I would get frustrated due to a difficult lesson) but, as a parent, I had been used to doing the teaching to my children. It should not be the other way around.

During exams, I was always this one big, useless, confused, mumbling ball. Nobody at home would dare talk to me or ask anything from me. I was so focused on reviewing days and nights before the exam — only to have the various topics mixed up in my mind during the examination itself or to forget everything I’ve meticulously studied. For the first five minutes of my first long exam, I got completely immobilized by nerves. My brain refused to function, my heart was racing, I was breaking into a cold sweat, I was feeling dizzy and lightheaded, and I had difficulty breathing. When I eventually managed to will my hand to move, it was shaking uncontrollably. I thought I had to run to the clinic!

Unsurprisingly, I earned a singko for that exam.

Things didn’t get much better during the succeeding exams. I still suffered from panic attacks or would be prone to pre-exam “catastrophes” such as the flu, early arrival of the monthly period, and diarrhea.

During the final exam, I was among the “walking dead” or those students sporting eyebags the size of a golf ball, disheveled appearance, and glassy eyes.

I had a perfect attendance and I was always the first one to arrive in the classroom. I was attentive and I always did my homeworks. At one point, I even got the highest score in our exam (but that still failed to push my grade to a passing level.) My teacher knew that Math 100 was the only thing that was keeping me from my very elusive diploma. She knew how badly I needed to pass that subject.

In the end, though, she still gave me a grade of 4.0, with no option to take a removal exam.

I was devastated.

I was furious.

I was embarrassed.

I found comfort in my husband and children’s assurance that there was no shame in what happened. I did my best, and that was what’s most important, they said. In hindsight, I realized that if my teacher gave me an undeserved passing grade out of pity or sympathy, my high regard for UP would be shattered.

So, when the hubby and kids urged me to re-enroll Math 100 the following sem, I did just that. That time around, I chose to enroll in UP Diliman.

 

THE SECOND CHANCE

On the very first day of class, I wanted to quit.

I learned that, unlike in Clark, I had to go to Diliman four times a week for a one-hour class each day. Every Tuesday and Thursday, my class would start as early as 7:15 AM and my classroom was on the third floor! (On Wednesdays and Fridays, it was a little later at 8:45 AM. Class was on the fourth floor, though.) My teacher was really young, just a little older than my eldest child. And when I saw the course outline, I knew right away that the pace would be brutal, the coverages (particularly for the first two quarters) would be long, and no exemption from the final exam would be allowed.

My children could take as many as seven subjects in a sem, and I would expect them to bring home impeccable grades, while there I was, allowing myself to abandon my long-time dream of earning a diploma, to give up the fight even before it started, to be daunted by the obstacles that a single subject entailed.

And so, with my children as my inspiration, I went ahead and kept going.

After two sems, I acquired more white hair and reacquired migraine; nightmares and panic attacks became my constant companions before exams; I reconnected with caffeine; I lost at least 15 pounds of unwanted fats (this, I considered a positive development); the sight of square roots, absolute values or greater integer functions no longer frazzled me as much; and I have come to appreciate more the effort that my children have been putting into their studies. But, most importantly, I was able to accomplish my goal.

Together with my two children, I am going to graduate tomorrow!

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LALA, OUR CUM LAUDE!

We already had two sons when Lala, the youngest and the only girl in our brood, came along. I’m not sure if it’s the same with other parents, but there was something about the arrival of a daughter – our daughter — that instantly inspired a farrago of emotions in me.

I was, of course, ecstatic for being the recipient of such an amazing divine blessing, and excited to take on the challenge of raising someone who could be a little version of myself. However, I was also anxious knowing that the world she was about to open her eyes into was not an ideal place for what the society calls the “inferior and weaker sex.”

And that was when my protective instinct as a mother started to kick in.

I know that this sounds a lot like stereotyping (I didn’t feel the same way with my boys, after all), but I’ve always had this irrational notion that our daughter was as extremely delicate and fragile as my grandma’s fine China. In fact, when I first heard her cry and felt her warm body comfortably nestled in my arm, I had an instantaneous desire to pull her into a tight embrace and never let go. The urge to shield her, to protect and defend her, was so strong, so immediate and so unbridled, it was almost stifling in its intensity. I had to make a conscious effort to remind myself that no harm could possibly come to my precious one — especially since we were still at a hospital at that time and were closely surrounded by family and friends.

She was a crybaby as a toddler, so I expected her to be whiny and petulant. As the youngest in the family, I thought she would develop a sense of entitlement. Being the only girl among all the cousins in her father’s side, I was expecting that she would be vain, frivolous, and superficial, and would grow into a temperamental prima donna. Her brothers were already academic achievers even then, so I was already preparing myself if ever she would turn out to be an academic non-performer and a quitter.

Growing up, though, she proved to everyone that she was made of tougher stuff.  She did not only defy my expectations; she managed to surpass every one of them.

She would display fierce independence early on. I could still remember this one time when, as a 3-year-old toddler, she stubbornly refused the hand offered to her by her ninong while we were all climbing the unfamiliar stairs in the latter’s new house. We were worried because even a single misstep could be fatal. But, she kept going — slowly, painstakingly, resolutely. And when she reached the top of the stairs, she faced us and beamed with utter pride and an undeniable sense of accomplishment.

She had been like that ever since.

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As a schoolgirl, she was competitive yet accommodating to her classmates who would approach her for help. She was focused and driven, and she knew her priorities. Her perseverance and diligence were admirable. She would have her notebook/reviewer with her all the time in case there was a lull in her busy schedule. But when, finally, she was able to tick off every single item in her to-do list, she would relish the time she spends with her family, friends, and orgmates. For her “me time,” she loves to bury herself in her novels.

As a friend, she is amiable, forgiving and easy to please. She has a ready smile for everyone and is loyal, even to a fault. Don’t be fooled by her small frame, though, as to attempt to intimidate her. She could hold her own and could even be a merciless bully to someone twice her size when provoked.

She is so simple that she doesn’t see the need for any makeup, accessory, jewelry (even a wrist watch) or perfume. The only indulgences that can bring a spark to her girly eyes are clothes and shoes. But even with those, she is never impulsive. She knows the style and color that she wants, and she sticks with it.

She is self-assured and confident in her own skin, and is fair in all her dealings. She is morally upright — hating shortcuts, quick fixes, and palakasan system.

She is beautiful, both inside and out. She is compassionate and empathetic to the plight of others. Secretly, she has a dream to change the world for the better, or at the very least, to be part of that change.

She may not look it, but she is a voracious eater. She eats almost anything except those with mayonnaise and ketchup.

She is politically aware and socially conscious, and is a girl of principle and conviction. Whenever her schedule permits, she goes with us to talks, rallies, and other protest actions.

She is an amazing ball of contradictions — demure yet tough, soft-spoken yet assertive, and gentle yet fierce.

Now that she is growing into a young woman, we are discovering, much to our delight and surprise, that the two of us have much more in common than we previously thought. I used to think that all those talk about mothers and daughters growing into best friends is just romanticized. But, not anymore. Increasingly, we find ourselves giggling at the same girly stuff, swooning at the same gorgeous hunk, crying at the same scenes of some telenovela or movie, smiling conspirationally at some naughty idea, and getting enraged by the same societal injustices.

The moment she smiled at us for the very first time when she was a baby, she had us completely wound around her little finger. She was like a warm ray of sunshine on a chilly morning, a cool breeze on a humid afternoon, a glimpse of heaven here on earth, and a reminder that there is still hope, after all.

Today, she still continues to amaze us. As if all her academic achievements were not yet enough to make us eternally proud as parents – she was accelerated and conferred with the second highest honor during preschool, she was hailed the batch valedictorian in grade school, she passed the Pisay entrance test joining the company of 239 other academically-gifted high school students who bested 20,000 examinees all across the land, she managed to get into the University of the Philippines with a quota course of BS in Biology, she bagged a DOST academic scholarship, she earned a 99+ percentile rank when she took the National Medical Admission Test, and she was accepted to the medical school of her choice—, she has recently managed to surprise us with yet another accomplishment.

