Throw those fears and ‘what ifs’ out of the window: Maryann shows you can learn and drive in your 50s

When you have the persistence, you can do what you want. Maryann did it at 51. So can you!

Three years ago she decided it’s time to drive. Maryann Pudadera-Morales was already 51! Did she survive? You bet, she did! In the Philippines, it is almost a luxury to have a car, hence, not many women drive. Those who dare are a cut above the rest.

For one to do it past midlife even deserves an applause. With the kind of traffic we have in most cities around the country, it takes a lot of nerve and spunk. In her own words, here’s her story and the exciting adventure that went with it.

When did u decide to buy a car and drive?

When I moved as area services manager of South Cotabato 1 Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 1), my office was in one of the malls in Koronadal City. It was almost a 2km daily commute from the house.  I usually go home at 7pm and my grueling challenge include walking to the highway to get a pedicab. It was uncomfortable passing through dim alleys. It often takes me two ‘rides’ as drivers would demand extra fare for direct trips.

This made me think of “what ifs”.  What if I drive my own car so I can move in and out anytime? I told myself I should start with a second hand car so I can have a trial period and will not lose my head if I end up damaging the car.

A week after, I found out my husband Boyet’s nephew was selling his blue Kia Sportage. I actually love the car! We agreed on a P65k (USD1,300) deal and it was delivered from Bukidnon to Koronadal on July 2015. None of us knew how to drive yet!

My sister Majal recommended Mikmik Marquez who taught at a driving school and in a month’s time I was driving. I maneuvered through the city’s traffic and the rotunda that most new drivers dread. I did not waste time. Few days after, I already drove long distance to nearby towns of Surallah and Tupi.

You think I am too confident? Of course not! While on the wheels, there were too many fears playing on my head: car stalls at the highway or intersection and cause massive traffic jam; attack of my astigmatism & farsightedness especially driving at night; and yes, an accident beyond my control.

What did I do? It is good I started with a good teacher who boosted my self-confidence and believed I can do it. He always had positive feedback when I commit mistakes. I believed on the principle that every driver has a right on the road. Nobody should be pushed or rushed even if other drivers are impatient for their turn. I always stayed calm.

I chose defensive driving most of the time. But before I leave the house, I make sure I check the car and necessary documents. I often forget my driver’s license when I change handbags and it is an inconvenience if you get flagged unexpectedly on the road for random traffic checks.

That kind if independence driving your own car gets to you. It is not about the car. It’s the experience.

What was the feeling when you first drove on your own?

It was on August, 2015. I was nervous and fidgety. I shouted on top of my voice inside the car asking myself “Why is it only now that you learned to drive!”. That day I experienced three engine shut down. I tried to perfect the shifting of gears and the engine stalled every time I was slow. I prayed while on the road. I avoided the highway and took the secondary roads which were less busy.

I scolded myself most of the time that I could have done it earlier but I waited until 50. Eventually, I had a sense of triumph because it gave me more chances to bond with my two fast-growing sons. It was also a huge accomplishment that at my age, I did it.

Until now, my biggest challenge is parking in a crowded area, such as malls teeming with cars and people. It was always tough for me to estimate the distance of the parking space and the cars beside me.

Then you got yourself a new car and drove from Luzon to Mindanao?

It took a while to decide. A mother like me would always look at the practical side of any decision. That was how I approached the idea of buying a new one. By then I was driving for close to two years.

I had countless discussions with my two sons Kyle and Ken on the type of car, how much and the payment terms as our budget will be affected. The most crucial question was, “Do we really need a new car?”

I asked around, checked with my co-workers and went car-shopping. While I was in Bacolod City on a work summit, I test drove a Honda car and I resolved that if ever I buy one, that would be it! I know that car prices are set to go up late that year so I have to decide fast. I did beat my own deadline.

But to save money, I have to buy the car in Manila, drive or get it shipped to Koronadal. That’s three major islands away. We decided it will be a fun challenge to drive it from Luzon to Mindanao. By then Kyle was already driving. I have a back-up.

Our two boys, Kyle and Ken, were my ultimate travel buddies. The car has become our bonding place.

How did we prepared for the one-week Luzon to Mindanao trip?

I started doing a good research. I browsed on the internet, read vlogs, blogs and reviews. I checked the route and roads for travel time. I also asked people who did it then marked the weather patterns. I chose the lodging houses plus the tourist spots along the way, noted the boat-transfer rates, took some notes and brainstormed with Kyle. It was an amazing way to teach my sons how to plan and execute it.

Then we decided on the schedule. I have to time it with my sons’ school holidays. Kyle chose the make of our new car, a metallic silver Honda, and after completing the transaction in Manila, on 14 October 2017, he drove it out of the Honda Cars shop in Shaw Boulevard together with our sales agent Cedric and picked me and Ken at the airport.

