Sunday, November 26, 2006

How far Can One in Poverty Go?

As I listened to the announcement in church about giving donations to the poor for Christmas, I suddenly recalled a documentary shown on tv over a year ago. It showed adults from a locality in a very depressed area who only had one kidney. It was very unique...strange. Almost all of them had only one kidney. Why? The reporter found out that these people sold one of their kidneys to hospitals or families whose relatives needed a kidney transplant. This was illegal of course. But no one really paid attention to it until it was brought to the public's attention by this reporter. So the state made it clear to hospitals not to accept donors for organs who were not relatives of the person who needed the organ. The reporter said that the remaining kidney of some of those who sold one of their kidneys have started to fail. That wouldn't be such a surprise considering their poor health and condition.

I have heard of very poor people involved in crimes and drugs, even offering their children up for adoption or worse, (I can't find a better way to phrase it) selling their own children to "customers." Many of them are from depressed areas. It was their way of surviving from day to day. But watching the documentary on tv about people selling half their kidney to survive was a first for me. It was shocking, unbelievable. As always, things like this depress me. It made me realize how deep poverty is and the extent some would go just to survive and feed their families.

These people would be classified as the poorest among the poor. They have a typical profile. They live in makeshift shanties made of boxes, rusty galvanized iron or small pieces of wood put together. The roofs of their houses would be compared to paper that you had to put paperweights on to keep the wind from blowing them away. They used hollow-blocks as weights to keep their roofs from being blown away by strong wind. On stormy days, well, one can just imagine how they survive after each storm.

When I see or hear things like this, I always look at my own situation and learn to appreciate the blessings that have come my way. I sometimes hear my children complaining about the food they eat, even refusing to eat at times when they don't like the food on the table, or, hating going to school. I remind them how lucky they are that they can eat several times a day and that they are able to go to school to have an education while others their age barely get to have a full meal in a day, have to walk miles just to go to school, and work to help their parents earn money to buy food.

I of course don't want my children to go through hardship, but it certainly will be good for them to be aware of things around them to be able to appreciate what they have and be concerned enough to initiate sharing their own blessings with the less fortunate whether it's Christmas season or not.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Of Special Children, Parents and Teachers

My son started out slow and uninterested in school. As a baby, he often had what was medically termed as febrile convulsions whenever he had high fever. I can no longer recall the reason that triggered my son's pediatrician to recommend that he be checked by a neurologist some years later. But he had to undergo 2 full days of psychological tests to determine his mental capability.

I remember feeling so tortured for days when his neurologist wrongly interpreted the psychologist's medical findings and told me that my son was diagnosed with mental retardation. He was given the medical report ahead of us. I cried the whole time while talking to the neurologist. He told us what to expect...that my son may never finish college but that children like him usually excel in other fields like music and arts. He said to encourage and enrol my son in such activities.

And because of his condition, we had to find him a special school. It took us weeks to check out several schools. In one of them, I saw a teenage girl come in with her mother. For no reason, she shouted while walking towards the school entrance. What so shocked me was that the mother suddenly slapped her daughter hard on the face and swore at her for shouting. The girl stopped just as fast as she shouted and continued walking towards the school entrance. Her face was tears, no reaction. I was filling out the school's Information Sheet that time and found myself so shocked at what I had seen that I almost cried. We left the place and I remember my husband saying then that it was better if our son stayed in his present school than move him out from there. He would only get worse and not better. I certainly didn't argue with that.

My son had regular sessions with his psychologist for several weeks. At times he was made to play games or do activities that improved his motor skills. His attention span was short and he easily got distracted. It was in the first parent-doctor session with his psychologist that the doctor clarified that my son did not have mental retardation but a condition called learning difficulty. That meant he was just a slow learner in subjects like Math, English and Science.
Before the psychologist clarified my son's condition, we had actually gone to some schools that weren't for kids with his condition but those exclusively for the mentally retarded.

We finally found one that was ideal for his needs and the most reasonably priced. He attended two schools since he was evaluated as qualified for Mainstreaming classes. I have mentioned these schools earlier in a previous entry...the Radiance School where he has his regular classes and the Abiertas House of Friendship where he held his one-on-one lessons for Math, English and Science.

He has improved so much that his teachers and the school Directress decided after 2 years to let him try regular classes with tutoring to help him adjust. What his teachers found admirable in him was that he showed effort in trying to do things on his own. During exams, students in Mainstreaming classes are usually pulled out from regular class and given one-on-one exams. He refused to do this after his first exams though we were told that he sometimes requested to have one-one-on exams (usually in the finals - practial kid, lol).