Our daughter is graduating Cum Laude!!!

WHEN OUR CHILD’S WORLD CRUMBLES

In the entire span of your life as a parent, you will undoubtedly face countless challenges. You will soon discover, however, that the toughest and most hurtful are those which cause your children immense pain and suffering.

I should know.

As a parent of three young adults, I have already witnessed innumerable times how my children would struggle and, each time, my heart is ripped into tiny pieces.

  • Emar losing his front tooth when he, as a toddler, tripped on the pavement.
  • MD as a baby with a heart murmur.
  • Lala getting her hand burnt when I was cooking while she was in my arm.
  • Emar experiencing his very first loss in an academic competition.
  • MD being bullied by his classmates due to his big voice. (He never talked in school for an entire year because of that. Irked, his adviser locked him up in a tiny, dark storage room.)
  • Lala being fed by her teacher with a piece of crumpled paper.
  • Emar caught up in the throes of his first romantic break-up.
  • MD relentlessly compared with his siblings, and always found lacking.
  • Lala finding herself struggling academically in high school after she graduated valedictorian in grade school.

Just recently, Emar, our firstborn had to contend with a disappointment so great that caused his world to crumble.

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Emar has always been an academic achiever. The impressive array of medals, certificates, scholarships and scholastic commendations and citations he has received and amassed since his preschool years can easily attest to his unquestionable love of learning, and to the discipline, hard work and perseverance that he continues to consistently demonstrate as a student.

It, therefore, pained us to witness how devastated he was when he learned last year that he could not graduate alongside his friends and batchmates from the UP Dep’t. of Chemical Engineering.

He was a candidate for Cum Laude, so when he and his group encountered a trouble in their Plant Visit subject, he opted to drop the said subject rather than earn a grade of 5.0 which could adversely and irrevocably affect his ‘Laude status. In UP, though, there are certain subjects that are strictly offered on a seasonal basis only. Sadly, the subject that he had to drop was one of those. (It was also a prerequisite to a subject that was a prerequisite to another subject.) So, he was left with no other option but to take his 12 remaining units in 3 successive sems (5, 4 and 3 units for each sem respectively).

We were, of course, disappointed and dejected. He was, after all, the first grandchild from both sides of the family and, thus, the first one expected to graduate in college. The entire clan, especially Tatay Bebot, his paternal grandfather, was excited to see him walk up the stage to receive his college diploma. (Sadly, Tatay Bebot would no longer get to see that day. He died of brain aneurysm last year.)

However, when we saw how miserable Emar had become because of what happened and how he would beat himself up for it, we put aside our own personal feelings to provide him with the support and assurance that he so badly needed at that time.

Thankfully, he was able to bounce back, albeit painfully, diffidently, slowly.

He used his ample time to pursue productive endeavors.

During his first underloaded sem, he became an active tutor in the three tutorial centers he was affiliated with. He mastered not only one-on-one but even class tutoring. Also, he found himself teaching not just students like himself, but also professionals reviewing for the Civil Service exam!

The next sem saw him busy completing his 300-hour internship with Petron Corporation. Assigned to its Research and Development department, he was always excited when he would learn new things and gain additional knowledge, and when he was able to actually apply the lessons he learned in the classroom into the actual processes he was allowed to be exposed to in the company lab.

He also learned how to drive, much to our chagrin and worry.

For his last sem, he planned to work while he studies. Unfortunately, his schedule didn’t permit that so he went back to tutoring, instead.

We all though that a one-year delay in his graduation was the worst ordeal that he has had to bear as a student. We thought wrong.

Yesterday, we learned that his appeal to be allowed to graduate with honors (despite underloaded sems) was denied. (Incidentally, it was also yesterday that we learned that Emar’s baby sister, Lala, who is also studying in UP, will graduate cum laude. That story would have to be for another blog post, though.) Emar has a General Weighted Average (GWA) of 1.587432, safely within the university requirement of 1.450001-1.75 for Cum Laude. Two of my children should be graduating with honors come this June but, since Emar’s reason for underloading is not considered valid under the Revised UP Code (health, employment and unavailability of subjects are the only justifiable reasons cited, a fact which we learned belatedly), only Lala will do so.

This entire experience will, undoubtedly, leave a scar on our son. The thought that people might be talking about him with either pity or ridicule (“Our high school valedictorian did not even finish college on time.”) could sometimes stop him in his tracks. The regret of not having his Tatay Bebot witness his graduation will always bring tears to his eyes. The pain of having disappointed us when he failed to graduate with honors will gnaw at him like an itch that doesn’t go away. But, this entire experience will also instill in him some hard-earned lessons on grit, humility, the values of time and family, and the uncertainty and fragility of life — valuable lessons that will, hopefully, stay with him when he is dealt with tougher challenges in the future.

Emar, anak, the path that led you to this particular moment had not been easy. It was strewn with trials, adversities, uncertainties, disappointments, difficult choices and hopes — fondest, cherished, dashed, renewed and, finally, unfulfilled. But like the true warrior that you are, you persisted. You strove. You overcame. You triumphed.

Congratulations, anak. You may not graduate a cum laude but we are still very proud of you. We are certain that you will accomplish greater things in life. Just remember never to lose heart. When you feel that the universe is conspiring against you, when trusted friends turn their backs on you, when adversities simultaneously assail you, when your best efforts are greeted with indifference, when you fall flat on your face again and again and again —just keep on going. Don’t give up. A miracle may just be around the corner, patiently waiting for you. And rest assured that when that happens, I, your daddy, your siblings, and the entire Baldonado and Aquino clans will all be by your side, cheering you on until all your dreams turn into reality.

 

IMPORTANT ADDENDUM:

Emar received a correspondence from the University Council exactly six days prior to the university graduation. The decision was reversed. My son is going to graduate Cum Laude!!!

 

 

HEROES IN OUR MIDST

It was in one of my Economics subjects back in college that I was able to learn an important lesson….and it had absolutely nothing to do with economics.

It happened 26 years ago but I could still remember it quite vividly.

After seeing my dismal score at the front cover of my blue book that our Econ 11 teacher just handed me, I immediately leafed through its pages, hoping that my teacher made some kind of mistake in checking it. I even borrowed a seatmate’s blue book and compared our answers. Right after dismissal, I hurried after my teacher and, right there at the crowded corridor, I told him, “Sir, I think you made a mistake in checking my blue book. My seatmate and I have almost the same answers. You considered his answer correct, and mine incorrect.” Tight-lipped, he told me, “You should not compare yourself with others. You compete only with yourself.

I didn’t know if he was just in the mood to be philosophical right that moment, or if it was his instinctive reaction when a student happened to catch him out committing a mistake. Nevertheless, it worked. I did not pursue my complaint. More importantly, I took his profound words to heart. It became one of my guiding principles in life.

That teacher is Mr. Rey Yumang.

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A TEACHER’S TRANSFORMATION

Sir Yumang (or Mama Rey as he was fondly called in the campus) received his degree in Economics from the University of the Philippines in Pampanga in 1989. He graduated Cum Laude. In 1993, he completed his master’s degree in Business Management, also in the same university.

Although teaching is in his blood –his father was a retired public school principal and his eldest sister was a teacher–, he did not heed the call right away. Fresh out of college, he worked for a year for the Department of Trade and Industry as part of a special project for the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program (CARP) beneficiaries in Pampanga. Then, stumbling upon a chance to give back to the Alma Mater that had been very good to him, he accepted the offer to teach in UP Pampanga as an Economics instructor. It was during his 3-year teaching stint there that he was able to take and finish his master’s degree. In April 1993, he started a promising and financially-rewarding banking career with the Bank of the Philippine Islands as an Operations Manager. He resigned after nine years, with the initial plan of studying abroad.

But Fate had another plan for him.