We ensured that all the documents are in place especially the car insurance. We want the trip to be hassle-free. We headed to Lucena City for the test-drive and formal turn-over. After a dinner, Cedric left us on our own. On the way we realized we forgot to take our ceremonial hand-over. Lucena was memorable because that was where it all began.

The route you took and what have you learned along the way?

 We travelled almost 1,500 kilometers in a span of two days with our online guide-WAZE.  We set off from SLEX to the Pan-Philippine (Maharlika Highway) with our goal to hit Legaspi City and see the majestic Mayon Volcano before dusk then head for Batangas-Quezon-Camarines Sur and finally, Albay.

I had my first, but short, driving stint (less than an hour) for an automatic vehicle when we traversed the CamSur to Albay road, as Kyle took his first nap from a 4-hour drive from Lucena. We were not able to marvel the real beauty of Mt. Mayon because the weather got bad. We left early at 4:00am and also never caught a glimpse of the beautiful Aurora Province.

Our second night was spent at Matnog, Sorsogon where Brave, the car’s got its name by now, got to her first boat ride in the Roll On/Roll Off (RORO) Fast Cat trip at 4:00am. We bid goodbye to Luzon on 15 October 2017.

Visayas Island came next via Allen, Samar through the San Bernardino Strait. With mixed emotions of fear and excitement, I took the wheels for my second driving leg and my first ever long drive from Samar to Tacloban.  It meant missing some fantastic scenic views especially the San Juanico Bridge which was truly a sight to behold!

Goofy time at Samar’s famous landmark – the amazing San Juanico Bridge. I was driving so I missed most of the view.

Kyle and Ken enjoyed the view of a lifetime on Samar’s famous landmark while I drove. We headed straight to Liloan Port in Southern Leyte for the second ferry boat ride to Surigao after being stranded for almost 2 hours in Palo, Leyte due to the heavy downpour which flooded the main road. We did not drive through the flood fearing the car might stall andl damage the engine.

The Fast-Cat (Catamaran) sailed us quickly back to our beloved home island of Mindanao. From the port to Davao City at midnight of April 15, with me driving, we reached Davao City at 8:00am for some quick stopover in a mall. After the rest, we were on the road again to General Santos City for Brave’s first Preventive Maintenance Check (PMS) at a Honda Cars shop.

On October 16 before dusk, our brand new car was parked in front of our house.

The time I spent with Kyle and Ken was every mom’s amazing adventure. I had their undivided attention and we even were able to talk about our issues, plans and aspirations in life.

After that wonderful trip, we did another one to Iloilo City recently on March 31, 2018 where we traveled through Cotabato City-Pagadian-Dipolog-Dumaguete-Bacolod route.

It always starts with a decision. The rest will follow.

Can you use your lessons in driving at work?

I have been the area manager for three years but had been working with Socoteco 1 for 29 years. Learning how to drive provided me opportunity to understand and relate with the problems and difficulties encountered by the frontline personnel who does a daily grind of job on the road on a 24/7 work shift. It was a tough job to do.

 

 As a woman driver, I always reminded myself to take mind over matter all the time.  Before learning to drive, I was delayed by the belief that I can never ever drive a car because I have difficulties with my eyesight. I also entertained fears that I may cause discomfort to other drivers. My mentor encouraged and boosted my morale.

Dare yourself: Dream. Save.  Conquer.

Any more lessons on driving and traveling?

Traveling in the Philippines means roughing it out! There were challenges on stop overs such as rest-areas with unpleasant odors, misrouted ways, undisciplined drivers and narrow roads. We sometimes had no choice but to hold our breaths and just laugh them off. That’s positivity in action.

Long-haul land travel, at times, can be uncomfortable, but the right attitude makes a big difference. We got left by the fast craft, and we had to settle for the slower boat. We never got annoyed, it was still a good experience! We enjoyed the sea breeze and island views on the upper deck as we wondered, “Are we there yet?”

The trip taught us to be patient. Patience is indeed a virtue with a lot of waiting in the ports, so much like life when you wait for the right things to happen at the right time. Rushing takes you off a fun experience!

The trip was not perfect as we wanted it to be. We had few hitches along the way we could have stayed longer to enjoy the sights. But then that’s a good excuse to do it all over again next time. I know we did the best.

The trip was an exciting adventure that Kyle and Ken will surely remember for the rest of their life. What truly makes us rich is not the things we own but the experience we dare to do – then live to share.

Meet Brave, my new best friend.

Love letters and memories: Marriage so good it’s absolutely made in heaven

Finding your perfect match and sharing a journey to ‘forever’ still exists. “Getting married is fate. It just brought us together.”

She was a lovely village lass teaching in a public school in Tantangan, a small town in Mindanao, while he was a rising hotshot lawyer from Manila. The backdrop was the in 60s and the only way to travel was by ship that took weeks. It was amazing how their worlds were brought together with such distance and barrrier between them.