He is doing much better now though they still give him some consideration and are lenient with his grades because they are aware of his learning difficulty. Nevertheless, he has improved a lot and is more self-confident. From the last talk with his teacher, his classmates' impression of him was that he was conceited, lol. I think that means he shows too much self-confidence. But knowing him, it is also his way of showing that he knows what he's doing and that he is capable of making decisions and doing things himself, though I know he often tends to be unsure and needs to confirm things.

He still has a tendency to easily get frightened and panic. He still has a short attention span and easily gets distracted. But omg, he wants to be a soldier. Just the mere thought scares me. It even seemed ages before we could accept that he has grown up and allowed him go to school and come home alone using public transportation. Despite this, the fear that he may get hurt when crossing the street on his own will always be there. We still tell him to take the long route home so he doesn't have to cross a wide busy road with fast-moving cars. I will always fear for his future but I know I have to prepare him to be independent and to survive on his own... because I may not always be around to be there for him.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Is it Ok to Whine?

There are just days when everything seems to drain me of energy and my biorhythm seems to be all down. I thought of hibernating again for a while but if I did that, it would be too early to leave a Merry Christmas note.
I've tried composing a new entry 3 different times the last 2 days but I can't seem to make it through to the end. The ending always didn't turn out to be how I wanted it.

I've been reflecting lately about the meaning of life, and what I want to make of it. Whenever I see all those people on the streets who have no homes nor regular food to fill their hungry stomachs, I ask myself...why am I whining? I have so much more than they have, I can support my family on my own, I am not rich but certainly a lot better off than they are.

Maybe it's human nature to never be satisfied with what one has, to always look for something more and better. All these could just be material things...the tangibles that can more easily be remedied. But what of the intangibles... those that touch one's emotions, sensibilities and peace of mind? Should it then be alright to sometimes whine for these reasons? I ask myself this question whenever I see people who are so deprived of the basic necessities in life and I find myself troubled over personal things. But sometimes it's dealing with the emotional aspect of life that makes it harder to cope. There seems to be something missing. Sometimes if we're lucky, we find an inspiration to hold on to that gives us the strength to go on. Then things become better again and we go on as things are.

A friend once told me it was ok to whine. Everyone has ups and downs. I am certainly no different. But I seldom whine and tend to keep things to myself as much as I can. I know that makes it harder for me to cope with things at times. But even a quiet cry helps...and talking to the few close friends that I have.

I know I still have to take action on things I have decided on. It's always the first step that's the hardest to take and I'd like to do that really soon. But would that make a difference now? Sometimes it's my lack of faith and belief in myself that draws me back. I've always needed a push at things like this. But I know I can make it, I've been told often enough.

Meanwhile, I will ponder over what worthwile Christmas project I can have for my kids to work on. I want them to grow up aware of the realities around them. My friend once told me I am overprotective and that I can't protect my children all their lives. I know it's true. They have been so sheltered and they whine at the least bit of inconvenience. That's why I appreciate the outreach programs they are being exposed to in school and the camping and retreat activities that teach them to be independent.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Of Special Children, Parents and Teachers...

This will not be a deep nor technical talk about Special Children. Like most of my entries, this too will come from my personal thoughts and feelings, based on the few encounters I have had with Special Children. This will probably be a long one, in two or three parts, some of it may even be a bit emotional. So here it goes...


There is a school here that offers Mainstreaming classes for children who are not mentally disabled but are slower than others in coping with their lessons. These children attend regular classes in this school like any normal student. The difference is that they are pulled out from regular class in the afternoon and are given one-on-one lessons in subjects they were diagnosed to be slow in. This is where their "Special Education" comes in, where they attend this part of their education in the Special School just meters away from where they hold their Mainstreaming classes...where the really Special Children who are mentally retarded, with down syndrome, or the specially gifted hold school.

There are actually two schools here managed by the same group. The first one is called Radiance School for regular students where children with learning difficulty also have mainstreaming classes. I found this a good approach since the cnildren with learning difficulty are exposed to regular schooling and learn to blend with regular students. The school offers Nursery to High School education with a population of only 300 to 500 students. The High Shcool though is located in another building nearby, just meters away from the Elementary School. Each class averages 15 to 20 students which I also find ideal because it is a very manageable number and the teacher can focus more on the children.

