by Gemma Balein
"Launch us on the adventure of building bridges... Launch us on the adventure of helping the poor." When I heard these words of Pope Francis during the 32nd World Youth Day in Poland, I immediately thought of the many who are still recovering from the losses during Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013.
IRAYA is a leadership center for students In Manila. For more than three decades, it has organized outreach trips to different parts of the Philippines. During the Year of Mercy, it finished its 2-year rebuilding program in La Paz, Leyte after Typhoon Yolanda. Iraya Study Center remains committed to helping the poor especially now that Pope Francis has urged the youth to move beyond their comfort zones and to be ready to embrace everyone...the homeless, the hungry, the refugees, etc.
On April 17, a group of university and high school students flew to Dulag, Leyte to do a one-week volunteer work in Nuestra Senora de Refugio Parochial School, Inc. NSRPSI serves the children of low income earning families of the parish and neighboring towns, In the onslaught of Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, the school was damaged and has lost many facilities. It is still in the process of building back better and making its structures resilient to typhoons. Its students have poor performance in school due to lack of adequate facilities, lack of discipline and lack of proper attention from teachers and parents.
As soon as we reached Dulag, we began preparing for the work ahead. Our usual day was made up of teaching values and study habits in the morning and afternoon to different sets of pupils. On our first day, we were obviously nervous about how the teachers and students of NSRPSI would welcome us. After the first hour, all fears disappeared when we saw the warm giggles and welcoming atmosphere in each classroom. After classes, we would oversee and help in the renovation of the school library and principal's office.
One of the best parts of the outreach was witnessing the beautiful transformation of the school library. For sure, the pupils would like to hang out in this place. Another highlight was feeling the appreciativeness of the pupils. We were amazed at how they retained, by memory, the ideas we shared with them.
The walks along the seaside, catching the waves at Sabang Surf Camp and the solace of the beautiful parish church are just a few of our wonderful moments in Dulag. What made this outreach really meaningful are the people, strangers before, who welcomed us into their school, homes and lives.
Just a few days after coming back from Dulag, I received a message from Dianne, "The outreach was so fun and I really enjoyed it. It helped me to improve and to overcome some of my fears. It was a tiring week but worth it. The kids were so adorable. As we left Dulag, I didn't want to say goodbye yet. Perhaps it is because a gap was bridged; in this outreach I built new friendships with my co-volunteers and the people of Dulag."
To heed Pope Francis’ “urgent challenge to protect our common home", Iraya Study Center organized an ECOCAMP on May 12-15 with the aim of transmitting the message of LAUDATO SI, his 2nd encyclical published on May 24, 2015. The camp involved volunteer work at Paradise Ranch in Clark Pampanga, a nature and conservation park where students had time to commune with nature and learn new skills like grafting plants, potting, grounds clean-up, etc. In the words of a volunteer, the camp was also an opportunity to meet people who share the same aim of conserving and caring for the environment. By making new friends and among them the Aetas who work at the ranch, it helped her to appreciate and understand those with a cultural background different from hers.
Since the destructive winds and rains of Yolanda made landfall in Leyte and Samar in November 2013, many organizations from across and outside the country have given support to the typhoon victims. However many continue to be in need of assistance.
To second the Pope to help the poor, Iraya Study Center has been assisting in the rebuilding of La Paz, Leyte, which suffered crippling loses from the storm. The outreach plan is composed of 3 phases (April 2015, April 2016 and June 2016). Students and young professionals volunteer their time and money to help this little town in the south of the Philippines.
Project activities include rebuilding of 3 homes; visiting and counseling 170 families and providing them medicines and first aid kits; promoting health and hygiene skills among 270 poor children. To further reinforce family unity, Phase III will include a session on parenting skills for parents and school officials.
When asked what she learned from the people she served that day, one volunteer answered," Live life simply and you'll be happy. When others have lost everything, I have no right to complain." Landa Murillo, one of the beneficiaries, said," Not even in my dreams did I think of having a house as beautiful as this. I thank God for making Opus Dei an instrument to help poor people like us."
by Jara medina, UST 4th Year Student, BEED major in PSED
Last November 21, Lia and I chose to volunteer for the A.R.A.L project for the first time. The project’s objectives were to give Catechism, Math and/or English classes to children in nearby public elementary schools. We decided to join this project in order to gain experience and to broaden our knowledge in the social economy surrounding us so that we can increase our awareness the rising trends and issues.