But fate intervened, their two paths crossed and they found each other. We all love stories like these, but double that giddy feeling when you know them well.

Paulo Coelho wrote, “So, I love you because the entire universe conspired to help me find you.” This is what exactly happened to Pio and Minda.

Pio Marinas, a lawyer by profession, hails from Natividad, Pangasinan. After finishing his law degree from Manuel L. Quezon University and passing the bar exams, he worked in an insurance company in Manila. His nephew, then the mayor of Tantangan, encouraged him to move to Mindanao. He thought it was a good idea.

When a position in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) opened up, he took the opportunity and got assigned in its satellite office covering Tantangan town and Koronadal City. Imagine the ship sailing and you are on to your journey courtesy of (to borrow from a popular local movie) this thing called tadhana (fate)?

Luzminda Cueva’s family moved to Tantangan in the late 50s where she finished a 2-year Elementary Teaching Course and was offered a job in a private Catholic school in Koronadal. She took the job to complete a bachelor’s degree in Education from the Notre Dame of Marbel College (now a university).

She was 25 and he was 27. She is third in the family of five and he is the youngest in the family of nine.  

“I like her eyes. They’re beautiful”, Pio said of their first meeting. He added with a laugh, “Look at her. Even when we are old, it is still the same.” It was love at first sight for him. But she was not easily taken. Minda thought he was a palikero (ladies’ man) coming from Manila.

She even knew that he has eyes for other women in town. “I was skeptical”, she added with a laugh. Her parents also warned her to be wary of him. The lovers’ date weekends were often at Capitol Restaurant, then the most popular place in Koronadal, eating pancit canton.

Mayor Torres eventually stepped in and urged Pio to pursue Minda seriously. Upping the ante of his efforts, everyone got won over, including Minda’s parents. The courtship took eight months. Only then did she realise he was so different.

She recalled with a smile, “He sent me love letters everyday for the entire period he was wooing me.” No day was missed.

The carefully preserved love letters survived 50 years. Very much like their relationship that turned gold.

Handwritten, the letters expressed Pio’s passion and love for her. They were delivered to their house by a boy every 3:00 pm, rain or shine. The letters we lovingly kept for 50 years and still in good condition! Just like the love they have for each other. Pio also visited daily in the afternoons after work, prompting her parents to be slightly annoyed.

But Minda got impressed. Who can do such things with commitment and persistence? “He was there when we needed something done. He even helped us pump our Petromax at night”, she said. Without electricity, most of the houses in the 60s were lighted up with gas-fueled Petromax lamp.

Small efforts win big, remember that. In life and in winning the heart of your somebody special, it still works. Take it from Pio.

On 16 September 1967, the two got married in a simple ceremony attended by families and close friends. After the marriage, Pio became a revelation to Minda. “For one who grew up in the big city, he was unexpectedly hardworking and dedicated. He would clean the house when he got home early and would even prepare his own clothes, to lessen my burden”, she shared.

The courtship lasted for eight months. Quite a record in the conservative 60s. Their uncle, Mayor Torres, said why would they wait if they love each other.

He even took care of her family, especially her mother. “One time my father kept forgetting using his medicine for his allergy. Pio promptly took over and made sure he did not miss it three times a day. He also supported me in helping my siblings”, Minda shared. Those small acts built their relationship’s strong foundation.

Used to a frugal life, Minda budgeted their income carefully. “I grew up from a poor but hardworking family so every centavo counts. I took care of our income well. With our savings, I started investing in mortgaged lands and together, we started to learn about farming. Pio would be sunburned biking to our farms everyday and he never minded”, she continued.

At one point, they were able to acquire 20 hectares of rice farms mortgaged to them. “I realised I never had any issue with him. It was a very easy relationship. We understood each other and thrived on the journey as husband and wife. There was balance and we supported each other’s plans.” 

She added, “I cannot remember us fighting that much. Pio would always be the patient one to wait until I calm down. We always settled our differences right away.” Some girls have all the luck.

Pio said in reflection, “This once more proves that a woman can make or unmake a man. We were having good income but she knows how to take care and make it grow. She is very responsible. We did really well financially because she knows how to manage what we have.”

They bought their very first car, a Volkswagen Brazilia, with their hard-earned income. Minda found it funny now that she was too shy to ride the car. It was among the few ones in town. After three years, they started seeking medical advise to start having children. Lillian came first on 1970 followed by Marlowe on 1972.

From left: Marlowe, Minda and Pio, Lillian and Charlene. “We are blessed. We cannot ask for more. God is so good.”

Five years later Charlene was born. With all of the children leading successful family lives and career, both Pio and Minda claim this as the highest point in their marriage. Lillian, married to Rhodel who is an Anesthesiologist, is a successful businesswoman taking the reigns of the investments they acquired through the years. Marlowe, married to Kaye, is a Primary Care and Geriatrics Practitioner in the US and Charlene is a bank executive based in the United Kingdom.