Their parish priest in Macabebe, Pampanga asked him to handle the high school department of their small archdiocesan school even for just a year. He agreed. Apparently, he found his true calling there because this is now his 14th year as the school principal and one of the teachers of the St. Nicholas Academy: CCEI.

A TEACHER’S CHALLENGES

Teachers in the Philippines –especially in private schools– might be among the most grossly underpaid, overworked and unappreciated professionals.

Each school year, Sir Yumang experiences firsthand the repercussions of our faulty educational system. They encounter incoming grade 7 students, for instance, who have difficulty reading or cannot read at all. Those are students who get promoted to the next grade level, year after year, without fully receiving the kind of education that is due them.

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Also, every year, they hire teacher applicants who are fresh graduates. They invest in them through various trainings and seminars. But the moment they pass the Licensure Exam for Teachers (LET), they transfer to the public schools where the pay is definitely better. The only way to prevent this annual exodus of teachers is to offer them competitive salaries and benefits but doing so could only be possible if they implement a tuition fee hike. This move, though, could mean losing some students – a grim possibility that they could not afford since the continued survival of any private school is dependent on the number of its enrolees.

Another constant challenge that teachers have to confront is how to make parents realize that they need to be the school’s fruitful and active partners in molding the minds and characters of their children. There are parents who still have this debilitating mentality that once they enroll their children and pay the fees, their obligation is done.

Sir Yumang is also aware that, as an openly gay principal of a small private school in a small community, all eyes are constantly trained on him. Sometimes, he even gets the feeling that people are just waiting for him to commit a blunder that will cost him his career.

A TEACHER’S REWARDS

However, despite all these challenges, coupled with the daily demands and pressures that being a teacher and principal entails, Sir Yumang has never been this happy and fulfilled in his entire life!

He manages to endear himself to his students by showing them his genuine concern — he listens to them especially with their worries and problems, he pushes them to achieve their goals, he helps them realize their mistakes, he imparts to them words of wisdom and pieces of advice, he gives them second chances, and he never fails to extend a helping hand to those who need it. For his students, he is not just a teacher. He is their mentor, friend and second parent rolled into one. And it brings Sir Yumang great joy when these students come to him –at the end of the day, at the end of the school year, or years after they left the school– to thank him for being the inspiring teacher that he had been to them.

Each school year, he happily welcomes new members to their big family — students whose minds they need to sharpen, whose excesses they have to prune, and whose potentials they must fully develop. At the same time, he says goodbye to their graduates whose lives they have touched in their own small ways. Both prospects –the hellos and the goodbyes—give Sir Yumang cause to celebrate and be thrilled. Like a real mother, he is excited for the new batch of young minds placed in his capable care. He can’t wait to discover the endless potentials, the seeds of knowledge that he is going to plant, and the dreams he is about to cultivate among those children. Similarly, he is excited for the graduating batch. He is anxious to see what they will eventually become. On their graduation day, he unleashes and encourages them to try on their newly developed wings; to fly and to soar armed with his most fervent prayers that the many lessons they learned in school will guide them in their chosen path.

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Spending time with these young people on a daily basis proves to be a two-way learning process for Sir Yumang. He gets to share with them his knowledge and he learns something new from them every day. More than the top achievers and the contest winners who have trained under his wings, he is just as thankful for having been given the privilege to meet the so-called “others” of the spectrum – the delinquent, the bullies, the introvert and the “socially deviants” — who all have beautiful stories to share. They, too, have made Sir Yumang appreciate the essence of his profession. After listening to them, he learns that hope is not totally lost on these students. They just need someone who will make them realize their mistakes in a compassionate way.

Most of his UP students are now his very good friends and support system. Many years after UP, they still join hands in some worthy causes specially for UP Clark. They still engage in healthy debates on many issues — from Duterte to Kris Aquino and the many topics in between. But most importantly, he is immensely proud of how they have turned out as family men and women.

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Sir Yumang is proudest when he witnesses how his students are able to conquer their fears and shine on stage and when he sees them reap awards after enduring extremely tiring practices and trainings. More than the victories in many interschool academic, cultural and sports competitions, it is the fact that he has seen those students transform and grow into more confident individuals who now know their potentials that really matters to him.

He is also proud that NSA:CCEI holds the distinction of being a powerhouse in campus journalism. Their elementary journalists have clinched their 9th straight overall championship in the Macabebe East District this year, while their high school journalists copped their 12th straight overall championship in the South Zone-Cluster X.

For two years, Sir Yumang and his faculty, with the support of their administrators were able to work for the certification status of their school by the Fund for Assistance to Private Education. This is their third year as an ESC (Education Service Contracting)-participating school.

A TEACHER’S HOPES AND DREAMS

At this point in his career, there is nothing much that Sir Yumang aspires to achieve for himself but to be given a chance in the future to study again, to publish a book or to start a blog. He has a gamut of anecdotes and stories as an administrator, trainer-coach and classroom teacher that he wants to share, especially with the other teachers.

However, for the country’s educational system and for his beloved school, the St. Nicholas Academy: CCEI, his list is quite long.

He hopes that the government leaders and education planners will listen closely to what they, the front liners, have to say. After all, it is they who go through the many, real and enduring difficulties which our leaders need to address.

He hopes that the government will strengthen the public-private school partnership. There are many small private schools in the country that offer quality education, and they also need government support.

He hopes that there is more that he can do in terms of raising his teachers’ salaries and increasing their benefits so that they would no longer entertain the idea of transferring to other schools or, worse, of leaving the country to work as domestic helpers.

He also hopes to strengthen their Senior High School with more tracks and strands next school year.

Finally, he dreams for the SNA: CCEI to be the ultimate private school of choice in their town and in their district. That means a PAASCU accreditation status.

A TEACHER’S OTHER FACETS

The academe may be Sir Yumang’s first love, but outside of his beloved school, he wears many hats.

He is a loving and respectful son to his 90-year-old mother. (His late father was a retired public school principal – well respected, well-admired and well-loved in their community.)

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He is a supportive “bunso” to all his eight siblings. He assisted them in the education of his nieces and nephews. As an uncle and grand uncle, he is strict yet doting.

He is a loyal friend. He does not let one incident or one remark or petty things ruin years of carefully-nurtured friendships.

As a local television talk show host, he is fun and unpretentious. He shows genuine interest in their guests and lets them have their shining moments on the show.

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As an activist, he is realistic in the causes he fights for. He chooses his battles judiciously, and he knows when to stop fighting.

As a son of God, he is very prayerful and is constantly inspired by the never-ending goodness of the Lord. He considers himself a work in progress, though.

As a Filipino, he will always be pro-Philippines. Regardless of who the elected president may be, he will always stand for what is true, what is right and what is good for the country.

A TEACHER AS A HERO IN OUR MIDST

Considering the meager salary that teaching commands and the long hours it demands, one would think that only a fool would want to be a teacher. But for these men and women, grading papers, writing lesson plans, attending meetings, making educational aids and teaching materials, and knowing their students individually are just small parts of their bigger mission. For them, money isn’t everything. Empowering the children to change the world for the better is.

Sir Yumang believes that a career becomes a job and an obligation when one is only in it for the money. However, it becomes a mission, a calling or even a vocation when one’s heart is into it. When this is the reason for one’s continued stay in an institution, fulfillment comes in very easily.

Following his heart led Sir Yumang to this humble profession, his little corner of the sky.

Looking for heroes?

We need not look far.

NELSER’S SWEET LIFE

“Baking is a passion.

You don’t bake to jump on the bandwagon. You bake because you love baking. And every time you bake, you create something that you can be proud of — that when people take a bite, they would feel your passion. Also, you don’t bake out of a cookbook. You create something that represents you.”

Growing up, Nelser had no exposure to baking as no one in her family knew how to bake. She just happened to stumble upon an old cookbook when she was in fourth grade and, on impulse and out of curiosity, she copied a recipe straight from that cookbook, invaded her mother’s kitchen, and proceeded to bake. Her first attempt at baking was a resounding success. Her family loved her spritz cookies.

