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February 02 Issue

Ma. Donna Vela
There can never be greater joy than touching other people’s lives. There can never be greater fulfillment than entering other peoples' worlds to better understand what they are going through.

The visit to Tahanan ni Maria in Cavite last February 18, 2001 was another success. But during that brief stay, I couldn’t help but remember the experiences I had back in college, which helped changed my seemingly distorted views of life’s realities…realities that were once strange to me…experiences which I thought had already ended when I graduated two years ago.

I consider myself very lucky. I have a loving and ever-supportive family, had a good education, great friends, promising career, nice acquaintances, worthwhile experiences, and a bright future ahead. I have lived a sheltered life. I did not come from a rich family, but we were never deprived of the basic and fine things in life. Living in the province is like living in a serene, harmless place, away from someone else’s detrimental quest for humane living, if not hasty survival. Everything is simple yet nurtured with gentleness, love and care. I have come to believe that everything in this world is beautiful, kind and safe.

When I decided to study in Manila, I knew some things would be different. I knew that leaving behind everything that is familiar to me would be very tough. But I had to firmly stand my ground to attain my goals…I knew I had to be optimistic about what is there to conquer. Swiftly, as I embraced this entirely new world, time was given the reason to help me realize things and to help me fit in.The facades of the world I have known and accepted for so long have finally and slowly taken its true shape and color.

As I joined different organizations in my University, I learned how to cope with a lot of things. I have accepted responsibilities as officer of different committees while, at the same time maintaining my academic standing. It was such a great fulfillment knowing that I am able to balance my academic and extra-curricular activities. I made new friends and acquaintances, attended social soirées and accepted whatever the academe gratefully offered to young people like me. Most important of all, my organizations involved us in different socio-civic activities. They opened doors to new, unfamiliar things and gave me a chance to spread my wings. We had magnified our relevance in the society and intensified our desire to be heard. We sometimes found ourselves in the streets to campaign or fight for a cause. It was part of our duties and responsibilities as "scholars ng bayan". It is a duty for the general welfare. A duty which would eventually took me from the streets down to the real homes… to real people…to my close encounters with the harsh realities of life. Here I found poverty and diseases of all sorts in destitute areas, social struggles in this modern living, crimes in some streets of Manila, even brutalities and senseless killings in our own campus among other things. It almost made me paranoid and too vulnerable to face them all. It was so hard, but eventually I got them over with and I started establishing my own defense mechanisms to survive. I became active in almost all the activities and social responsibilities of my affiliated groups.

We had been part of different Outreach Activities extended to Institutions like Homes for the Aged and other deprived areas. There can never be anything more painful than enduring the sight of them all. I remember clearly when my provincial organization visited a remote and depressed area in our province, which has been badly stricken by a strong typhoon. It was such a hard drive -fallen trees were just everywhere, the badly torn and muddy terrain was just terrible, and the strong wind and bad weather almost had us give up, but we pushed through anyway…for a cause…for a higher purpose.

These were just few of the things I got myself into. But I never profoundly understood why we did some of those activities before. Of course, I knew then that they were for a cause and that people out there needed our help and inspirations to touch their lives, one way or another. But I knew that something unfair was going on. I admit I joined some of the activities out of sheer curiosity and out of fervent desire to fit in and somehow say, " hey I was with them when we did this so and so…" Part of my heart and mind knows that I had a hollow reason why I joined them. Maybe because I had my own priorities at that time and I had my own commitment and goals in life. I felt like, I was too young and too idealistic to be involved in those kinds of things. It was as though their presence was not only felt but magically magnified as well, that they made me so thoroughly helpless. I felt las if I was not prepared to accept things as they are. But over time, they made me realize that not everything is beautiful and kind in this world after all.

Now, a few years after my first encounters with the unkind realities of the real world, I can say that my perspective about things became broader and profound. I now look at this Outreach Activity from a different viewpoint. Getting involved in a socio-civic activity is no longer out of curiosity. A true desire to reach out especially to the elders already emanates from within me. Like others who have joined in this endeavor, I may not be financially and materially capable of totally uplifting their way of living, but I believe we were there to give something that will truly last…something that can not be bought nor stolen. We were there to give them joy…to uplift their spirit…to make them feel important…to make them realize that somebody still cares and that they have found a family in us.

When my Company vowed its commitment to help Tahanan ni Maria in its own unique ways, I felt that this is something to hold on to. It made me realize that despite the rapid changes around us, there will always be forces to keep us grounded…to lead us to imperfections in our society like the Tahanan…to help us realize that we’ve become too caught up with our own paces leaving others too far off…too far away, that lending a hand wouldn’t change our stand, but would in fact give them strength to move on and keep pace with the rest of us. But sometimes they’re too weak to even take a few steps, like the elders in Tahanan ni Maria. This is such a harsh reality. Sometimes, I wonder how unfairly things go on in this world…or how unequally distributed the world’s resources are. Sometimes, it seems like there’s nothing we can do about this status quo. And just as we want to narrow down the gap of this vivid inequality, it gets even wider, as the world continues to struggle toward what we call the towards globalization and interconnection…Scary isn’t it? We’re not even sure if we’re ready for it, but some of us have already accepted its dawn.

We are becoming victims of this so-called new era. People are slowly being alienated from each other. We are becoming impersonal and too pre-occupied with earthly things, gigantic dreams, immeasurable fame and fortune. It seems like this is a global epidemic inflicting everyone like falling dominos. But, there are many ways to combat this problem. For one, our Company’s commitment to help the elders in Tahanan has become too keen to address this reality. Don’t you think we are lucky because we were given the chance to share what we have with people we don’t know…people who lack even their basic necessities…people who are too weak to compete for their own survival? Have we not realized yet how fortunate we are because we were given the chance to see this side of the world …to know that we were the strong ones who could make a difference? Are we not blessed to realize and appreciate what we have, for it is in others’ lacking that we see the abundance of things in us? I wonder if anyone among us would want someday to live in a place like Tahanan ni Maria…completely estranged from the rest of the world and deprived of the freedom and privileges we currently enjoy. Isn’t now the perfect time to grab such an opportunity to be part of this kind of endeavor instead of just staying put indifferently and in the shadow of mediocrity? Is it too hard to give without wanting something in return? There can never be greater joy than touching other peoples' lives to better understand what they are going through.

This Outreach Activity has been mutually beneficial to both the elders and the volunteers. The elders in Tahanan have changed my life, so with the other volunteers. There are a lot of Lolo Ignacios, or Lola Nenitas out there. They will soon fade but what they have shared with us will never be forgotten…our memories with them will never wither. I thank them for enriching my life…for making me strong enough to accept the cruel things in life as part of my existence… for helping me appreciate what I have no matter how small it is. Most of all, I thank them for giving us the reason and the conviction to move on and to continue what we have just started.

© Ma. Donna Vela
Donna is a graduate and works in Martketing in the Philipines

Donna Vela
It didn’t occur to me that amid those smiles and pride in all her achievements, there is a truth that constantly eludes my perfect friend.


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