Did you share your blessings this Christmas? A village could be waiting for you.

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Celebrating Christmas with the children of Lamtabong made December 2016 an amazing one!

Celebrating Christmas with the children of Lamtabong made December 2016 an amazing one! Photo by Loel Palma.

“We make a living by what we get; but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

A child's simple dream of a happy Christmas can be in your hands.

A child’s simple dream of a happy Christmas can be in your hands. Photo by Loel Palma.

I should challenge you – do it next Christmas. If you aren’t into it yet. Find the time. It could become your life’s best time ever.

A quiet revolution led by baby boomers and millennials is happening that does not get on the already-too-crowded headlines nowadays. A friend’s working children saved for a year from their salaries to sponsor a simple gift giving activity in a nearby orphanage. A family brings children from their poor neighborhood for a chicken and spaghetti meal in a popular fast food chain. A group of high school friends pooled their resources to buy goodies and a variety of food for children and their families – this one needs credit for their coordination efforts bringing their Christmas treat in a far-flung mountainous village.

We have been sponsoring the Christmas Party of my sister’s grade 5 pupils with small gifts and food for 10 years now. This year, the 44 children ate a simple party meal and went home smiling with school supplies as gifts. We encourage other relatives and friends to do the same in their own impoverished village schools. Sharing the event on social media does not mean you are flaunting your efforts of giving back but actually challenges and inspires others to share. Imagine the chain reaction if people respond to your call to action?

The boys enjoyed the snacks brought for them during their Christmas party. Even the simplest efforts can mean a lot to many children.

The boys enjoyed the snacks brought for them during their Christmas party. Even the simplest efforts can mean a lot to many children. Photo by Loel Palma.

Lamtabong Elementary School is located on the foot of a hill and is part of Barangay Lambingi in the municipality of Banga in South Cotabato in Mindanao, Philippines. With close to 300 schoolchildren studying in six classrooms, two are newly constructed and four are run-down, every class has at least 40 children. One of the classes is on morning and afternoon sessions. The school’s recently assigned principal Christopher Pelayo said the kindergarten class with 29 children has to hold their classes in a makeshift room in the middle of two rooms.

Next Christmas, don't leave a child sad and hungry. You can help in your own way.

Next Christmas, don’t leave a child sad and hungry. You can help in your own way.

“We have to survive with the P14,000 (USD290) monthly operating expense budget provided to us”, Pelayo added. That budget he explained covers small maintenance and repair work, travel expenses of teachers on trainings and meetings, school supplies and other needs. With six teachers under him, they creatively find ways to address their school’s needs. The village is composed of a majority of B’laan tribe who eke out a living from working in nearby cornfields. They can hardly buy their children’s school supplies. Most of the farms were gone, the village is surrounded with banana plantations.

Rebelyn, a 29-year old mother of two said their meager income comes from doing farm labor such as weeding, planting, putting fertilizers or pesticides and harvesting at P100 ($2.5) per day. They usually are able to work for 10 days in a month, if they get lucky. Pelayo said a Christmas celebration is a luxury the villagers cannot afford. On the school’s Christmas Party last week, the teachers have to contribute for the children to share bread. Many did not attend he said because they have nothing to bring.

Rebelyn (far right), a 29-year old mother, is grateful of people coming to help the children. "We want our children to have better future than ours."

Rebelyn (far right), a 29-year old mother, is grateful of people coming to help the children. “We want our children to have better future than ours.”

Our visiting group, composed of cousins and nieces, brought biscuits and juice for the children. It was unforgettable how the children’s and parents’ faces lit up as they all lined-up for their share. Josie, 35-year old mother said it was the first time a group has come and made the children happy. “It is your coming here and sharing time with us that’s important”, she added. Many of the women marry as young as 12-16 years old for lack of opportunity to study further beyond elementary. Rebelyn said, “Marrying is the only option for us. What do you do? We want our children to do better than us.”

Kindergarten teacher Amalia Dizon, 43, said it is difficult to watch children come to school often without lunch. A mother of two, she said it is painful for her to think of the hunger these children endure. “My husband and I cook extra food on schooldays so I can share it with my pupils. It is not much but it gives me relief that we can eat together. The rest of the teachers here do that – even buy supplies for their class so they can use something”, Dizon added.