With her parents’ support, she gained the confidence to dabble in baking other sweet goodies. The cookies soon became macaroons and, later on, brownies.

But, despite Nelser’s apparent passion and talent for baking, that parental support did not extend to allowing her to enroll in a culinary school or to pursue a degree in baking and pastry arts. Her parents wanted her to follow in the footsteps of her father who, at that time, was a lawyer. So, Nelser took a pre-law course in the University of the Philippines.

When she got married fourteen years ago and had kids soon after, she became preoccupied with nurturing her young family.

NELSER AS A PASTRY CHEF

It was only when her two boys got a little older that she found the time to revisit her beloved hobby. Initially, she would only bake for family, relatives and close friends. But as her reputation as an exemplary pastry chef circulated far and wide —and as more people requested to get a treat of her phenomenal generosity and a free taste of her sumptuous dessert offerings–, she eventually decided to make a business out of her hobby.

Her first “paying” customer was Ambassador Preciosa Soliven who ordered boxes of food for the gods which the kind ambassador gave as token to a royalty in the Middle East. In exchange, she gave Nelser walnuts and dates.

Today, armed with years of baking experience, Nelser already has a wide and impressive array of baked products that her loyal patrons and new customers can choose from. Although she only bakes on a per-order basis, she makes sure that the packaging of her products –everything comes in attractive boxes, tin cans, bottles, mugs, or plastic containers—is elegant, and her pricing competitive enough, to send the clear message that they are not the work of a mediocre baker, but of a pastry chef par excellence.

Her sweet concoctions used to bear the name “The Bakeshop by nelser”, but her business started to thrive only after she became actively involved in her parish church. So to honor the sole source of that blessing, she decided to change the name to “Bits of Heaven”. However, the name can also be easily construed to mean that a bite of any of Nelser’s treats is like having a taste of a bit of heaven.

Here are some of her to-die-for sweet treats. Be ready to drool!

1carrot-cake
Two-layered moist carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and generously sprinkled with walnuts

 

 

2chocolate-truffle-cake
Three-layered moist chocolate cake filled with hand-whipped bittersweet ganache and covered with rich chocolate icing

 

 

3caramel-carrot-choco-cakes
Caramel cake, carrot cake and chocolate cake. Decadent and buttery, the caramel cake is slathered with rich caramel icing

 

 

4ombre-cake
Ombre cake. 7-layered vanilla cake with caramel filling covered with creamy vanilla buttercream

 

 

5mango-walnut-torte
Mango walnut torte. Three layers of walnut meringue smothered with whipped cream and fresh mangoes

 

 

6dobos-torte
Dobos torte. A Hungarian sponge cake with 8 layers of chocolate buttercream and topped with caramel

 

 

7banoffee-pie
Banoffee pie. Banana cream pie smothered with homemade caramel sauce

 

 

8almond-cream-puffs
Cream puffs. Profiteroles filled with pastry cream, drizzled with caramel, and topped with almond slivers

 

 

9food-for-the-gods
Food for the gods. Moist and chewy and generously peppered with walnuts and dates, this is perfect for gifts  this coming holiday season

 

 

10banana-nutella-muffins
Muffins. Moist banana muffins with Nutella filling

 

 

11chocolate-chip-cookies-dark-chocolate-macadamia-cookies-and-oatmeal-walnut-cookies
Chewy and old-fashioned chocolate chip cookies

 

 

12cinnamon-cookies
Snickerdoodles (cinnamon cookies). Butter cookies rolled in cinnamon, they are mostly popular during the Christmas season probably because they fill the kitchen with that wonderful cinnamon scent when they are baked

 

 

butterscotch-blondies
Butterscotch blondie bars. Dense and sweet, they resemble the brownies less the cocoa

 

 

13brownie-cupcakes
Perfectly moist and chewy brownie cupcakes packed in tin cans to seal in their freshness

 

 

14blueberry-cheesecake-cupcakes
Blueberry cheesecake cupcakes. Baked cheesecake topped with blueberry filling

 

 

15caramel-cupcakes
Caramel  cupcakes

 

 

16devils-food-cupcake-w-marshmallow-icing
Devil’s food cupcakes

 

 

17red-velvet-cupcakes
Red velvet cupcakes

 

 

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Themed cupcakes. Aside from these, other themed cupcakes that Nelser already tried include butterflies, Spidey, Ferrero, minions, balls, Legos, Avengers, Dora, Angry Birds, cars, Wimpy kid, Mr. Bean, etc.

 

 

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Nelser also bakes for various occasions. Aside from these, she already did oblation-inspired cups for the UP Pamp homecoming, egg-designed cups for the Easter Sunday, heart-decorated cups for Valentine, green-and-red  jolly cups for Christmas, etc.

 

 

NELSER AS A MOTHER HEN

Baking might be something that Nelser immensely enjoys doing (and it is proving to be a lucrative and reliable source of income to boot), but she has never allowed it to mess with her priorities.

As a consummate homemaker, she considers her family her utmost priority. She ensures that their house is a beautiful, spotlessly clean and welcoming haven that her husband and sons would always want to go home to after a particularly long and exhausting day. Her kitchen is constantly filled with the tantalizing aromas of all the food she is weaving her magic on for her family. And their dining table? It always looks as if Nelser is presenting her gastronomic feast for Chef Gordon Ramsay’s scrutiny! She could even turn the simplest culinary spread into a visual extravaganza, an ordinary meal into an extraordinary Instragram-worthy moment, and seemingly unpleasant leftovers into delectable dishes through her impeccable food presentation. (It’s actually one of the valuable lessons she learned from her mother — that it’s not so much the food one serves, but the way it is presented, that makes a big difference.)

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Aside from being a kitchen magician, Nelser is also a devoted and dutiful wife to her husband, and a nurturing and protective mother to their two boys, Cole and Chesco. She is her sons’ personal driver, strict tutor, and constant date.

Nelser is also quite well-known among her boys’ teachers, classmates and co-parents because of the yummy, varied, well-thought-of and nicely presented lunch and snacks that she packs for Cole and Chesco each school day.

 

NELSER AS A SERVANT OF GOD

Believing that the best way to show one’s gratitude for all the blessings one receives is by serving the Lord with a joyful heart, Nelser is an active parishioner of the Our Lady of Sorrows parish. She is a member of Leccom and of the Parish Pastoral Council, and an officer of the Apostolado ng Panalangin. Also, despite her husband’s erratic and hectic schedule (Dax is a doctor), she makes sure that they fulfill their Christian duty of hearing mass at least once a week as a family. Cole and Chesco, both prepared for Christian service at a young age, are members of the Knights of the Blessed Sacrament of the same parish.

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Another way of showing her gratitude is by living a life of charity. The recipient of the family’s philanthropy is the Casa Miani, an orphanage in Lubao operated by Somascan priests. Doc Dax provides his medical services for the children there, free of charge.

Additionally, there are two “parking boys” from their parish that Nelser helped send to school.

 

NELSER AS AN ALL-AROUND GIRL NEXT DOOR

As if her life is not busy enough, Nelser still finds the time to do tutorial service. She has three students she diligently tutors every afternoon. And the ever-dependable Nelser is the usual go-to person when any one of her relatives, friends, colleagues or co-parents needs an extra hand. She might be a little loud (She is, after all, Kapampangan!) and may whine from time to time, but people can count on her to get the job done. Always.

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Oh, by the way, have I mentioned that Nelser has no house help? Yup, she is your Wonder Wo-mom in the flesh!

 

NELSER ON DE-STRESSING

Even superheroes get tired and worn-out. They need occasional breaks from the hassle and bustle of the daily grind. They require time to recharge to restore their sagging spirits, spent strength, and depleted energy before they could don their capes once again.

So, how does Super Nelser go about this?

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She allows her residual artistic juices to flow freely by sketching, by coloring and by honing her talent in calligraphy. She also enjoys decorating and re-decorating their home, and looking at her vast collection of Starbucks coffee mugs. Meeting friends and taking trips with her family don’t fail to provide welcome respite, too. And never underestimate the power of social media! Nelser is fond of taking pictures of almost anything that catches her fancy and sharing these with her social media friends. The likes and online conversations they manage to elicit are enough to put a smile to this supermom’s face.