As first timer volunteer in this program, I didn’t know what to expect; the age group of the children nor their schema on the agenda assigned for the day. But one thing for sure, I was excited to meet the children and get to know the situation more. Upon arriving in Iraya, we were informed that for that day, we were going to prepare the children for their first Holy Communion and specifically, and teach them how to genuflect. I was surprised that a very basic Christian action such as genuflecting was about to be taught and not caught. We were also to read to them the "Pagsisi". Besides, we were also tasked to give each one hygiene kits
Upon arriving in the activity room of Loreto Church, the children started arriving one by one. They all seemed excited that the room was filled with so much energy. There was healthy noise and restlessness among them that was overwhelming. Before the kids went to Confession, we showed the hygiene kits that they were to receive that day. Eagerly, they named the items inside and their purpose. They were taught that it is not only their physical bodies that must be cleansed, but also their spiritual soul as well. While briefing them on their first communion and confession, I felt happy for them as I remember my own first Holy Communion. I was eager for them to have the same beautiful experience I had. It was like having a flashback from a few years ago when I was in Grade 3 like them and was preparing to receive the Holy Eucharist. I was excited, jumping and even praying more and more for I felt a special attachment to the Lord. After the briefing, we brought them inside the church to practice genuflecting. It was nice to see that the children more or less knew how to genuflect although they needed a little help in doing it more properly.
Going back to the center, I felt a lot of emotions coming in all at once. At first there was exhaustion; surprise, then came eagerness and relief. I was so excited for the children to receive the sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. I wanted to share the feeling of my own experience way back when I was in third grade and hopefully, they would feel the same thing or maybe even more during their First Holy Communion.
Early this June, we came to teach, visit, and help out in any way we could in Samar. Sometimes I wonder who really is the teacher 'cause at the end of each day there, I felt as if I learned so much more from them.
It's inspiring how people who have so little and have gone through a lot can still have faith, hope, and love in their hearts, as well as practice the virtue of generosity even to those who have more. I guess sometimes we get so caught up in what's new or what's in that we forget to appreciate those little things and the blessings we receive each day. Till next summer, Samar ♥
by Jellica Saddi
Los Angeles, CA
The Lord knows how long serving Him through Hospice care has been on my mind. With the death of my brother, my volunteer experiences at home, medical missions abroad, visit to the sick, the special formation I was fortunate to receive through the Iraya Study Center in the Philippines, and the two years it took me to build a life back home in California, I'm finally at a good time in my life to commit to this. I've been on their mailing list since 2008, but this weekend I finally completed their Heart Touch Method training for the terminally-ill and marginalized human beings, and received my Hospice assignment today. Every single person I met this weekend touched my soul and I cannot express the gratitude and joy I feel. It's been an great end to my Spring Break, but I know this is only the beginning of something that will change my life forever and hopefully make a difference in someone else's life who will be moving on to the next.
May Valencia and Charlene Versoza, both UST students,got the chance to be part of the international gathering of university students in Rome last April 2015. Through their adviser from Iraya, they learned, discussed and wrote about UNIV 2014 theme: Cosmos: The Ecology of Man and His Environment. Below is the the abstract of their paper presented in Rome, Italy:
Safeguarding the Integrity of the Human Person:
A Case of the Regulation of Stem Cell Therapy in the Philippines
Due to technological developments, the healthcare environment is constantly facing change. Concretely, Adult Stem Cell Therapy has suddenly become a popular alternative for medical needs. This event has brought stem cell tourism in a boom that is, offering this unproven treatment to those who can afford the expensive services. This is a challenge healthcare has to face particularly in safeguarding the integrity of the human person. The Department of Health in the Philippines has taken steps into circulating guidelines to regulate the growing stem cell tourism in the country but it has not clarified whether the Adult Stem Cell therapy is still a research or a treatment. This paper aims to find out if the current Adult Stem Cell Therapy is research or a treatment and what regulations are in place for these procedures. From the data gathered, it can be concluded that majority still consider Adult Stem Cell Therapy as research and not treatment; and that there are efforts from the government to regulate these procedures. Recommendations include providing of clearer guidelines and stricter implementation of regulations.
by Chessy Celedonio, Adamson University
In this busy world, it is so hard to recognize life’s unfairness. We are occupied with our egoistic aspirations for personal success, selfish goals and wild dreams.In our journey, our walk is always on the rush that sometimes we almost forget to look around and notice people passing by, walking before, after or together with us. Sometimes, we haven’t realized that there are people around us who need our help.
Sama-Sama Sa Samar Rurals Service Project made me see the reality that there’s still a lot of Yolanda Victims who cry out for help. As we landed in Tacloban Airport, I was able to picture out in my mind what happened there couple of months ago. And as we travelled from Tacloban to Samar, I was able to see the devastating remembrance that typhoon Yolanda has left them.
Upon arriving at Hernani, the warm welcome of the Gawad Kalinga Family made me smile. My excitement overflowed as if I could not wait for the next day to come. To be with these people for almost a week will always be a memorable part of my journey, because I know that we’ve touched their lives in our own little ways.