Sharing a laugh with grandson Boris.

“We were often overwhelmed how God just made things fall into place in our life – from the very start how we met to how we started our life together in Tantangan until we moved in Koronadal City when he became the general manager of South Cotabato 1 Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco-1). God has impeccable timing in our lives”, Pio added.

So, a perfect marriage is possible. They both quipped they had their challenges, too, but they were both mature to face them, “There were a lot of ups and downs just like any other couple. But we have more petty arguments now that we are older than when we were younger. Maybe because we have time for each other’s differences. But nothing really serious. We always laugh at the incidents. They were actually silly lovers’ quarrels.”

Their most heart-wrenching challenge was when Pio underwent a heart by-pass surgery in 2010. People who loved, from different parts of the world, them joined them in prayers for his speedy recovery. He did. “I appreciated more that Lillian and her family never left the country and lived close by. God really plans well and took care of us”, he said.

On 2017, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in Koronadal City attended by family and friends. “I never even imagined we would come this far. We even celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary when my mother was still alive. That alone was an unforgettable blessing”, she added.

Do they still have a dream for themselves? “We’re more than fulfilled, we cannot ask for more. God gave us beyond what we prayed for.”

Yes, marriage made in heaven still exists. It may not be for everyone, but ‘forever’ and everlasting love do exist.

The brood has grown through the years with four grandchildren.

The nuggets of wisdom they learned from their journey together:

  1. Marrying the right person is fate. You just find each other. When you find that person, treasure him or her as a blessing in your life.
  2. Marry only for love. Never get married if you do not love the person. If you love him or her, the rest of the journey will be easy. The challenges will be bearable because you share it together.
  3. Never hurt a woman. If you hurt the woman you love, you also suffer. Men might not accept it but if they look into themselves inwardly, the pain is deeper.
  4. Expect marriage as hard work shared together. Even small chores at home that are shared becomes precious memories. They strengthen the bond.
  5. Be thankful. Having a beautiful marriage and a wonderful family are a privilege given by God. Material things are just secondary.

This part of their their vow to each other during their 25th wedding anniversary still rings true until their golden years, “May you remember today the promise we made, to be faithful to each other regardless of our age.”

The Marinas family during their 50th wedding anniversary. They have four grandchildren, two boys from Lillian and two boys from Marlowe.

As the former general manager of Socoteco-1, all its staff became part of the family.

More of the author’s stories here: Cecil Laguardia @ Medium

Not a usual Christmas story: The Iron Man from China finally says “Yes”

My dad was born during the most difficult years in China including the Second World War.

Guest Blogger: Echo Chow

I was the only one in the family who dared to pose dad “silly” questions. And he was delighted to get an audience who’s willing to listen to his repeated accounts.

Like many people in his generation, my dad Chow Loi Yum was born on 1924 in Jie Yang City of Guangdong Province in China. It was at a time where everyone had to struggle for survival.  Whenever I showed him stories about famine and civil wars in Africa, he didn’t express much shock and sympathy like my friends normally did. 

Instead, he cited me loads of examples in his old days, such as “You couldn’t even find tree bark to fill your stomach”, or how they lived in deep fear because of the brutal killings and bombings by the Japanese army during the Second World War, etc.

He managed the delivery of most of his children. Where did he learn the skill? He used to work in the piggery of a wealthy family where he helped deliver piglets.

Isn’t wisdom found among the aged?

Although dad attended school for only nine months, his knowledge was far beyond my understanding.  All of my siblings, except my oldest sister and I, were delivered by dad with his own hands.  “I used to work for a wealthy family. I fed pigs and delivered piglets. Piglets and human babies are similar. The skill is just the same,” dad said.

“Your brother didn’t cry when he was born. So I spanked him,” dad said explaining it’s kind of life-saving techniques he learnt from the village elders before he got married.

The traditional wisdom is that if the newborn doesn’t cry, it’s probable his or her throat is stuck with something else. If it’s not handled properly and immediately, the baby will suffocate and die shortly. 

This sounds scientific. But traditional belief sometimes also has its superstitious side. It was said that in order to bring blessings to offsprings, parents have to bury the placenta of the newborn under a tree. 

Dad was unfortunately detained by a policeman who mistook him a murderer for he was holding a bag tainted with blood. Dad was released only after the police confirmed mom just gave birth to a baby delivered at home.

We couldn’t help laughing when hearing such memoirs.  But these happy moments were rare.  Dad’s life was full of bitterness.  He lost his parents at the age of 15, and was then adopted by a widow.  He married my mom Lee Sin Ching through an arranged marriage.  As life was too difficult, he came to Hong Kong alone to earn a living to feed the family. 

Several years later, mom also came and 8 of their 9 children, including me the youngest, were born and settled here.