Kindergarten teacher Amalia, 43, shares one has to have a heart for children to endure the challenges. "We often bring extra food as many of them are hungry. How can they learn if their stomach is empty?"

Kindergarten teacher Amalia, 43, shares one has to have a heart for children to endure the challenges. “We often bring extra food as many of them are hungry. How can they learn if their stomach is empty?”

Pelayo’s Christmas wish is for additional classrooms to be built. He holds office in a thatched roofed hut that also serves as the feeding center and meeting room. He worries where to keep the computer equipment when they are able to avail of them. “We do not have electricity and internet yet but we are finding ways”, he shared and added, “But foremost in our priorities is the classrooms where children can study and learn well.” He is hoping that generous individuals will take notice and help improve the children’s learning facilities.

It is not too late to check in your neighborhood and find a way to share. Make a child happy. Talk to the public school teachers of the children’s needs. Our own humble gift giving started when my sister Nanette, a public school teacher, told me 10 years ago that she got moved when saw a girl help her gather the leftover after she cooked bihon (rice noodles), brought bread and juice packs for her pupils. Then she asked her if it was fine for her to bring home the leftovers. “For my sister”, she told Nanette.

This boy was born without his left arm but goes to his kindergarten class regularly.

This boy was born without his left arm but goes to his kindergarten class regularly. Photo by Loel Palma.

Just a tip when sharing, make sure the food and supplies you give are sensitive to children coming from different tribes and religious affiliations. The last thing we want in a classroom is to isolate or leave a child behind because the food or gifts are not acceptable for them. Can you imagine if we can bring children in the cities to share gifts to children in the villages? Both groups will surely learn from each other and kindness sown while they are still young. One thing is very certain though, the fulfillment that you will feel is priceless.

Note: If you want to donate to the school, please contact school principal Christopher Pelayo at mobile # +63-930-1855714 or email him at chris111175@gmail.com. You can also leave a message in the blog.

MORE TIPS when planning for a reach-out activity

Children in Lamtabong school eagerly wait for their gifts. More than the material gifts that you can share is making them feel that you truly care.

Children in Lamtabong school eagerly wait for their gifts. More than the material gifts that you can share is making them feel that you truly care.

  • Ask your public school teachers where your need is most needed. It doesn’t have to be on Christmastime. Some people would collect for June and give school supplies at the start of the school year.
  • Be practical of what you give. Pooling resources together to renovate a classroom or provide a much-needed blackboard, sports equipment or teaching supplies would be for long-term.
  • Be conscious that children come from different tribes, beliefs or religious affiliations. Check if what you’re giving can isolate other children and make them feel that they are not included.
  • Brief your group before you arrive. Check if everyone is dressed appropriately. Let them know if there are some sensitive topics or actions they should not discuss. Do not come with any agenda except to share from your heart.
  • Check the security situation. Do not take it for granted that because you are from the neighboring place, everything is secure. You do not want to put your family into a risk and make it a traumatic incident for everyone.
  • Make sure everyone is in the mood for the activity. More than the gifts you are sharing is showing that you truly care and you respect everyone participating, including parents and the children themselves.
  • Do not assume you know better. The people in the village (or barangay) knows their situation and needs better. Do not impose on what you want. Respect on their situation is very important.

Is there any lesson you want to share in your reach-out activity? Please share with us!

More photos from Lamtabong below:

This school's makeshift building that serves as the principal's and teaching force's office, feeding center and meeting room.

This school’s makeshift building that serves as the principal’s and teaching force’s office, feeding center and meeting room.

School principal Chris Pelayo rides on his motorbike going to the school daily and crosses this hanging bridge.

School principal Chris Pelayo rides on his motorbike going to the school daily and crosses this hanging bridge.

Make it a family affair! Teaching your children to be generous can be done in many creative ways. They'll love it!

Make it a family affair! Teaching your children to be generous can be done in many creative ways. They’ll love it!

Chris (far right) tapped into his own family support group to help the children in his school. You'll be surprised how your family can rise up to the challenge and show they care.

Chris (far right) tapped into his own family support group to help the children in his school. You’ll be surprised how your family can rise up to the challenge and show they care.

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