The other school is called Abiertas, House of Friendship. The High School and Special Children who are given special education (SPED)are in this compound. This is the same group that supports abused or pregnant women who prefer to remain anonymous until they give birth and ready to give up their children for adoption. From posters I have seen, Abiertas is either affiliated with or supported by UNICEF.I do know that they also get funding from several donors and sponsors. I don't know details of this so I will not discuss it here.

The SPED school by far has one of the most reasonable fees considering the specialized education given to these Special Children. But what I found especially nice and heartwarming about these two schools was that the emotional component was strongly considered by the schools' management. Children with learning difficulty usually feel inferior over others because they tend to perceive themselves as less capable and less intelligent than their schoolmates who attend full regular classes. So the management of Radiance School got the regular students involved in "looking after" these children and in the process, instilling in the students a sense of awareness and responsibility that children with learning difficulty should not be made fun of, ostracized or jeered at.

The school came out with a buddy system where regular students, usually older, are "partnered" with a child with learning difficulty and given the responsibility to "watch over" that child while in school. The responsibility is actually simple. They act like the older brothers or sisters who look after the younger ones during recess (but not literally keeping them company)to see that no one bullies the little ones like taking away their sandwich or food money, or that other students don't make fun of the little ones and call them names like stupid or moron, etc. These things are reported to Management and corrective actions are taken to make sure this doesn't happen again. In class, these older students sometimes go to the younger ones' classroom before classes start to say hello and see if everything is ok...just these simple little acts of kindness.

The students' class projects tend to be focused on activities that can help not only children with learning difficulty but also the other Special Children from Abiertas. The students get their own parents involved in the projects so even the projects of the Parents and Teachers' Association are often focused on the Special Children.

Even as the children with learning difficulty grow older, they are taught to be like older brothers or sisters to the younger ones. I remember one time when I passed by the Abiertas School to drop something off, the teachers and SPED children were busy rehearsing for a special fund-raising program. They needed to go to the Social Hall blocks away for dress rehearsal and needed transportation. One of the teachers approached me and requested if I can bring some of the kids there. Of course I said it was ok. I had a Sport Runner utility vehicle so I could take in a jampacked 12-14 kids and parents, the little ones sitting on the laps of the older ones.

While I was talking to the teacher, a fat little 5 or 8-year old girl with down syndrome excitedly opened the side of my car and wanted to get in. I remember her giving a long " car," as she hurriedly scampered up the passenger's seat. That really made me grin as I watched her find some support to climb inside. An older student in high school who was also from the SPED school tried to distract her from getting inside, but she was insistent. She finally got her way but at the back seat along with several others. She sat on the lap of one of the older ones.

We were already halfway towards our destination when the little girl realized she wasn't with her mother who was in another vehicle. She started asking for her mother and was already crying. The older children tried to calm her by pointing to the vehicle behind us saying her mother was there. I never really knew whether her mother was in the vehicle behind us but it calmed the little girl down. It always made me smile whenever I remember how the older kids tried to calm the little girl to keep her from crying. They were all special kids, but they acted like the older brother or sister by calming the little girl down, their own way of showing responsibility.

Well, this is just a simple story of my encounter with Special Children. But it always warms my heart when I remember it. Next time I will talk about my encounter with some of their teachers who dedicate so much of their time patiently teaching and caring for these Special Children, and of a parent's story about her Special Child, the travails she experienced and going through life with a special child.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Poor and the Needy...

When I left for work this morning, traffic was heavy. I sent my boss a text message that I would be late because I was caught in heavy traffic.

The highway was slow-moving, almost bumper to bumper. As I approached the flyover, I saw a middle-aged woman in worn-out, dirty clothes sitting on the street at the very side of the flyover. Her long skirt covered her legs, so I couldn't be sure if she was lame. This wasn't the first time I saw her. A few days ago when traffic wasn't so bad and cars swiftly fleeted through the highway, she was also there. And I thought, "What if a car was driving so fast and missed seeing her??? Would anyone driving in a fast highway even stop to give her money?" I couldn't understand her reason for "stationing" herself there. But she was back. So maybe people did stop to give her some money...but what a risk to her life for a measly sum of money. There are other safer places she could go to for help with certainly less risk to her life.