 

NELSER’S DREAM

With all the things that she has so far accomplished and everything that she is capable of doing singlehandedly –considering the limited time and energy that we, lesser mortals, are usually restricted by–, one would be inclined to think that Nelser is already content with her lot. After all, she’s one girl that’s very easy to please.  Seeing people’s happy faces when eating the food she serves, receiving messages of gratitude and compliment from satisfied customers, knowing that her kids refuse to eat other cakes and cookies because “they are not as good as hers”, and watching her family finish everything on the table in one sitting with lots of ooohs and aaahs — all these have the power to take her to Cloud 9 in an instant.

But, no, Nelser has no plans of hanging her cape anytime yet. She still has one dream that she is now furiously working on. She wants to have her very own quaint country coffee shop soon.

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And all of us who are familiar with her inherent determination know for certain that that dream would become a reality. Sooner than later.

SHE DREAMED A DREAM

Most of us dream of seeing as much of the world as we possibly can. This girl is now doing just that — while balancing her life as a college student.

Here is her inspiring story.

 

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CHILDHOOD

Airom Camua was born and raised in Bulacan by simple, devoutly Catholic parents. Both have degrees in Civil Engineering, but her mother opted to quit her job to personally care for her three little girls.

Airom’s grandparents were musically inclined (her paternal grandfather was a band member playing the trombone, while her maternal grandparents used to sing in front of their children while playing the guitar and keyboard), so even if the girls were not very exposed to music growing up, their genes alone made sure that music would play a major role in their lives.

Camua Family
The Camuas – Papa Ricardo, Mama Miraflor, Airom, Airica & Aira (right to left)

 

During the early part of her grade school years, Airom was already a familiar face in singing competitions and various programs in school. But it was only when she was 9, and her other sisters 8 and 5, that they each received their very first guitars from their supportive parents. From then on, the music of the Camuas’ instant three-girl band had become an entertaining sound that constantly pierced through their once-quiet street. Family occasions and gatherings also became more fun and colorful because of the trio’s performances. On the summer school break after her grade school graduation, her parents hired a piano teacher for Airom. Her mother wanted her to play for their parochial church’s daily mass.

Soon enough, Airom became an active member of the Sta. Isabel Parish Choir. She also became part of the Barasoain Camerata Philippines Chorale.

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Airom with the Sta. Isabel Parish Choir

 

However, it was not until she became one of the powerful voices of her high school’s Koro del Pilar that she experienced joining—and winning—in serious competitions. Noticing Airom’s inherent musical prowess and immense dedication to her craft, their choral conductor, Sir Radie Santiago, appointed her Choir Master. According to the prophetic mentor, aside from having an ear for music, Airom also had what musicians call a “perfect pitch.” It was also from Sir Radie, whom Airom considered her greatest influence to seriously pursue music, that she first heard about UPCC.

Sir Radie
Airom with Sir Radie and the Koro del Pilar

 

Airom’s vast exposure to musical competitions through the Koro del Pilar served as a pivotal stage in her young life. It was since she started competing that she began to harbor a blazing dream to travel the world using her voice and God-given talent. In fact, whenever her mom would be asked why her daughter should decide to pursue a music career, she would always say, “Gusto n’yang malibot ang mundo nang kumakanta.”

 

COLLEGE AND THE U.P. CONCERT CHORUS (UPCC)

With God’s grace, Airom was able to conquer the extremely competitive UP College Admission Test (UPCAT). And after passing her chosen college’s talent test with flying colors, Airom started her life as a UP College of Music freshman in 2012. She is now in her final year of taking up Bachelor of Music, Major in Music Education.

There was a wide array of performing art groups in UP Diliman to choose from, but Airom’s eyes were solely focused on one organization. The UPCC.

Music students are not normally advised to join that particular students’ organization because of the versatile singing and exploratory placement it espouses. But Airom, with her intrinsic independence, curiosity and risk-taking personality, couldn’t be swayed. So, along with a handful of her other batch mates, she submitted her membership application form to UPCC and subjected herself to an extremely rigorous and demanding training. (Before they could be inducted into the organization, they had to successfully stage 10 mini performances and 2 major concerts!)

But, indeed, nothing is sweeter that a feat accomplished in the face of seemingly insurmountable challenges and adversities.

After four months of long hours of brainstorming sessions, back-breaking and vocal range-stretching rehearsals, and emotionally-draining pressure, coupled with the difficult task of scouting for sponsors and, of course, the inevitable jitters before every performance, Airom was finally inducted on December 11, 2013.

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Airom with the UP Concert Chorus (UPCC)

 

AIROM’S TRIPS

As a prestigious student organization in UP, an icon of stage performance, and an internationally-competitive and renowned performing group, UPCC is regularly invited to perform in various events and venues, for various companies and institutions, to grace various celebrations, to support various causes and, sometimes, to collaborate with various musicians — both here and abroad.

In the same month that she was inducted into the UPCC, Airom was already part of the team that flew to US for a month-long winter concert tour. They performed around Washington and California. That was Airom’s first out-of-the-country trip.

In May 2015, UPCC went on a three-month international concert tour. They traveled around Europe (Italy, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Andorra, France, Spain and Austria) and US (New York, New Jersey, Texas and Hawaii). That was an eventful trip for the team, particularly because it was during that tour that they won the Grand Prix in the 6th International Krakow Choir Festival in Poland, where they were the only Asian choir among 24 competing choirs.

In December of the same year, they staged another month-long concert tour in California, Washington, Oregon and Nevada. It was Airom’s second time to spend Christmas and New Year away from her family.

Just recently, UPCC concluded their two-and-a-half-month summer concert tour in Canada, Ecuador, Colombia and USA (New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Texas, Kentucky, Florida and Alabama).

When asked what her most memorable experiences with UPCC are, Airom’s eyes lit up like neon lights as she started to count on her fingers. Of course, winning the Grand Prix in Krakow, Poland topped the list. Others on her list were joining the choral festivals in Poland, Ecuador and Colombia; being in remarkable cities like Rome, Milan, Venice, Barcelona, Paris, Berlin, New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Toronto; seeing the Vatican, Al Duomo, the gondolas, Iglesia de Sagrada Familia, the Berlin Wall, Times Square, the Bellagio, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, and the Niagara Falls; experiencing winter and snow; the numerous TV guestings here and abroad; the food adventures (she had once tried the asado roasted “Cuy” Guinea Pig, a delicacy in the south of Colombia); immersion in other cultures; and knowing, living with, and learning from the many host families in different countries that generously welcomed them into their homes.

But, of course, being part of UPCC is not just all about the perks. It entails enormous sacrifices and hard work, especially for someone like Airom who had since held many critical positions in the organization. However, she is never one to buckle under pressure or heavy burden. Her dreams are already within her reach. She just needs to work a little harder to prove to everyone and to herself that she deserves every break and blessing that she receives.

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Always on the go

 

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Dead-tired after a long trip, a rehearsal or a performance

 

LESSONS LEARNED ALONG THE WAY

Since childhood, Airom and her siblings had been taught to faithfully serve the Lord. The three girls, with their parents, hear the Sunday mass religiously. They were also trained to develop and enhance their God-given talents and share those with the world with all the humility and gratitude that they could muster. Giving utmost importance to education is another value that had been deeply ingrained in the Camua girls — so much so that, despite her hectic schedule, Airom still tries to maintain her Cum Laude academic standing.

Growing up, Airom learned to dream big dreams. She realized that, when weaving our dreams, we should not limit ourselves. We should aim for the highest, the biggest and the grandest of dreams. But we should not just follow them. We have to chase them, we have to pursue them relentlessly, and we have to work earnestly to achieve them. We should not be disheartened by the many obstacles that we may meet along the way. Instead, we must consider them as challenges through which we can prove how strong and determined we can really be. Finally, when we fulfill our dreams, we should tightly hold on to them with both hands. We nurture them, we grow with them, we inspire with them, we believe in their beauty. Never, at any point, should we let go of our dreams.