For when he is weak, then…

As father, dad was the very strict and stubborn type who got irritated easily.  Working restlessly as a coolie to make ends meet, dad was too tired to talk to his children, not to mention arranging family outings.  “Freedom” was almost non-exist as dad had a very strong sense to protect (or over-protect) his children, especially daughters. 

Though a traditional Chiuchow family values boys more than girls, on the matter of religion, dad was equal. I recalled how he scolded my brother who went to church, “Ask your Heavenly Father to give you food and pay you school fees! Don’t ask me for money!”

It was understandable because the people of dad’s generation had been told (or probably brainwashed) that all missionaries came with a political purpose to colonize China. He was such a hardline opponent of Christianity that I never imagined this iron man will eventually confess to Jesus Christ.

I think dad’s heart was softened when he realized that his physical and mental conditions deteriorated drastically as he aged.  His stance on Christianity was not as hard as before.  Evidence was his responses toward the same question he asked me in three occasions.

Echo with her Dad. The youngest of 9 siblings, she learned a lot from her father’s conventional wisdom.

Like Peter, I was questioned three times

On the Christmas Eve of 2008, I didn’t know why I felt uncomfortable when dad worshipped our ancestors with idol rituals. “Dad, don’t burn incense stick anymore.  It’s harmful to your eyes,” I used such an excuse hoping not to offend him. “Are you believing in Jesus Christ?” Dad suddenly asked.  “No, not yet,” I stuttered but felt uneasy at heart.  And this was the night I made my confession to Jesus (see A journey of faith: the day I met my best guide in Jerusalem).

The dilemma is that, Christians also respect our ancestors, but we’d remember them with prayers but not the idol rituals that local customs perform.  But it’s not easy to persuade the elderly at this point.

A few months later, dad raised the same question again when I was watching a Christian TV program.  I admitted. He didn’t say a word.

The third time occurred when I was hiding in my room fearing that dad would ask me to worship mom on her death anniversary day.  Again, dad kept silent for a while when I said yes. “Jesus doesn’t like his followers to worship ancestors. Let me do this on behalf of you.” 

What?! I couldn’t believe my ears but it did come from dad’s mouth. It’s certainly a miracle!  I did nothing and the most difficult part was fixed!  Total relief.

I was luckier than the Apostle Peter who denied Jesus three times in an era of religious persecutions. I was given 3 chances to confirm my belief in a comparatively freer environment.  Witnessing dad’s attitude change but not knowing what to do then, however, I truly believe there’s an invisible hand guiding me and others to open dad’s heart steps by steps.

Actually I couldn’t recall starting from when, I felt like I should hug and chat with dad more. “You seem to love and care for your parent more after becoming a Christian,” dad told me one day.  I was not aware of this at that time, but when looking back from now, I think it’s God who taught me how to love, and passed His love to dad through me. 

She never imagined that one day her father would embrace Christianity.

Coincidence or plan?

One day, I asked dad if he wanted to go to church presuming that he would reject. “Yes, but I want a church who preaches in Chiuchow dialect.”  To my surprise, dad gave me a specific answer.  But I had no idea where to find such a church.

Some weeks later, I accidentally discovered an invitation poster on the notice board of the building I lived in. I didn’t even know the church which fulfilled dad’s requirement had been set up for over 20 years, and it located just in the opposite road of my home! But then the challenge came – dad always fell asleep during the Sunday service.  Did he hear anything? What could I do?

Strangers or angels?

Fortunately a stranger I met on the street by chance had offered great help.  He was the pastor of the church mentioned.  He spoke dad’s dialect, and served the elderly.  He told me he would visit dad soon. I only realized later that he not only visited dad but also gave dad one-to-one teachings every week.  In one afternoon of 2013, he sent me a whatsapp message saying that dad had accepted Jesus Christ as savior. 

Dad was baptized at the age of 89. He died one year later.

I am sure the last few years were dad’s happiest time in life.  Apart from using me as a passage to convey love to dad,  God also used dad to help me understand the heart of a father.  I used to think that God is too great and too abstract. I couldn’t use human language to praise a perfect God.  But when one day I thanked dad for what he has done for the family, his sparkling eyes and sweet smiles reminded me this would be the exact response from our Heavenly Father when we praise Him with our genuine heart.

God is eternal but our earthly father isn’t.  So I lived every moment like the last moment with dad.  I intentionally conducted video interviews and took farewell photos for him, for I wanted to capture the very happy moments in my very last memory about him. I had offered dad the best of my everything when he was alive. I have no regrets in the rest of my life. Still, I miss him a lot but I am sure he’s in good hands. 

We will meet again when the time comes.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” (Acts 16:31)

A celebration with family and friends after his baptism. At 89, he embraced Christianity.

Echo is a graduate of Intercultural Studies and Public History and is now a communicator in an organization based in Hong Kong pursuing poverty alleviation. She loves traveling but often gets lost even in her own hometown. She is a curious life adventurer keen on learning new things and meeting people.

