Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Streetkids on the beat

They sleep, wake up, walk, sit, run, play, eat--if ever they get to eat--on the streets of Manila. They are the streetkids of Manila. They dress shabbily, if they are lucky enough to have clothes to put on. They are even luckier if they had some kind of footwear as they hit the streets. During summertime, they look even dirtier and their sun-drenched bodies emit even a stronger smell than they do the rest of the year as there’s hardly any rain to at least wash down the stickiness from their young bodies. But the rainy months are a different story for these kids. Its bath-galore time under the rain, and the streets are an instant swimming pool of floodwaters where the kids can jump in and out with wild abandon. Never mind the murky smell and dark color of the waters, that’s good enough for these kids whose heads happily bob in and out of the waters all around, oblivious to some vehicles still trying to negotiate the streets hidden underneath. They are the streetkids of Manila. They run after vehicles, tap on the windows, hands outstretched for alms. They tail pedestrians, poke a finger on passerby to get their attention, the other hand outstretched for alms. They get hold of something resembling a rag, get up on passenger jeeps during the red light, kneel to wipe the footwear of the passengers, then stand up with hands outstretched for alms. They are the streetkids of Manila. They hungrily watch customers gulping their food and drinks at fastfood joints, their runny noses pressing against the restaurants’ cold glass walls that seem to separate the haves and the have-nots. They mix with the crowd at the markets, outside malls, at the parks, at the churches, virtually anywhere where there are people. Hands outstretched, they ask for money to buy bread, to buy food, "kahit konting barya lang po" (even just some loose change), they will usually say. There are some who are moved by the weary eyes looking directly at them and so fork out a few centavos or pesos. But there are also those who are reluctant to help these kids lest they just end up either gambling the money, or turning over their day’s collection to some syndicate whose “big boss” had actually let them loose on the streets. Every now and then, an agency rounds up these kids and places them in shelters. But if, indeed, some of them are able to start a new life through the shelters, other children soon take their place on the streets, with similar hunger and need for care. Every Christmas season, there is sure to be charitable groups that will hold gift-giving sessions left and right for these kids, with some entertainment thrown in. But after those events, the kids are again left to look after their own welfare. Some organizations do try to have a longer-term assistance for the kids, but the funds aren’t always enough, and the kids are always very many. Most of these kids are hardly literate. Most were born on the streets, as their parents, and their parents’ parents, were also born there. There’s no telling if the streetkids of this generation will also build their own families on the streets, or will also perish from this Earth on the streets. Every now and then, the news carries an item on some adult street inhabitant discovered already frozen dead on a street corner where she or he is usually seen begging or hanging around.

Just last night, while I was waiting for a jeepney ride on Visayas Ave., Quezon City, a very slim woman passed by in front of me, with three small very hungry-looking and dirty-looking kids tagging along with her. It was a pitiful sight. I remembered I had inside my shoulder bag leftover food from lunch I was about to bring home. I groped for the plastic bag that contained the food, and called out to the woman to give it to her. Her eyes lit up, and she gave her sweetest smile. "Salamat po (thank you)," she said. The kids quickly dived their small hands into the bag. I wish i could have done more.

’s streetkids, what’s in store for them? If citizens of this country want to know the real state of their nation, they need only to look out to the streets and watch as the streetkids do their daily (and nightly) beat.

Monday, November 24, 2008


THIS WILL DO. No steel is too hard, no bench is too narrow, no color is too pink—the crisscrossing pipes of a waiting shed along Elliptical Road, Quezon City, is temporary haven from the noonday heat to this homeless person (a.k.a. "taong grasa" or literally "a person covered in grime and grease") who just needs a place to rest and maybe sleep away hunger, Or, perhaps, beneath the cloth covering his face, he is awake, pondering when he will be unburdened of the crosses in his life. Meanwhile, his hand tightly grips his little treasure bag of odds-and-ends, lest he wakes up to find it lost to others like him also wandering in the big city.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