Music is a gift that could unite people of different origins, tongues and cultures. Airom may just be one voice, but hers could be a powerful one that can soar and harmonize. With every note and every tune, with every chord and every melody, with every concert and every performance, she may just inspire the world to change for the better. One spectator at a time.

That is her ultimate dream.

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MY SON ….. MY HERO!

In his desire to honor our son’s ultimate sacrifice for him, my husband Roel decided to join this contest (sponsored by Champion Detergent and Fox International Channels) a few months back. His was among the three entries that made it to the final round.

In celebration of the World Kidney Day, I am now sharing this with all of you.

You might also want to read this, another article I wrote about my personal battle during that critical time when our family was struggling against the dreaded Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD).

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MY CHAMPION HERO

By Roel M. Aquino

 

When I first became a father at the young age of 21, I vowed that I will always love, support and protect my children. Little did I know then that a time will come when it would be I who would need those things from my kids.

It was September of last year when I learned that I had Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease. I immediately had to undergo a thrice-a-week hemodialysis treatment while my wife and I were still in the process of pooling all our financial resources, both for the costly kidney transplant operation AND for the search for a possible kidney donor, whose kidney would hopefully be a good match with mine. Those tasks proved to be challenging, tedious, emotionally taxing and, to an extent, frustrating.

When our children (aged 19, 18 and 16) learned that they, as my own flesh and blood, could be the ideal candidates for kidney donation, they readily volunteered themselves for testing. However, it was my eldest child’s gesture that really touched me. He approached me and casually said, “Daddy, I want to be your donor.” Just like that. No drama. No funfare. No theatrics. But that one statement (and the three children’s quick and candid offer), in all its simplicity, sincerity and spontaneity, struck a parental chord in me. Hard. Because I knew that behind those words were a child’s deep emotions for his father – respect, trust, compassion, gratitude and love.

Today, three months after a successful kidney transplant operation, my very own Superhero – my son, Emar – is fully recovered and is back to his old, active and busy self. He is a Chemical Engineering junior at the University of the Philippines, diligently maintaining a magna cum laude status. He is a productive member of his school organization, the UP Chemical Engineering Society, Inc. After his classes each day, he proceeds to Headcoach, a tutorial center along Katipunan Ave., for a two-hour Math-teaching job. During weekends, he, along with his siblings, does his share of household chores. In his free time, he may be found playing his guitar with his campus friends, sharpening his video game skills with his little brother, watching movies with our family, or training our dogs to play fetch.

Emar may be wearing a lot of hats, but for me, the best one that he wears is that of a son’s. My son. He has already proved how immeasurable – hindi matatawaran at tapat – his love for me is. All his other achievements and accolades are mere bonuses.

Finally, because of my son’s selfless and ultimate act of sacrifice, I have become more inspired than I have ever been before to take utmost care of my health. After all, it is no longer just my body that I am supposed to be nurturing now. An essential part of me is also on the line. My son’s kidney.

CHRISTMAS DESTINATIONS IN THE METRO

Mmmm. December is just a few, short days away that I can already smell the sweet, cool scent of Christmas! The excitement that always comes with the merriest holiday season is so palpable and contagious that one simply cannot resist being caught up in it.

We, Filipinos, are particularly fond of Christmas. In fact, we hold the world record for having the longest Yuletide celebration.

We consider the arrival of the first “ber month” as the signal to adorn our houses with colorful lanterns, twinkling lights, Christmas trees, Belen and other decors; constantly play those Christmas carol CDs; and start buying gifts for our loved ones and our bunch of inaanaks.

And of course, we try to maximize this time of the year by spending it with our families.

For those of you who want that added Christmas-y spirit, here are the 10 places and events in the city that you could take your families to.

Enjoy, create unforgettable memories, and take lots of pictures!

  1. Casa Santa Museum. We’ve always been fascinated with this jolly, bearded, old man in red suit who delivers gifts to children all over the world in his reindeer-drawn sleigh. With a collection of over 3,700 Santa Claus figures of all sizes, colors and materials, this museum in Antipolo is just the right place for you. It’s open to guests all year round at an entrance fee of ₱180/person. For more details, click here.
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    Photo credit: facebook.com/casasantamuseum

     

  1. The Giant Christmas Tree at the Araneta Center. This iconic Christmas symbol that stands more than 20 feet tall is truly a sight to behold. For 31 years now, it continues to provide holiday cheer and to touch the hearts of generations of Filipinos. The tree-lighting ceremony held last Nov. 09 heralded a gamut of Yuletide activities and holiday funfare at the Araneta Center.
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    Photo credit: aranetacenter.net

     

  1. Christmas On Display (COD) at the Greenhills Shopping Center. This moving mannequin show that opened last Nov. 14 is a 58-year-old family tradition whose roots could be traced back to its original site, the COD Department Stores in Avenida. It was, later on, transferred to the stores’ branch in Cubao, and again to its present site in 2003. With this year’s theme, A Hometown Christmas, this highly-anticipated show features the stories of our thousands of kababayans who still choose to go back home on the holidays to enjoy the authentic Paskong Pinoy.
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    Photo credit: facebook.com/greenhillsofficial

     

  1. Lights and Sounds Show at the Ayala Triangle Gardens. Also on Nov. 09, the Festival of Lights was formally launched to light up the Ayala Triangle until Jan. 03. With the theme “Beats and Hues”, spectators will be entertained with three different kinds of music – big band and jazz music, African drumbeats, and electronic dance music. As a pleasant bonus, light installation replicas of 10 of the oldest churches in the country were also set up for this year.
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    Photo credit: ayalatriangle.com

     

  1. Policarpio Street in Mandaluyong City. The famous street’s annual holiday spectacle has been a regular Christmas tourist attraction since it was started in 1996 by three of the homeowners – the Lim, the Suva and the Dalisay families. People who visit are treated to a sight of houses elaborately and generously decorated with impressive Christmas displays and dazzling lights.
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    Photo credit: filgifts.com

     

  1. Snow World at Star City. If you want to experience a White Christmas in Manila, this is your chance. Enjoy the 68-meter long ice slide (presumably the longest ice slide in Asia), the intricate ice carvings and sculptures, the snow-covered pine trees, and an ice town (at -15°C) decked with Christmas fixtures, and yes, an igloo! Admission fee to Star City is ₱65, while the entrance fee to the Snow World is ₱150/person. For more info, click here.
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    Photo credit: abs-cbnnews.com

     

  1. Trails to Antarctica at the Manila Ocean Park. Go visit the coldest and least explored part of the planet without having to leave the country! The Trails to Antarctica features a walk down the frozen continent through the Penguin Exhibit and the freezing Snow Village. For details on the park schedule, packages, promos, etc., click here.
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    Photo credit: manilaoceanpark.com

     

  1. Grand Festival of Lights Parade at the SM Mall of Asia. Mark your calendars! This parade happens only every Saturday of Dec. until the Christmas Day itself. Meet and greet Santa Claus and his elves, take pictures of the colorful floats, dance with the costumed performers, or sing along the Christmas carols that loudly accompany the parade. It starts at around 5:30 pm at the North Arcade, goes around the mall, and stops at the Seaside Blvd. for the grand fireworks display.
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    Photo credit: facebook.com/smmallofasia

     

  1. Paskuhan in UST. Happening this year on Dec. 18, the Paskuhan is ordinarily held on the last day before the start of the students’ Christmas break. Giddy with excitement over their vacation and the fast-approaching holiday season, the entire Thomasian community welcomes visitors and celebrates the festivities with a parade, a fair, the lighting of the giant Christmas Tree, a concert, and a fireworks display.
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    Photo credit: Tomasinoweb.com

     

  1. Lantern Parade in UP. On Dec. 14, the Academic Oval (the campus’ main thoroughfare) will once again turn into a spectacle of colors and lights as the UP community welcomes the holidays with the Lantern Parade. On its 93rd year, the long-standing tradition is always well-attended not just by the Iskos and Iskas, but also by the alumni, the employees and staff, their families, and the spectators from outside the UP community. Everyone is treated to a procession of colorful floats and lanterns (with each masterpiece representing a college or group in UP), as well as street performances by various colleges and organizations inside the university. This showcase of talents and pageantry (that sometimes also serves as a venue for protests and a platform in voicing out national concerns) is usually concluded with a fireworks display.

