Last Sunday, September 1, I was given the opportunity to meet my fellow T.W.I. student ambassadors for the first time. Being the newest member of the team, I felt excited with a tinge of apprehension. Coincidentally (or possibly fated), our agenda for that day was to visit Cottolengo Filipino in Montalban to have a feeding program. Cottolengo Filipino is a private and non-government organization owned by Little Works of Divine Providence, which is founded by St. Luigi Orione. Cottolengo Filipino aids the abandoned, poor and disabled people of the country (as of the moment, it is exclusive only for boys).
Personally, I've always enjoyed reach-ins and outreach programs for the less fortunate. But that was my first time to experience being with children with Down syndrome, autism, microcephalus and the like. The moment we reached Cottolengo Filipino, we were welcomed with a warm smile from a young man who was standing by the gate. Little did I know that this young man was one of the 40 people who are being taken care of in the program.
Sir Jerome, one of the most active members of Cottolengo Filipino, and Fr. Stefan was our guide for the day, along with. They gave brief backgrounds about the organization. They also gave short and heartwarming stories about the abandoned kids. I remember Sir Jerome mentioning how these boys will grow up, live, and eventually lay down their lives in the orphanage. He mentioned how these boys “can’t function” in the outside world. And the organization’s main vision is to provide these people proper rehabilitation for their physical, mental and emotional being. Sir Jerome also mentioned how these people, despite their disabilities, are always happy and smiling. And as he said that, Michael passed by us while holding onto one of the helper’s hands. And just as Sir Jerome mentioned, he walked by us with a huge smile on his face and excitedly shouted “hello!” Sir Jerome also said something about how we, living in a busy and complex world, constantly surround ourselves with negativity and sadness. He said how we burden ourselves with unnecessary problems and troubles relentlessly. But these kids, these young men, have graver problems than we do. And yet they still manage to flash those beaming grins and smiles.
Sir Jerome’s words and Fr. Stefan’s stories really struck me to the point that I was so eager to just hug all these boys. And right there and then, I was on the verge of tears. I was trying so hard to stop myself from crying (I saved the tears for 6 hours and bawled in my room when I got home haha!) I've realized so much from Sir Jerome and Fr. Stefan’s words. And that was just the beginning of everything!
We were then toured around the compound. It was spacious and was really conducive for learning and rehabilitation. The walls were all colorful, lively and eye-catching, suitable for boys their age. The rooms had a number of beds, cabinets and shelves, and were assigned to each person. Everything was organized and properly maintained. Though it was evident that some necessities were still unavailable.
On the way to the dining room, we were able to meet Darwin. He’s one of the sweetest, funniest and most talented boys I've met! Fr. Stefan also mentioned how Darwin enjoys dancing. And the moment Darwin saw me bring out my camera, he gave me these adorable poses and smiled immediately. When we reached the dining room, we prepared their lunch and were given instructions on how to feed some of the boys. When the feeding began, everyone was busy doing their own business: feeding themselves, being fed, passing tissue, pouring water. And as the minutes passed, we've learned more about the boys. How some of them enjoy singing, directing, or even chewing on things. We also learned how Darwin, the vibrant dancer, was familiar with photography. There were times when he insisted on taking our photos. He really wanted to be behind the camera instead of being the subject of photos. (amazeballs!)
It was so entertaining to watch how all of them interacted with one another. They had a certain bond that showed their intimate relationship. It’s like they knew what one was scared of, how one eats, what one needs at this time of the day, etc.
Fr. Stefan and Sir Jerome also showed the activities that the boys do. They sometimes create candles or make molded figures of the cross and paint them afterwards. They also have a classroom with books, toys and other materials for learning. The only drawback is the limited amount of teachers who can educate and train the boys. And also the volunteers and sponsors who can help sustain the little community.
At the end of the program, I gave myself time to somehow reflect and think about everything that happened that day. It was no doubt that it was a day filled with new realizations and life-lessons. And these lessons, though common and really basic, were learned from people who we may have never expected to learn them from. Like how everyone is interrelated with one another. How teamwork is essential in times of struggle. How life is so valuable and how everyone deserves to live and develop it. How love can be shown through little acts of kindness and charity. And most of all, how true happiness can be found in the simplest things.
Reported by: Twista Neale Go