Siquijor Diaries: Lilibeth’s pan bisaya and why her bakeshop is a hit

By the time I met her in Siquijor, Lilibeth is already famous.

She was featured in GMA’s Byahe ni Drew, a travel show, in an Asian magazine, countless travel blogs and soon according to her on Kris Aquino’s social media channel. The last time Kris was supposed to come, a brewing storm prevented the trip to the frustration of her fans who crowded at Lilibeth’s bakeshop excited to see her.

My guide and pedicab driver Warren Omalza asked if I want to try a pan bisaya that’s been frequented by many tourists. Quite belatedly. By the time he mentioned, we were already past the bread shop. Good move we were already hungry so we decided to go back.

Every day is a busy day but its touching Lilibeth is generous with her time to curious customers like me.

The bakeshop in Barangay Binoongan (or widely known as Talingting), a part of Enrique Villanueva municipality is modest, nothing unusual from the small shops that dot the roadsides of Siquijor, even the whole country. But it changes when you meet the woman who made it possible.

It is made of bamboo and wood with some wooden tables and chairs thrown in for those who want to sit down and eat snacks or lunch.

The presidential son Baste Duterte sat on same tables with his friends. He promised to go back.

Lilibeth Viernes Alce, 49, has been baking for four years after a local micro-finance Paglaum trained her and provided support for her to start her own small business.

A mother of three (one died a baby), she established the business to send her youngest child to school. Her eldest stopped studying because she is sickly and is happier helping her in the shop.

Today, Lilibeth’s bakeshop consumes two sacks of flour for the rising demand which is even higher on holidays, during town fiestas and at summertime. Customers would often buy in dozens for pasalubong to families and friends.

I ate her freshly baked salvaro, cheese bread and bucayo torta and was blown away. Soft, delicious and tasted just like how your grandma can do it at home. There are more mouth-watering choices: ensaymada, tinalay, pan de leche and mongo bread.

As we talked, Lilibeth was preparing mounds of newly-prepared doughs ready to be baked inside her makeshift oven made of stone. It looked like a busy day as more bread are taken out and put in the display shelves.

“It is best eaten hot coming straight from the oven”, Lilibeth quips with a smile.

Baking is a passion. Lilibeth’s joy can be tasted in the bread she bakes with her family.

It was not very hard to figure out why her bakeshop is a hit. Lilibeth’s passion and love for what she does can be tasted in every bread she bakes. Her eyes light up as she talks about baking, the appreciation of her customers and the attention her bakeshop was getting.

She dreams of making the business bigger and build a house for her family. Lilibeth says, “Our house had been there even before I was born so it must be over 50 years old. My mother is also sick and I want to make sure she is provided with the medicines she need.

Tourists and local visitors are fast helping her make this happen, even her own fellow islanders who advise tourists not to miss the bake shop. Everyone loves someone who wins over poverty. One social media post got shared and the rest is history.

Simple and unpretentious, this bakeshop symbolized the hardworking spirit of the islanders like Lilibeth.

I am proud to have met and talked to Lilibeth. She is a shining example to all women that hardwork pays and nothing is impossible if you aim high for it.

A neophyte warrior’s amazing journey beating cancer

Meggie finds her true strength as a woman that cancer cannot beat. She is every woman’s hero for the inspiring courage.

Guest Blogger: Margareth Rose “Meggie” Santos

I always keep in mind that God is enough.

If I have Him, I have all that I need. I don’t want to sound like a preacher but my heart is always filled with joy every time I think how God made miracles in my life.

My 2-year cancer story is among the most spectacular miracles I personally witnessed.

The day I knew I had cancer was not the day I went to see the doctor. I knew I had it years back. Just like the rest of us when we feel something, I always ignored believing it will come to pass. Denial is an easy excuse to face a sordid reality.

The pain would be intermittent. Sooner than I thought, my breast was already deformed and had a discharged.

I kept my condition to myself.

I was worried at the cost of getting sick, and with my family members “depending ” on me, coming out with the truth that I had cancer would like an explosion.

One day I decided I should do it. I stopped smoking and went to see my pastor friend Efren and his wife Winnie. 

Smiling and putting up a brave front after my 2nd chemotherapy last October 2015.

Honestly, I didn’t know how to handle the situation. Telling my family and discussing the financial aspect of the treatment were difficult.

I only had a part time job and had very little savings left.We prayed for guidance before they accompanied me to my doctor.

But God always has His ways.

That August weekend,  my friends and I planned a trip to Davao. I took it as an opportunity that it would be the right time to tell them my story. But it never happened.

After a 3-hour trip and shopping, I took a shower. That was when my wound bled profusely that I almost consumed a roll of toilet paper. It never stopped.

There was no other way but call for help and told my friends that I needed to be brought to the hospital. It came as a shock to them because nobody knew my lump was already in that advanced stage.

After that frightful evening at Davao Doctors Hospital, everything was never the same again.