Some years back, it really used to upset me whenever I went home at night and saw this man on the street with no legs. He moved around by sitting on an improvised plywood with wheels pushing it with his hands. He was just as high as a car's wheel. I felt even worse when he wore very dark clothes and can hardly be seen at night by drivers while he moved on the busy street along with fast-moving cars. I always slowed down when I saw him and even looked at my side mirror to make sure if I had safely passed him. He moved from one car to another asking for money.

There are shelters and organizations that help these people so they can be independent and learn to earn a living despite their handicaps. But maybe there just aren't enough of these organizations around to help all of the less fortunate in the world. There are just so many who need support...or, maybe these people just haven't heard of such organizations that can help them. Nevertheless, the problem exists and these people need help and assistance, not just so they could survive each passing day but also to learn to survive without having to beg from people.

The company I work for does its own share to contribute to similar organizations. Donations are collected from employees and distributed to people from depressed areas. And every Christmas season, the company encourages employees to participate in an adopt-a-child for a day activity. Children from an orphanage are treated to a day of festivities with their foster parents-for-a-day to give them a memorable Christmas.

It seems there is never enough to do to help the needy. The disparity between the rich and poor is so wide, the plight of the needy among poor nations so deep and extensive that the basic necessities in life like food, shelter, clothing, and even water come so scarce for them.

Indeed, others...we... should consider ourselves lucky and not complain so much about our hardships in life, although I know sometimes things can seem so unbearable. Still, like I always say, "things happen for a reason." And sometimes these things open our eyes to the realities of life.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Outreach Programs...

I think it's great that schools try to open the children's eyes to the realities around make them realize that there are people far less fortunate than they are and to make them appreciate more what they have at present.

Yesterday, Gianni left with 43 other kids from his school to visit a prison nearby. They each brought a shirt to give to the prisoner assigned for them to interact with. I thought it was a great idea, though I had a bit of an argument with his father about it. He thinks Gianni shouldn't go, that I had no idea what the prison was like and that it could be dangerous. He said it wasn't that the kids might be brought to maximum security areas, but that they might get adventurous and wander off to restricted areas and get hostaged, or, there could be a prison outbreak. From history though, some prison outbreaks here are a far cry from the Prison Break series Gianni and his father used to watch regularly. Some that happen here are really quite violent.

Come to think of it, being in a Third World country, a prison like Muntinlupa isn't really such an attractive place to let your child go to. They've shown on tv, 4x4, poorly ventilated prison cells with more than 10 inmates sharing the room. Can you just imagine how these people slept or moved around a cramped room like that especially during summer? But that was far from my mind. Even such a sorry state prison had "social halls" where these people can intermingle with visitors and I didn't expect the kids to be brought to the prisoners' cells nor be exposed to prisoners in the maximum security area. I know there are ministries or special organizations that help uplift the situation of these people while inside the prison by teaching them livelihood programs they can busy themselves with and earn money from. Some have even been successful in converting some prisoners as devoted Christians.

Well I was right. Gianni said the prisoners had a special program or presentation prepared for them. Some spoke about why they ended up where they are now and gave inspirational talks. The inmate Gianni spoke to said that he ended up in jail because of drugs and the influence of friends. It made me smile a bit that Gianni sounded really sad about it. I'd like to think that his visit there has made an impact on him and his schoolmates and help mold them into better and responsible members of society.

An e-mail from Matt Damon...

If you're a One.Org member, it would be normal to receive messages from celebrities like Matt Damon, Will Smith or Brad Pitt in your Inbox. I mentioned about One.Org and similar organizations in a previous entry. It's an organization that aims to fight poverty, especially in countries like Africa. And it is a pleasant surprise to see just now in their Partners list that World Vision and UNICEF, whose projects I also support in my own way, are partners of in the fight for poverty and aids. When I sent out e-mails to friends to supportWorld Aids Day, it was really great to find out that a friend actually works for an organization affiliated with World Vision.

And with the World Aids Day event on December 1, I thought it was apt to share Matt Damon's e-mail with those who aren't members of One.Org and hopefully get more support that he asks for. Awareness is a first step, so just spread the word around.


From: Matt Damon,
Date: November 10, 2006
Subject: 3 Runners. 80 Days. 4,000 Miles.

Dear ONE Member,

Right now, three human beings are attempting the impossible - running 4,000 miles across the Sahara Desert to raise awareness for the 1.2 billion people around the world who don't have access to clean water. They will run 50 miles a day - for around 80 days - an amazing feat of human will and endurance.

