Last weekend, I went off to Bantayan Island to once again turn-over more homes to our families who were rendered homeless by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013. We turned over new homes in 2 sites: 61 new units in Habitat March Village in Brgy Sulangan in Bantayan; and another 62 units in Habitat Santa Fe Ville in Brgy Maricaban, Santa Fe.
The turn-over was an emotional and joyous occasion for our home-partners who have been patiently waiting to move in to their homes. Some of them had been living with relatives, or renting out small shacks, or enduring in small temporary shelter space; and they were just so relieved to finally have a concrete home of their own. Many of our home partners were moved to tears, heaving sighs of relief that finally, they have a place they could call home, a home that could withstand the many expected harsh offensives posed by natural as well as man-made disasters.
The poignant scenes of families patiently scrubbing the floors prior to moving in, of young children lugging small items on their way to their new homes, of speechless mothers clutching the precious keys to their new homes, of fathers not knowing how to say thank you enough, of lolas shedding tears of joy and wanting to hug you but ashamed to do so; I will forever treasure these and many more touching scenes in my heart.
At the same time, we celebrated Christmas with them. We actually celebrated 2 Christmas Parties: one in Sulangan and another one in Maricaban. To some of our new home-partners, this would be their first Christmas Party ever, having never participated in one before. To their small kids, this would be their first encounter with a gift-giving Santa Claus. The notion of receiving so many goodies and of having so many friends from outside willing to share their blessings in a night of revelry was alien to many of them.
To our first batch of partners who had moved in a year previous, it would be a great opportunity to welcome their new neighbors to their now-growing communities. With 2 developing communities, there would be a need to impress on them that mutual responsibility to teach and learn from each other. For the older batch, the need to welcome and support. For the new guys, the need to adjust and abide by their new village’s rules and regulations. For everyone, the need to jell and be mindful of each other’s strengths and frailties. It was a great bonding experience indeed for everyone.
We also organized a first-ever Sports Competition for our new communities in Maricaban and Sulangan. The kids were just so happy to show their athletic talents. Raw talent that could easily be polished into gold medal prospects in the years to come. And the parents got into the act as well, cheering lustily for their kids and their respective teams. It was good to see the kids learn the rudiments of sportsmanship, teamwork and fair play. It was also heartwarming to see the parents supporting their kids, by cheering, by volunteering as officials, by providing logistics support. This is something that I don’t usually see among Filipino parents.
On the evening of the final night, we had a singing and dancing competition for the 2 communities. We had a kids category and a teenage category, and the crowd just went wild as they rooted for their respective contenders all throughout. It was gratifying to see the kids bonding within and between communities. What would take many months or years to develop, we had been able to achieve in the 2 days of practicing, praying and playing together.
The 2 days were a humbling, learning experience for me. Despite my long years of service in the military, the small acts of kindness, the giving and sharing, the joy and laughter you hear from the kids – as well as the parents and the bystanders – provided me poignant lessons, and tell me that, no matter the many challenges, the obstacles, the mistakes and the cynicism we encounter, we are doing a good job. And that we must push on!
To everyone who made this weekend a success, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Let the memories of these last few days inspire us to learn to give more of ourselves, in whatever way we can, for a better world for our kids.
Merry Christmas, everyone!