We went home to General Santos City the following day. I was brought to specialists and one test came after the other. When all the results were out I knew I was in advanced stage of invasive ductal carcinoma.

Mine was sadly a case of neglect.

My doctor said cancer nowadays doesn’t have to be that damaging as it used to be. As long as your body is receptive to the medicines, you can be treated. That was were I anchored my hopes on.

I am fortunate that my doctor, Dr. Cortez happened to be a very close family friend. It is important that we trust our doctors.

That evening I prayed to God and asked Him for me to get well and for Him to guide me in all of my decisions.

All smiles after finishing my 8th chemo session.

Truly, God’s way is amazing. 

The outpouring of support was overwhelming.

Friends near and afar, family members, high school classmates and batch mates from Batch 77 of Notre Dame raised funds for my medication.

My former colleagues from South Cotabato ll Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco 2) and party mates from politics, friends from Rotary, my prayer support group from Singles For Christ and a lot more.

I told myself in jest it pays to be Ms. Friendship. God has blessed me with friends who stood by me.

My first chemotherapy treatment was on September 22, 2015.

I needed six and an additional two more sessions. On March 30, 2016, I have completed eight. Each time I went to the hospital for the session, I would ask God for strength. The prayers helped me complete my medications without any complication.

I had my mastectomy and on July 12, 2016 then my repeat biopsy after. The result was favorable. All of the 10 lymph nodes test were negative.

My cancer stage was downgraded from stage 4 to stage 2b. I still undergo daily treatment and calcium shots every six months to strengthen my bones. These procedures could continue for the rest of my life but I already claim my victory!

My journey battling cancer was easier because my friends, even people I hardly knew, fought with me. We did it together!

I have claimed that the Lord has healed me. Now I am a woman of faith coming out stronger, braver and bolder. I thank the Almighty for blessing me with a family who stood by me all through out my journey. We’re all in these together.

A young friend whose mom didn’t survive cancer gave me this book. It was the first I’ve read while going through the ordeal and got so much inspiration from it.

I am a neophyte warrior, happy and contented with God’s mercy. I have just been blessed with another lifetime. We have an amazing God who heals. Cancer is just a chapter in our life and not the whole story.

Nowhere in my life has this saying became even more meaningful, ”Where there is great love, there can always be miracles”.

I find joy and gladness not only today but in almost everyday of my life because it has been said that contentment only comes when we realise God is all we need.

There are infinite possibilities in life. In my own experience, one can never be a loser because you get something good out of being hurt. You become stronger in spirit and closer to God, Life acquires more meaning.

It is just sad we have to experience pain before we value life and learn to live it to the full.

Meggie is now an active member of the Cancer Society of GenSan sharing her story and inspiring more women to support the fight against breast cancer.

Every woman should do these:

  1. Go to your doctor and do not waste time in denial. I learned this the hard way. This doesn’t have to happen to you.
  2. Prepare yourself for the results. Keep yourself strong. Our lives are tested by the courage we face every challenge. 
  3. Leave the treatment and other processes to the the experts: your doctor and God. After all is said and done, let your faith take over.
  4. Do your daily journal. In my case, it gives me a sense of worth. You see your journey very clearly.
  5. Do not be ashamed to ask for prayers. It helps a lot. My friends and acquaintances stood by me and I never felt alone.
  6. Ask God to heal you. He listens.

My family is my source of strength and inspiration

I realized life can be lived simply without racing for time. Cancer made me slow down and be thankful everyday. 

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Margareth Rose Santos, or fondly called Meggie by friends, now teaches part time at Brokenshire School of Socsargen, Inc. and is based in General Santos City, Philippines. She continues to be an active member of the Rotary Club of Dadiangas and the Cancer Society of GenSan. In her free time, she still takes part in Socoteco-2 activities where she was a former Institutional Development Manager. Meggie was also a former Sangguniang Lunsod member (city councilor) of Gensan.

Communicating: Just break that glass!

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.”Albert Schweitzer

A cooperative becomes true to its name when it’s run by an inspired and involved team. Koronadal 1-A Director Myrna Clavesillas working with her group.

The Communications Workshop for 25 participants, an interesting mix from different departments of South Cotabato Electric Cooperative, Inc. (Socoteco-1) did not disappoint. I made it a point it was not my workshop but theirs. This was often easier said than done, but in this case it was a breeze. Making it great or not, it is in their hands, not mine (well, a big chunk will also be from me, not passing the buck). They did it! The 3-day activity aimed to uncover many opportunities that will make service better for its over 100,000 consumers from 10 municipalities of the province of South Cotabato located in the southern part of the Philippines.

The first day was quite gloomy. Few people came early. An uncertain thought crossed my mind. Will this work? Maybe? As I settled with the materials I bought, I assured myself that in my years of doing a communications workshop, I never went home empty-handed. The house was always brought down. But there could be a first, right?