Most of the people there don’t have expensive clothes to wear and delicious foods to eat, but they all have a big heart that welcome and love us as if we are really part of their family.
Countless realizations came into my life during and after our stay in Samar. The children in GK made me realize that life can be happy and meaningful if we only knew how to appreciate everything that we have. Whether small or big, everything is a blessing from God. Throughout the week, I was able to observe how strong the relationship of every family was. Despite of all the challenges they are facing, you can see that the love of the family for each other is the one that makes them physically and emotionally strong.
With this experience, I learned to open my heart and feel their sufferings. I also understood what generosity and compassion is.
As young people, we should be aware of the difficulties that persons, families and communities experience. Let us not be afraid to think of their situation. Let us be active! Let us be concerned and give attention to others.
by Dianne Argamosa, University of the Philippines
For Rurals 2014, we, the volunteers of Iraya Study Center came together at Samar with the intent of being able help with the little ways we can through teaching, painting, interviewing and assisting in the medical mission. In light of the recent devastation caused by super typhoon Yolanda, each of us was aware of the possible conditions the people of Samar were in. The weight of the tragedy falls greatly especially upon them, and it was still crucial to send the message of continuous recovery and hope. Keeping this in mind, perhaps I can say that each of us was determined to have that message come across. But of course, that won’t be a light task.
On our first few hours at Eastern Visayas, I remember one of the youngest volunteers saying, “We can’t really tell them everything will be alright”. She was staring across the window of the minibus we were on, getting a full view of the state the places were in.
Though it was evident that a lot of constructions were ongoing, people were recovering, I silently agreed. After seeing all the ruined houses, tree branches scattered across empty spaces that were probably residential areas before, hills full of ‘trees’ with only its trunk and roots remaining, bridges still being repaired, people still living in tents four months after the typhoon, people just beginning to build their houses, and the lives that were lost-- how can we explicitly and lightly say ‘Everything will be alright’? As much as we want to give happy memories to the kids we were going to teach, how should we go about it?
We had a lot of activities planned to make the most of our time at Samar. In the morning, we were to have enriching talks prepared by Ms. Marela, Ms. Krisna and Dr. Cla. The topics were on Piety, Sanctification of Work, Devotion to our Lady and Evangelization. We were also going to teach children with the lessons we prepared the evening before. Some days were allotted for Academics (like teaching Math), most were centered on Catechism and Virtues.
In the afternoon, we were divided into the Paint and Interview teams. We rotated each day to accomplish these two tasks. But, apart from St. Joseph GK Village, we also went to interview residents at Baranggay Trapikoand a person who lived uphill at Baranggay San Miguel.
Then on April 4, we were to have a Medical Mission at Mercedes, Samar. Each of the Volunteers were asked to fulfill certain roles such as being a doctor’s assistant, pharmacy assistant, A lecturer discussing nutrition facts and a ‘daycare ate’ taking care of the Children while the Medical Mission was ongoing.
In the end, despite all our worries, we were able to achieve all these and more. I think one of our guiding factors was the fact that no matter how challenging it may be, we were doing it for the Lord. We have Him as our strength. He has a purpose for why we came all together at Samar doing all these activities. He gave us protection and the grace to both accomplish our tasks and enjoy the activities with everyone as well.
Perhaps another reason for why we gained confidence lies in the GK Community itself. On our way to the GK site, I was wondering how to approach the village, the children. After all , we were still technically strangers to them.
However, when we arrived at St Joseph’s GK Village, those worries disappeared. It was already late in the afternoon, but the residents were still waiting for us, smiling at us as they welcome us to their community. I remember how the children’s voices and energy filled the place. They were even willing to play with us. Seeing them welcoming us so warmly gave us confidence.
And each day, it was the same. The children were always ready to listen to us, spend time with us while eager to learn the lessons we made for them. Though there was an initial language barrier, it gradually came down as we learned action songs and bits of Waray (and as we discover that there were students who can translate for us).
We also gained a lot of friends through each other. Having experienced the same conditions and activities, like bonding in the beach over a camp fire or lying on the sand under the stars on Samar’s clear skies, spending nap times in the bus on our way to our different destinations, preparing knock-knock jokes for our performances and surprise birthday celebrations. Honestly, our activities drained much of our energy each day, but it was fun spending time with everyone as well. Furthermore, as we offered it up to our Lord, it became more fulfilling and worthwhile.
If asked whether or not we would like to go to Samar once again, taking aside our school’s different academic scheduling, I think we would all immediately say, ‘yes’, because going back to Samar, to the children we teach, to the place that holds our Summer 2014 memories would make us all happy.