FEU high school e-group and friendship

I currently moderate a Yahoo e-group called “feu_magkababata.” Members are alumni of Batch 1981 of the Far Eastern University (FEU) Girls’ High School (GHS) and Boys’ High School (BHS). FEU is one of the popular universities in the Philippines, located in the area popularly known as “university belt” in the capital city of Manila. Back when I was studying in FEU (from the early 1970s--Grade 1 to High School [HS]), FEU was already famous for giving good educational training and having a nice, wide campus. The university belt’s streets (like Morayta or N. Reyes where FEU is located, Recto, Legarda, etc.) are home to a number of colleges and universities, as the moniker obviously implies. Our HS was established in the 1940s, and we were the last batch to graduate where the boys were segregated from the girls, and even teachers of the boys’ high were mostly different from those of the girls’ high. Boys were also housed in one building, and the girls in another, with the two buildings several meters away from each other but almost face to face. Needless to say, the batch after us already had mixed-sex classes, thus we were called “the last of the segregates.” And FEU continued to operate the HS facility up to around early 1990s, so we heard.
Anyway, going back to the feu_magkababata e-group, it was set up on August 30, 2005 by myself and Requito, upon his suggestion actually, since about four or five among us classmates/batchmates from way back grade school (where boys and girls were mixed in class) going all the way to HS were already exchanging e-mails at that time. Actually Requito and the four or five people I mentioned were among the few people who were my classmates from grade school to HS with whom I’ve remained in contact after many years. But we wanted to renew our communication with many other “missing” classmates/batchmates, especially the HS batch, for some reasons like we just plainly sorely missed one another and also that our batch was to celebrate its silver anniversary the following year. Requito said that the idea of forming an e-group was fine and worth watching out for “if it will soar,” especially since we were hopeful that many batchmates had access to the Internet and, hopefully also, had e-mail addresses given the prevalence of Internet usage. I volunteered to form the e-group.

Thinking of an e-group name
But Yahoo’s steps to forming an electronic group were quite easy to follow; the tough part was thinking of a name for the e-group that should capture our school’s name, carry the essen
ce of our batch in the FEU GHS and BHS, and be welcoming enough for other batchmates so that they will feel easily right at home from the moment they receive the online invitation to join the e-group. Well, after I came up with a few names, I finally decided to use feu (name of our school)_magkababata (Pilipino term for people who’ve been friends with one another since their youth). And, so, our little e-group was born with the initial four or five members. We rarely used the e-group in the early months. One member even e-mailed her USA vacation photos to the e-group, and she asked in her e-mail if anybody was actually opening and viewing the messages in the e-group. All the members replied "yes," all four of us. Well, in the latter part of the year that the e-group was formed, it had slowly grown in number as more contacts were added through referrals (like some batchmates knew how to contact others, and I immediately sent out invites to them for the e-group). Also that latter part of the year, several of us had already began meeting to talk about the holding of the batch’s silver anniversary reunion in 2006. Thus I got hold of more e-mail addresses to add to the e-group. Since all of us in the committees formed for the reunion were busy and still had to adjust our schedules for our face-to-face planning meetings, we agreed to hold discussions via e-mail. I thought that the e-group would be perfect for that. But since we were planning a May 2006 reunion already, I thought that adding all these new contacts to the e-group would take up a lot of time since many of them I found out had e-mail addresses but not too Internet-savvy. Or they weren’t into checking their e-mails that much. I then decided to form a separate e-mail loop for our batch, especially at that time for the purpose of gathering people who would know and be interested about attending our silver reunion coming up in just a few months. Well, news sure spreads like wildfire. Almost everyday, I would be adding many names (new referred contacts) to our e-mail loop, and I would be sending out e-mail to this loop everytime I had three to five new contacts, to announce their inclusion into the loop. At the back of my mind, I was always wondering when I could transfer all these people to the existing feu_magkababata e-group, without losing anyone in the email loop who could be uncomfortable with going through the steps in joining an e-group. The steps were actually quite simple but could be a bit of a challenge to those who were, like I said, not much into the Internet or computers for that matter, or for those who weren’t using Yahoo e-mail addresses. But then I was also starting to ask myself how long I could sustain or maintain the e-mail loop, whose list of contacts had been growing longer and longer. And I was aware that Yahoo could already consider e-mails from this loop as spam, at some point and thus block the e-mails.