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    Photo credit: lifestyle.inquirer.net

Aside from those listed above, the shopping malls scattered around the city, with their fabulous Christmas displays, could also be alternative destinations for your families. Be warned, though. These places are already very crowded by now, with harried shoppers taking advantage of the seemingly successive holiday sales.

Meanwhile, if you are hunting for a place to shop at considerably low prices, Metro Manila provides a myriad of options. There are Christmas tiangges, Christmas bazaars and night markets everywhere. You might also want to pay the Dapitan Arcade a visit. But, of course, for cheap buys and excellent bargains, nothing could ever beat the old, reliable Divisoria Market.

Finally, lest we forget what Christmas should really be all about, let me leave you with a quote from William Carey Jones.

“The joy of brightening other lives, bearing each other’s burdens, easing others’ loads and supplanting empty hearts and lives with generous gifts become, for us, the magic of Christmas.”

THE REMNANTS OF YOLANDA’S FURY

November 08, 2013. Friday. It was my oldest child’s 18th birthday. We were all home because classes were suspended. But instead of being in a celebratory mood, my family’s attention was glued to the harrowing scenes and images flashed on our TV screen.

Super Typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan), the most powerful storm to make landfall in recorded history, was ravaging most of the Visayan regions.

Sufficiently forewarned, the government had been preparing and making the necessary arrangements as early as three days prior to the landfall. But no amount of careful and meticulous planning could have spared us from the onslaught and fury of the mighty typhoon. With maximum sustained winds of 315 kph and gustiness of up to 380 kph, it ruthlessly devastated everything in its path.

The national government couldn’t penetrate the affected areas right away. (Many areas remained isolated, and communications, power, road and port systems were down.) The Local Government Units (LGUs) were reeling from and temporarily crippled by the magnitude of the devastation. The survivors who lost the people they loved or their homes or their source of livelihood were walking around in confusion. Chaos, desolation, grief and hopelessness reigned.

When the weather condition slightly improved and permitted the entry of the authorities to assess the extent of the damage, everyone was shocked by the staggering figures.

An immense loss of lives and a trail of massive destruction were left in Yolanda’s wake. 9 regions, 44 provinces and more than 12,000 barangays were devastated. 6,300 lives perished, 1,062 gone missing and 28,688 injured. 1.1M houses were damaged, leaving 4.1M people displaced. 3.4M families or 16M individuals were adversely affected. ₱95B worth of damages was recorded. 

What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by redflag.org.au
          What was left of Tacloban City after the onslaught of ST Yolanda. Image owned by redflag.org.au.

The days that followed witnessed the overwhelming support of the international community as pledges, aids and donations poured in from all over the world. Humanitarian contingents from various countries also kept on coming. Both the public and private sectors, local and foreign, joined hands in reaching out to the victims. Random acts of bravery and generosity by faceless and nameless heroes and philanthropists were often heard of.

For a time, people saw a world without borders. Race, color and language were virtually nonexistent. Realizing that something like that could happen to any nation, everyone was doing his share to help. Faith in humanity was restored.

But, all too soon, greed and politics reared their ugly heads.

Organized looting, wanton ransacking of malls, stores, ATMs and gasoline stations, and even attacking of warehouses and trucks loaded with relief goods were documented. Some people saw the tragedy as an opportunity to make easy money by overpricing, hoarding or selling of relief goods. Some politicians saw it as a chance to pocket relief money and practice grandstanding and politicking. There were relief goods and financial assistance that did not reach the victims on time. Some undistributed goods were even reported to have been left in warehouses to rot.

Again, we got the attention of the international community. But, this time, for the wrong reasons.

Now, 2 years after that fateful day, I got the chance to coordinate with someone who experienced Yolanda and was able to survive to tell her tale.

Lynz de Mesa Ecap was 16 years old when Typhoon Yolanda happened. She was from Brgy. Nula-tula, one of the most devastated barangays in Tacloban City. She narrated how she and her family survived the heavy rains, strong winds, 15-foot storm surges and massive floods at the height of the onslaught of the typhoon. She recounted how, when the storm finally cleared, the sight of the countless lifeless bodies strewn along the roads, of the several sea vessels washed ashore and of the houses totally demolished by Yolanda, and the cries of agony from their neighbors broke her heart. She described how, when nightfall would come, she would shudder in fear because of the eerie howling of dogs, the rumors of an impending tsunami, and the stories of the NPA guerillas raiding the city and of the criminals who bolted from the city jail wreaking havoc in the already ravaged communities. She detailed how being thirsty, hungry, cold, homeless and clueless on whether help would come could force someone to do things to survive. She also shared the lessons she learned and the blessings she received during her Yolanda experience. (Click here for her story.)

Up to now, her family and most of their neighbors are still living in temporary shelters like tents and bunk houses. Financial assistance comes few, meager and far between (There are even cases when the money they actually receive is not the same as the amount indicated on the papers that the social workers make them sign.). Lynz’ family gets by largely through the help of friends and relatives and of some local non-government and international government organizations.

From an outsider’s point of view, I dare say that our government has failed immensely in addressing the issues that continue to plague its rehabilitation and recovery efforts in the Yolanda-stricken areas.

Of the ₱150B required for rehabilitation, only ₱93.87B has been released. (This despite the enormous amounts of money we received from 70 foreign governments and various multilateral organizations.) Thousands of the survivors are still living in cramped temporary shelters. Of the 205,128 houses that the government is planning to build by 2017, only 17,641 have been actually built as of press time. Many areas are yet to have access to electricity and water. 

According to Sen. Panfilo “Ping” Lacson, who served as the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery until he stepped down last February, the government implementation of the recovery plan for the Yolanda victims is “slow”, and that the cause of the delay is the release of the budget. He also added that some government agencies are not doing their jobs.

Philippine Red Cross Chairman Richard “Dick” Gordon basically said the same thing. He noted that programs are not being implemented by the Yolanda rehabilitation agencies and that the coordination among these agencies is “weak”.

Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte, in defense of Malacañang, said that “policies on procurement and land acquisition along with required permits and clearances before certain projects could be started, were hampering government efforts to build permanent relocation sites faster”.

So, what is Valte trying to say? Should the Yolanda survivors have to suffer longer because the government efforts have been reduced to a slow crawl under the heavy burden of a cumbersome bureaucracy?  I hope not. As it is, people are already demanding for a full accounting and disclosure of the status of the government’s relief and rehabilitation programs for the Yolanda victims. I, personally, would like to see the comprehensive list of all the donations received by the government. I need to know if every peso went to the intended beneficiaries.

Photo credit to gcura.deviantart.com
                                                           Photo credit to gcura.deviantart.com.

Finally, now that the 2016 election is just around the corner, I fervently hope that political campaigning would not take precedence over the welfare and well-being of the Yolanda victims; that squabbles and bickering between and among government officials would stop to give way to faster and more effective solutions to the more pressing problems in the Visayas. I also hope that an urgent and clamorous call for more ambitious and aggressive action to address the issue of global warming would be made. Most importantly, I pray that people would not forget that all Typhoon Yolanda left us is not just destruction and havoc. It also taught us valuable lessons and values, such as faith in God and in humanity, the power of unity (bayanihan), and the Filipinos’ innate strength, determination and resilience that will see us through the many other storms that will come our way.

Sources: NDRRMC / Office of Civil Defense, DND; DBM’s website, Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAiTH), gmanetwork.com, Prospero Pulma Jr., Lynz de Mesa Ecap

ADOLESCENCE 102: THINGS TEENS WISH THEIR PARENTS WOULD REALIZE, ASAP!

