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Christmas cheers for Lumad kids
By: Emmanuel Roldan
DAVAO City—Christmas is gift-giving. As children, we are taught in our basic catechesis that Christmas is the birthday of the Lord Jesus who was sent by the Father to redeem the world. He is the biggest gift God has given to the world as beautifully written in the Holy Book, “He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son”. As God was the first giver of gift we are told to respond in our little ways. On their part, the three Kings brought along with them distinct gifts which symbolically, as Christian tradition says, represented the three great missions of Christ that are also shared by every Christians: to be a priest, prophet and king. In fact the whole “salvific” mission of Christ is gift-giving, starting from being the little child born of a virgin Mother which ended in the glorious, albeit tragic death on the cross—the ultimate gift for us sinners.
But as we grow older, Christmas has a different meaning to us, yet the essence of gift-giving remains the same. Andres Bonifacio’s Christmas is giving one’s life to the “Tinubuang Lupa” as well as those who followed him by taking arms, papers and pens against powerful oppressors. Saints, martyrs and heroes also lived and died in the name of gift-giving. Religious people give their entire life for the service of the church so as with the nine million or so overseas Filipino workers (OFW) and Filipinos in diaspora who, most often than not, braved the simmering heat of the desert, the cold damp of winter, and creeping loneliness just to be a collective gift to an ailing nation and their poor families. These “modern heroes” by force or by choice epitomize both the nation’s sense of selfless gift-giving and the true state of the nation. The more flights of OFW abroad and more names of Filipinos in the death row waiting their penultimate fate in dark Chinese or Arabian jails mean that something is terribly wrong down here. Many Filipinos who were rescued from the turmoil in different countries of the Middle East have found no work in the homeland and now lining up again in job fairs and recruitment agencies to return.
But all of these did not deter the Worldwide Filipino Alliance (WFA), a small and struggling network of Filipinos abroad and their local warriors from bringing Christmas cheers to Lumad children at Tibi-tibi Elementary School. The school is located on the hilltop of the Municipality of Talaingod, Davao del Norte, more than two-hour drive from Davao City and one of the two municipalities with very high incidence of malnutrition in the region. WFA volunteers led by its global Executive Vice President Arman Muleem from the Filipino kingdom of Jeddah came with boxes of school supplies, food and computer set in the early morning of December 14 for 425 Ata-Manobo children. This was the second time WFA and its local counterpart, the Pangdaigdigang Alyansa ng Pilipino Inc. (PAPI) brought gifts to support the education of Lumad children in Tibi-tibi. The first one was in June 2011 where WFA-PAPI brought school backpacks, school books and assorted school supplies. WFA’s strong pillar in Australia Leo Ceniza joined the first gift-giving outreach program who later sent a number of personal computers and laptops to the same school on his own.
The group was warmly welcomed by the very amiable principal Ms. Reynaly G. Santos and her equally supportive young teachers, Parents and Teachers Association representatives and of course the horde of smiling school children. Many of these children were proudly displaying their backpacks given earlier by WFA and wearing their best indigenous costumes for the occasion. A short but lively program was prepared by the school. Arman Muleem and Romy Lagahit, PAPI president, handed over the gifts to Ms. Santos on behalf of WFA donors like Atty. Lolita Farmer, Leo Ceniza and friends in Australia, Jeddah Knights and company in KSA, the indefatigable WFA primemover Prof. Cesar Torres and friends in the US and those other nameless supporters of WFA and the phoenix reborn.
The gift-giving activity was witnessed by DepEd District Supervisor Noli T. Felipe who thanked the donor for selecting Tibi-tibi Elementary School as recipient community for its outreach program. He said the department was too poor to look into all the needs of far-flung schools like Tibi-tibi. Municipal Administrator Sandro Tocmo also read the message of Mayor Basilio Libayao which cited with pride, among other things, Tibi-tibi Elementary School for producing academically successful graduates and for garnering prizes in the latest provincial culture and arts competition. Despite its lack of musical instruments, the cultural troupe of Tibi-tibi won first prize in the said competition. Surely moved by the potentials of the children’s cultural group, the Mr. Muleem went up the stage again and announced that WFA would commit two “agongs” for the school to the delight of the crowd.
A sumptuous meal, prepared by teachers and parents was later shared by about 700 children, guests, teachers and parents. Words are not enough to describe the cheers reflected in the eyes of children who have not celebrated their Christmas party that way. Children’s laughter and indigenous chants of “Maopya Salamat Kanyo Tibo” still linger happily in the air as WFA volunteers started to move back home. Oh, what a day to remember.