From October 25 to 31, 2014, a group of Xaverians from San Juan and Nuvali participated in a new program called Xplore Cebu that aims to cultivate good values from the students through a meaningful Gawad Kalinga experience in Bantayan Island, and an informative and enlightening tour of Cebu City. And for me, being part of that group of Xaverians-San Juan, it was a beautiful experience, truly one that I will cherish forever in my treasure box of precious memories.
What makes this program so special? Well, personally, I believe that it is the values that we have cultivated and the lessons that we have learned after being able to meet and interact with different kinds of people: our foster families in Bantayan Island and the Ateneo Hearters. To further expound on these insights, I would like to recollect everything that has happened in those seven days by sharing some of my personal stories and the values I cultivated, which helped me to improve myself as a person.
To start off, I would like to share how I was placed in a rather different situation as compared to my fellow participants. While preparing for Xplore Cebu, I received an email from my mentor that we could choose our housemates for the Gawad Kalinga Village in Bantayan Island. Each house could accommodate two to three Xaverians with one foster family assigned to them. I obviously chose one of my batch mates as I was not close to anyone else in my group. However, the moment we got to the village, small groups of twos and threes were starting to disperse from the big group as their names were being called for the housemate assignments. Halfway through the list, my batch mate was called, but he was paired with some other participants. I was seriously left panicking and confused as I was wondering why I did not get to be with my housemate of choice (just like most of the other participants) and anticipating on who I was going to be housemate with. With just around ten of us remaining, my name was finally called. However, a foreign sounding name was also called out simultaneously. And lo and behold, I was assigned to be with a French volunteer from ERDA Tech. And “he” is a “she”, and her name is Valentine.
In the beginning, it was awkward. We had no idea on how we were going to sleep as there was only one bamboo bed. Until finally, the “gentleman” in me manifested and so I offered her the bed, while I was to sleep on the cold floor. But when I did, she said that she would be fine sleeping on the floor as well. Clearly, I would not allow that. So eventually, we came to an agreement that our bags would serve as a divider or a barrier between us. Problem solved.
Valentine and I made a connection in an instant. Whenever there was an opportunity for us to talk, we grabbed it. We had an endless exchange of ideas and thoughts. I would ask her about the culture in France and vise versa. She would also ask me to teach her how to say common phrases in Filipino. Yes, she learned from me, but I learned more from her. And I look up to her for so many reasons. How she came all the way from France to the Philippines as a volunteer just to teach and touch lives. How she was able to win the hearts of our foster parents as well as the kids despite the language barrier. And how she was able to deal with the deafening sound I make while sleeping. Kidding aside, the lesson I learned is that there is nothing that can stop us to connect with other people, not even the difference in race, color, culture, background, and language. All it takes is a big heart and a genuine love to touch lives as love is truly the universal language that everyone can understand.
In Bantayan Island, the person who I am probably closest to is John Ray. He is the eldest child of our foster parents. He is also the only one among the siblings who can speak in Filipino. His younger siblings can only speak Cebuano as they do not go to school yet. At some point, I asked him when his birthday is. He replied, “December 5”. I then followed up my question on how his family celebrates his birthday, if they buy him a cake or give him gifts. After a brief moment of silence, it was unbelievable to hear his response, “Hindi pa ako nakakain ng keyk. Pag birthday ko, basta makapunta lang sa misa ang buong pamilya.” For a moment, I was thinking back on all the times when I almost turned away from God because of the challenges and obstacles in my life, but everything became so trivial now as I compared my life to his. John Ray taught me a lesson. It is not through material things that one will find true happiness and peace of mind, which can only be acquired through faith in God and doing good to others.