It is unfortunate that, unlike most consumer goods, children don’t come with instruction manuals. Parents are expected to perform their parental duties based on common sense and intuition. And since our kids go through multiple stages, all of which with varying and distinct degrees of complexity and uniqueness, we are bound to flounder, stagger or trip. Over and over again. Constant doubt, guilt and fear that all parents (yup, no one is immune!) are inexplicably prone to don’t make things any easier, either. Yes, we receive a handful of well-meaning advice from people who have already traversed this bumpy road before. There are also a lot of DIY and Idiot’s-Guide-to-Parenting books available in the market. And, of course, one can always turn to the ever-reliable Mr. Google to find crash courses on Parenting 101. But, could there be a more accurate source than straight from the horses’ mouths – or in this case, our children themselves? And since adolescence is definitely the most challenging of all the stages that we struggle through with them – infancy, childhood, adolescence and adulthood – (and also, adolescents are, by far, the most vocal lot!), this article will focus solely on what our teenaged kids have to say.

While my earlier blog post, Adolescence 101: Don’ts for Parents of Teens, was about a set of “rules” I came up with based on my personal experiences as a mother of three teens, this one, in contrast, is based on the kids’ perspective. Through an on-line survey conducted by my son’s girlfriend among some University of the Philippines students, the respondents were to list the things that they think their parents should realize in order for them to develop some semblance of harmony in their relationship. Reading through their extremely candid answers, I was blown away by an avalanche of emotions. I’m sure, one or two of the following answers will also tug at your heartstrings.

Advisory: Grab that box of tissues. You’ll need it!

Teens always keep their thoughts hidden and well guarded from their parents.
Teens always keep their thoughts hidden and well guarded from their parents.
  1. We (you parents and us children) come from different generations, and therefore, from different contexts. Teenagers of the modern days are extremely different from those during your time. Forming an opinion about us based on some Jurassic standard is like comparing apples with oranges.
  1. You are not perfect. Parents make wrong decisions, too, but we don’t hold that against you. We won’t treat you any less if you own up to your mistakes and say sorry.
  1. We have a lot of questions, fears and doubts. It is better that we get the answers and reassurance from you than anywhere else.
  1. We already have too much on our plates. You’ve been through this years ago so you know how complicated a teenager’s life is. You don’t need to aggravate that by putting unnecessary pressure on us.
  1. We crave for freedom – to weigh our options, to make our own decisions, to be independent, to commit mistakes, to learn our lessons, to find our way and to discover the world. You need to trust us. Don’t be too controlling and don’t shelter us too much. The more you restrict us, the more likely we will rebel. We also need space where we could truly be ourselves, alone.
  1. We value our privacy, and you should respect that. But balance it with just the right amount of perception in case we need you to intervene when we are going through a rough patch and we are too proud to ask for your help.
  1. We need to feel safe and secure. We need to know that whenever we fall, there are arms ready to silently pick us up; that you are always there for us no matter what. We can’t face this alone. It may not seem like it but it’s during these teenage years when we need you the most.
  1. We need to see harmony at home. Though we may not show it, we are thrilled when you guys are acting all romantic and sweet to each other.
  1. We need you as our role models. We may not be listening to your advice as much as we should, but we see your every action. Someday, we want to be exactly like you.
  1. There are times when we will deliberately shut you out of our lives, preferring to deal with our problems on our own or with the counsel of close friends. Nevertheless, I think you should never quit trying to be involved in our lives, if only to let us know that you care.
The Anatomy of a Teenager's Brain. Photo owned by Sharpestpencil.com.
The Anatomy of a Teen’s Brain. Photo owned by Sharpestpencil.com.
  1. We need your time. We need you to listen to us or we will find other ways to get your attention. And trust us, you won’t like all of them.
  1. If we start acting up, which can happen a lot, handle things with enough love and understanding. Rage will get you nowhere.
  1. It is important for us to feel comfortable enough to tell you anything and everything. We tend to keep things to ourselves or to our small group of friends – things that could potentially harm us. Openness between us should be firmly established. Also, know that communication skills will either be your strongest tool or your downfall as parents, depending on how well you use them with us.
  1. Excessive and regular punishments will further strain our relationship. Yes, we need authority: you should establish your role as the one in charge of the house because once we realize that we can talk back without any consequences, we will live out our entire teenage life thinking that it’s okay to do anything. But, rebellion is also inherent in us so you should be able to balance authority and freedom. Also know that consequences are different from punishment. Just because you punish us for doing something wrong doesn’t mean we will realize the consequences of our actions.
  1. We need you to understand us, not judge us. Make us feel like we can approach you for anything, without the fear of being scolded or judged. You should also understand that we are bound to stumble. Everything about us is changing and we’re reeling from all those many changes. Don’t belittle the emotions and experiences we have. Just because we’re younger and are at “that phase” doesn’t justify you invalidating what is inherently human about us. Yes, teenage romance sounds stupid and trivial. But you were once there. A little additional understanding will go a long way.
  1. We are full of vigor, enthusiasm, and curiosity to discover the world. Also, we are still on the journey of finding who we are. Be our guidance but never cut off our wings.
  1. There are biological reasons as to why we are moody, rebellious and always sleepy. It’s not necessarily a manifestation of our character. At our age, it’s normal to have crushes and it doesn’t mean that we’ll drop off everything because of that guy/girl. We also like to try new things. Most importantly, we are not all perfectly intelligent and talented, so don’t expect too much from us. “You know the best way to make it through with hearts and wrists intact is to realize two out of three ain’t bad.” – Fall Out Boy
  1. We would appreciate it if you would be as honest to us as you would want us to be honest to you.
  1. While we’re no longer quite the kissable babies we used to be, we still occasionally need a little babying from you.
  1. We love you even if it’s not evident. You should know by now that we are not the demonstrative type.

For us, parents, this stage should not be about letting go. It should be about hanging on. We might be getting hurt by our kids’ words and actions, but we have to understand that it is a vital part of our role as parents. Just the other day, for instance, when I asked my son why he prefers going to his girlfriend’s place to study on weekends rather than doing it here at home, he replied that he could not concentrate here enough because he is always annoyed. His words cut deeply through my heart. After I let go of my initial anger, I cried. I was in pain because I knew that I was doing everything in my power to make our home conducive and comfortable for them. And then, I came across this quote in the internet. It is by a certain Eddie Vedder.

“No matter how good a parent you are, at some point, your kids are gonna have to create their own independence and think that Mom and Dad aren’t cool, just to establish themselves. That’s what adolescence is about. They’re gonna go through that no matter what.”

Those reassuring lines helped me to deal with my own emotions. I was still hurting but the hurt was somewhat subdued by the realization that my son did not really intend to cause me pain; that he probably regretted his words but was too proud to apologize and too embarrassed to approach me. In the future, if I have to face the same situation again, I am certain that I can react more appropriately. I will also make sure that all the pains that we will be inflicting inadvertently on each other throughout this challenging phase will not leave any permanent mark. After all, I am now armed with a powerful tool – our kids’ innermost thoughts and fervent wishes on what they think we, their parents, should realize.

Finally, we have to realize that “adolescence is that hazy limbo between childhood and adulthood”. It could be an extremely confusing stage for our teens. While a part of them wants to cling to the security and safety of their childhood, another part needs to get free and face the uncertainties and challenges of adulthood. Furthermore, they often get frustrated because they feel that they are no longer allowed to be children WHILE not yet accepted as adults. So, whatever they may turn into – a monster, a grouch, a know-it-all, a drama queen, a recluse, a sleepyhead, a diva, a lazybones, a rebel, a daredevil, an eye candy, a geek, a wallflower or a giggly schoolgirl -, we have to remember that it’s all a facade; a mask that they use to hide their insecurities. Because, deep inside that disguise is a lost child – our lost children – craving for our love and understanding.

Thanks. ‘Till my next blog entry!