A frontrunner in the country’s electrification program alongside 120 electric cooperatives in the country, Socoteco-1 has seen many awards roll up its sleeved through the years. How do you keep up with the reputation and service reliability in the social media, and generally the digital communications age? Service includes prompt and effective information sharing with consumers, many of whom are now the milennials – young income-earners who pay the bills.

A leader is often one who is very much part of the team’s work, from the trivial to the most critical, sleeves rolled-up and making decisions. All eyes on Socoteco-1’s new (OIC) General Manager Edsel Epistola (3rd from left) as he takes the coop to new heights in rural electrification.

What have we learned together?

  • Everyone is genuinely interested to be part of change for the better. Looking at internal communications, it was acknowledged that change has to keep on – and going digital is the future that needs to start soon. While printing documents is still valuable, use of emails and online messaging cuts all the tedious bureaucracy that makes the flow of information slower, and thus, often missing its consumer service targets.
  • Planning isn’t always boring. There are many ways to do it, and involving as much people means many great and exciting ideas can come out of the table. Of course there should be someone to take the lead and ensure the best ideas get to the chopping board and into the cooking wheel. But having those ideas out is a good – even great – start. As we did this, it was fun and amazing to see how the groups came up with fantastic media plans for major coop events (think annual meetings, district elections, etc.) deemed boring because they’re done every year on same process.

  • Go for macro and get their minds up and running. While learning activities such as grammar review, how to do an online publications (and so many how-to’s) or specific skills building are critical, making them contribute to the big goals can help them see what are the skills they need to build to make the big one happen. They become part of if and they know where the organisation wants to go. How will you exactly know the parts to fix if you don’t know where you want to be? Decide on the goal and work next on the small ones that will run it.
  • It’s fun to talk about the issues. Get them out sun-dried on the table! What are they? Before getting that group activity to the participants, I was quite curious how open, daring and courageous they are in sharing the challenges and issues that slow down service, and even their own enthusiasm to do things. They did! This time they did not talk about them in the hallway but also came out with very practical easy-to-do solutions. Audience considered, creative activities and resources (fun, I must add), minimal budget and a lot more. Let’s wait for them to make it happen!

  • Social media is the way to go. It’s cheap, it’s in and it’s where everyone goes for the latest news. There are risks, yes. But as everyone has realised quite loudly, there’s no way ignoring it. When people need information, they hardly buy a newspaper (sadly) anymore. They open their phones and browse to find it. While a printed newsletter or report is still much valued, how do we get them online so more consumers can read them? Looking forward to the electronic version of Socoteco-1 Today very soon. At least we’d live to see the day it is available online.
  • Being a service utility means preparedness. To put is clearly, is the coop ready for an emergency? Apparently, resources-wise, they are! A response team is in place and a rough plan and how it will be managed. Does everyone knows about it? Not really. Then this is an opportunity to get this organised while there is time. How do you ensure protection of the coop’s electricity distribution and its services going when there is a disaster? It also has a community responsibility to assist when it can. Reviewing the plan and it’s roll out turned out to be a great time for everyone!

Often, all we need is to sit down and listen to each other’s ideas. That’s what teamwork and serving is all about.

What did I personally learn in the process?

It didn’t take a while to pick up the pieces. Working for 12 years in Socoteco-1 isn’t an easy thing to forget, I wasn’t even trying. It was also my first job in conducting trainings, publishing newsletters (changing it’s name to Socoteco-1 Today) and annual reports, writing its creed (that, fancy, they still use as a pledge until today), running a medical mission in cooperation with South Cotabato Provincial Health Office and more. In short, it became my foundation for the next phase of my career and jumpstarted my love for humanitarian work that took me to different countries. It felt good to be back sharing what I built up after I left 16 years ago. What I learned is that you always have that chance to go back and share. Then and only then can you say you’ve come full circle.

We’re not hanging gloves with this statement. There’s still a lot of work to be done.

“The 3-day workshop was very enriching and fun-filled. It made me realise how important well-planned activities through the use of communications tools and multi-media channels can effectively convey information and influence the stakeholders and public’s behaviour and support. I am happy to be part of this workshop and grateful to have witnessed how talented the Socoteco-1 staff members are! I believe it was able to unleash the potentials. Kudos to Socoteco-1 and thank you Cecil for facilitating the activity.” – Myrna Clavesillas, Director of Koronadal 1-A, Socoteco-1 Board

I should say the future of rural electrification in the country is bright if we make use of these excited and inspired minds to run it! It was more of a pleasure than work – thanks to Socoteco-1 especially to the ISD team led by ISD Manager Shean Roxanne Munar for making it happen!

“Happiness lies in the joy of achievement and the thrill of creative effort.” ~Franklin D. Roosevelt

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Happy to hear comments, feedback or interest. Please email me at cblaguardia@yahoo.com or mobile at +639399262669. Better yet, follow the blog by ticking the box up or in FB @istoryya. Thanks for the visit and share.