Let me sidetrack a bit, just to give a brief background. In 2013, Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines and left catastrophic damages that are still evident until today. The Gawad Kalinga Village was already erected at that time, housing a number of homeless people. However, despite the fact that these people had already moved into the village, the wrath of the typhoon was just too destructive to the point that they were still greatly affected. According to Tita Madonna, John Ray’s mother, their roof flew off the house, and their house was flooded waist level high, destroying all of their belongings. However, despite all of the misfortunes that the family had gone through, they remained strong and steadfast. And with prayers and a strong faith in God, they managed to rebuild their home and worked even harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel. A truly admirable trait, or so I thought, that I can emulate. That is, counting the blessings instead of the misfortunes and having a strong faith in God despite all of the challenges and obstacles that were encountered and learning to appreciate God and be thankful to Him even in difficult situations.
Okay, so the title already gave it away, but I will still get to that “breaking bed” part later on. For now, as I recall my Cebu experience, one thing that I will surely miss in Bantayan is the people, especially my foster family.
On the very first day, Valentine and I were already welcomed with genuine kindness and lasting hospitality. When Tita Madonna invited us to dinner, the “ulam” was crispy fried chicken. Only two plates with 2 sets of shiny cutleries were set on the table. We were also advised to eat ahead and not to wait for them. I will be honest. I was actually fine with this as I was too hungry to mind at all, until Valentine asked me why they were not going to eat with us. And so I asked Tita Madonna, and her reply caught me by surprise and made me feel ashamed a little bit. “Sige, mauna na kayo, maiistorbo lang kayo ng mga bata kasi ang iingay nila.” When I explained it to Valentine, we decided to invite Tita Madonna and her family to eat with us. She was hesitant initially but we insisted and so we spent the remaining dinners eating with everyone in the house and the “salu-salo” made the simple “ulam” prepared on the table become special.
I had a good night’s sleep for all 6 nights as I was dead tired already after working for hours in the construction site. But wait…not quite, as there was a night when I almost fell to the floor. Well, not my whole body actually but only my butt!!! Unsure of what really transpired as I was absolutely sound asleep that night until I woke up in the dead of night with my butt already dunked deep into a big hole that I created. Yes, I broke the bed!!! With a feeling of shame and guilt, I only manned up and told Tita Madonna about the whole thing on the last day. I offered to pay for the damages I had done, but she refused vehemently, as for her, the bed is just easy to replace but our friendship is not. “Hayaan mo, pag nakita ko yung butas, maaalala lagi kita!” We all had a good laugh.
New Friends from the South
When I mention “south”, I am referring to two places in particular, a nearer south and a farther south. The Xavier-Nuvali students are from the nearer south and the Ateneo Hearters are from the farther south. They are the students from Sacred Heart-Ateneo de Cebu, where we stayed after leaving Bantayan Island. Just like in Bantayan, we were also welcomed by the teachers and students of the Jesuit school with open arms. We spent a full day of interaction with the high school students. We were toured by their student leaders. The Xaverians and the Ateneo Hearters connected really well. It was a fun-filled day as we truly enjoyed each other’s company.
Another factor that made this experience one for the books is how it involved fellow Xaverians from Nuvali, the nearer south. I was not used to calling the female counterparts as Xaverians. It seems so surreal to me that Xavier School, being an exclusive school for boys for so many years, is now accepting girls in Nuvali. However, as I braved myself a little more, I eventually got to talk with some of them. The topic was initially centered only on the question, “What is it like in Xavier Nuvali?” But as we exchanged our thoughts and moved on, we became more comfortable with each other as if we had been friends for years.
When we finally had to go our separate ways and bid our farewells, it seemed so difficult to let go because of the mighty bond that was made. We exchanged cell numbers, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat usernames to keep in touch.
Looking back, I will never forget being a part of the Xplore Cebu team as this valuable experience definitely not only left my skin with a deep tan from the scorching heat of the sun, which serves as battle scars from a long day of painting, carrying sacks of limestones, mangrove planting with our feet submerged into the mud filled with teeny weeny hermit crabs and oversized earthworms, but more importantly, it also left an unforgettable imprint in my heart that I will cherish forever. I will forever carry on the values that I have cultivated and the lessons that I have learned. I hope that Xavier School will continue to have this program and send more teams in the future so that my fellow Xaverians may learn from this life changing experience as well. I hope that this will not be the end but the start of something really great. Luceat Lux!