Transfer to the e-group, we must

But I knew the time to take action had come. Whether they liked it or not, the e-mail loop contacts had to transfer to the e-group, fast. To guide them painlessly, I hoped, I wrote the steps to take in accepting the online invite from the group owner (me) and posted it in the e-mail loop. I gave them a deadline to take the necessary steps to transfer to the e-group, or else, they wouldn’t be “in the know” of the latest in the batch, especially w
ith the forthcoming reunion. Happily, most of the batchmates obliged and joined the e-group. A small number really couldn’t because of Internet limitations in their offices (where they mainly accessed their emails), and other understandable reasons. I maintained a small email loop for these hopeless cases, ha! ha!, sending them e-mails every now and then for important news about our batch (like parties, events, fund-raisers).

ow, our then struggling little e-group has grown to 190 members (especially after we successfully held our silver reunion in May 2007 in the Philippines, complete with 14 teachers whom we gathered from everywhere). (See our photo at the Holy Mass we held at the FEU Campus, with some of those who attended, a week before our reunion celebration.) The 190 is still a small number considering that we had a thousand population in our batch (for morning and afternoon classes, boys and girls). But I consider this 190 (and still growing) big enough, and a success number already. I’m saying this for many reasons. First, 190 is far more in number than the four or five original members.
Secondly, apart from garnering members from all over the Philippines, we’ve also touched base with batchmates in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, Sweden, USA, Canada, Middle East, and they’re all active in the e-group, whether as posters and/or readers.
Thirdly, many in our batch who’ve lost track of their friends in school have joyously found them back in the e-group. In fact, after our May reunion, many have had small reunions or get-togethers with their friends.
Fourthly, new friendships or acquaintances have been formed through the e-group, as we all get to see e-mails written or forwarded to the e-group by batchmates we didn’t get the chance to know before when we were still studying, especially for the opposite sexes who were separated by buildings but were in the same Batch 1981.
Fifthly, through our e-group, other batchmates have come to know of the need of some other batchmates and have generously provided help like financial assistance or job referrals, and even prayers.

United, we e-mail
In our feu_magkababata e-group, the GHS and BHS are united as one, exchanging hellos; memories of our being students then; the current updates in our lives; hopes for the future; jokes and more jokes; and even then-and-now photos in the e-group’s website. Some of the e-group members are active in posting messages; others are happy being silent readers of the posts. But whatever the sort of activity they do in the e-group, I sense that all of them, well, maybe except for one or two who couldn't cope with the deluge of e-mails every now and then—surely, we can’t please everybody although we try to—are happy being in the e-group. It does takes a bit of my time and some effort to be the moderator of our e-group. I keep an eye on things to make sure that there are no hitches in the e-group (like there are no problems in posting messages, new contacts are promptly invited and given welcome messages in the e-group, online applications to join the e-group are screened to make sure that they are really alumni of our batch). I’ve also been posting every start of the month the birthdays of the e-group members. But this time and effort spent feels worth it when I get thank-yous from some batchmates for keeping the e-group together, and who say how happy they are for finding their friends again in the e-group. I also get great satisfaction that the homesickness of batchmates living or working abroad has somehow been eased by thier participation in the e-group. I am also happy that even people I know who were/are shy are also in the e-group, even as readers. Well, I always say to my batchmates that I’m just moderating, just doing my share, but the success of the e-group is really up to all the batchmates as e-group members.
In 2011, our batch is celebrating its thirtieth year. There are initial talks to hold a reunion like we did in our silver year. And we’re glad that the e-group is already around because it’d be of sure help in getting more batchmates together in planning and implementing a possible big reunion in 2011. This would be so unlike in 2006 when we were then just starting to build our contacts (via e-mails and phone numbers), and had quite a difficult time with lesser people in the committees, with such short period to prepare for our silver year celebration.
By the way, I requested May, a batchmate based in Canada, to be my listed co-moderator in the e-group. I told her to be my co-moderator since I think it would be good for any e-group to have more than one in case something happens to the e-mail address of one of the moderators or registered group owner (like if her or his e-mail suddenly closes down).