Get updates on the run and join me in the fight for clean water.

Earlier this spring, my friends at the ONE Campaign and DATA brought me to Zambia and South Africa, where I witnessed extreme poverty and the role that clean drinking water plays in getting millions out of danger. I learned that a child dies every 15 seconds due to diseases from dirty water.

Upon my return, I wanted to do something.

Through some friends, I learned about three men who will undertake a quest so amazing and symbolic that it could do an immense amount of good for Africans in extreme poverty. In a bold expedition that has never been attempted - 3 men, from 3 nations will run from the Atlantic coast of Senegal, through Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Libya, to the Red Sea in Egypt.

My colleagues, including James Moll - a great filmmaker who won the Oscar for Best Documentary in 1999 - are documenting and promoting the expedition in our project called "Running the Sahara". As part of this effort, we've started a charitable initiative called H2O Africa, in a large part to raise awareness for clean water programs on the continent.

Get updates on the run and join me in the fight for clean water.

One of the reasons I got involved in the project was because of the day I spent with a 14 year-old girl in Zambia earlier this year. I walked two miles with her to the closest water source, a well outside her village. I asked her if she wanted to stay in her village when she grew up, and her face exploded into a huge smile. The translator said to me, "She is being very shy...she says that she wants to move to big city - Lusaka - she wants to be a nurse." And it was clear to me at that moment that if this well were not there for her, she would never even be able to entertain the concept of planning for the future - she would have been trying to survive just for that day.

This one well was giving hope to thousands of people in the surrounding area, and this hope translates into something concrete - that girl can now fulfill a dream to become a nurse, and can become an economic contributor to the Zambian economy.

Running the Sahara is happening NOW. These guys are there and they are going for it. And we want the world to sit up and take notice. These guys are my heroes, and I want to do whatever I can to support them and their mission.

Please join me.

Thank you,

Matt Damon, ONE Member

P.S. Stay tuned! Next week ONE is sending a small team to Mali to catch up with the runners. The team will upload video and blog reports,, about the progress of the expedition!

Thursday, November 02, 2006

World Vision, One.Org, Unicef ...

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from Josh Peck of As member, I get regular updates on the organization's activities. The group is leading the fight against global poverty and asking their political leaders to make a stand and support their cause. With active members like Bono, Matt Damon and a whole lot of other celebrities involved, the group is fast gaining attention and support worldwide.

When I was working for a business process outsourcing company some years back, I received a call from a representative of a Non-government Organization (NGO) called World Vision. The group was soliciting financial aid for me to sponsor a child from a depressed area so the child can go to school and be provided with the basic necessities in life.

A tv channel featured World Vision's projects. They showed children from remote areas who walk more than 10 kms to school everyday (some barefoot) through a mountain trail just to get an education. And when they get home...they don't play like other kids. They help their parents make bags or slippers from dried stalks of plants so they can sell them. Others are less lucky. They have to scrounge for things to sell like plastics and tin cans from garbage dump sites.

Unicef solicits funds for the same kind of support in the same way as World Vision...through personal mail. World Vision,, Unicef and other similar organizations all have one thing in common...they want to help the less privileged and uplift the standard of living. Something most governments don't do enough of, maybe because they're too busy with their own political agenda.

These organizations strike you where it counts most...the heart. They make us realize just how far luckier and privileged we are than many of these people from remote and depressed areas without even the most basic things in life.

It especially touched me when months ago, Live 8 showed the picture of a little girl taken 20 years ago. She was from Africa and was barely the size of the palm of a hand...thin, malnourished and hardly alive. They showed that same little girl in the picture at Live 8, standing on tv for the world to see...grown up, healthy, strong and about to finish college. And they are people like Bob Galdof, Bono, and non-government organizations like World Vision or that want to make a difference that can really make things happen.

Well, one good deed can cause a ripple of more good deeds, just like throwing a stone in still water...the ripple gets wider and wider until it reaches far. Each one can be that stone to start the ripple.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Starting Over...

I'm starting a Blog all over again...or another one. Like in my other Blog, my entries here will mostly express my feelings and emotions, an open view of the person that I am.Whoever started the idea of Blogging should feel good about himself or herself, because many people and I am one of them, have made blogging an outlet of their emotions. And from experience, it has helped a lot.

I'm still trying to discover a lot about the features of Maybe then I'd be able to come out with something creative and more interesting enough to post later.