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Prayer to Our Lady of Lourdes

Mary, you showed yourself to Bernadette in the crevice of the rock. In the cold and grey of winter, you brought the warmth, light and beauty of your presence,

In the often obscure depths of our lives,
in the depth of the world where evil is so powerful,
bring hope, return our confidence!

You are the Immaculate Conception,
come to our aid, sinners that we are.
Give us the humility to have a change of heart,
the courage to do penance.
Teach us to pray for all people.

Guide us to the source of true life.
Make us pilgrims going forward with your Church,
whet our appetite for the Eucharist,
the bread for the journey, the bread of life.

The Spirit brought about wonders in you, O Mary :
by his power, he has placed you near the Father,
in the glory of your eternal Son.
Look with kindness on our miserable bodies and hearts.
Shine forth for us, like a gentle light,
at the hour of our death.

Together with Bernadette, we pray to you, O Mary,
as your poor children.
May we enter, like her, into the spirit of the Beatitudes.
Then, we will be able, here below,
begin to know the joy of the Kingdom of Heaven
and sing together with you :
Magnificent !

Glory to you, Virgin Mary,
blessed servant of the Lord,
Mother of God,
dwelling place of the Holy Spirit!


Praying online is the website (in English and French) of the Grotto of Lourdes, France. Amid the influx of information and some disinformation that can happen in the World Wide Web, here's a site that's a respite from all that. Through the website, one can virtually visit or make a pilgrimage to the Grotto. One can make online intercessory petitions to the Mother. One can listen and meditate to the Holy Rosary, although it's presently recited in French. The Daily Word of God is available for easy viewing. Webcam shots and videos of the Shrine are also available. The site has many other features available. Starting my day interacting with the Lord gains a new perspective by tuning in early to this website.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Losing a dog; losing a cat

A friend told me the story of how her niece quite recently got back her missing dog after several months. One day, her niece's dog was gone from their home in a village. Days and weeks went by, and the dog couldn't be found. Soon after, the niece had to transfer residence to another village. One day, the niece's former neighbor was walking near a small pile of garbage in the old village. The neighbor saw a hungry-looking and dirty dog going through the dump. Despite its pitiful appearance, the dog looked familiar to the neighbor, who promptly called out the name of the niece's missing dog. Upon hearing its name, the dog quickly turned its head and looked to the person. The niece and her dog were reunited.

Now, here's the story of my missing cat. Every November, I can't help
but remember Panching's disappearance because he got lost on November 23, 1997. It was the day after a priest blessed our home to which my family and I transferred a week before. Despite our house being with a screened door and windows, we couldn't fathom how he could have ever gone out without our noticing it. And he rarely left the house that week that we moved in. He was an ordinary-looking brown cat, and he was about three years old when I lost him. I got him from the local SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), while still a teeny weeny kitten (neutered, by the way, by the SPCA when I got him, as it was their regulation for adopted cats). I'd keep him in a small cage overnight near my bed in his growing-up years for fear that our poodles will eat him up during the night, ha! ha! I'd patiently give him milk through a medicine dropper, until he could learn to eat. He was good cat, very obedient and smart. He'd sleep where he was told and motioned to sleep (he slept a lot to the point that you'd mistake him as a figurine on top of the piano or the ref). He'd shake hands if asked to. He was a good mouse-catcher. Later, he was already good friends with our poodles, and, sometimes, would sleep in the same bed with them. But he was also a brave cat. Like one morning, we woke to the sound of fighting cats in our living room, with matching falling objects. Panching was fighting it off with an intruder cat. I instinctively grabbed him to protect him from the bigger, more ferocious cat. But he instinctively turned his fangs to me, too, giving me a big bite on my left leg. Well, I don't know whatever happened to him after he got lost. Some friends told me that perhaps he returned to our old house, which was several miles away in another city. They said that cats and dogs have a good sense of direction and will often find their way back home when lost, especially if they are familiar already with where their homes are. But a check at our old home yielded no Panching. My sister's explanation is that after the priest blessed our renovated home (the priest also fondly petted Panching when he saw the cat sleeping on top of the piano), perhaps the bad spirits, if any, in our home were absorbed by the cat, and he was just zapped out of existence. Here's a picture of Panching, fondly remembered, in one of his sleeping poses. Shy, no?!