“Starlight, star bright, first star I see tonight, I wish I may, I wish I might, have my wish come true tonight!” Wow! A shooting star! I wish…
I never saw as many stars as that night. Plus a shooting star! That day was a day of firsts.
It was my first time to go as far as Oriental Mindoro without my family. Another thing is that I did not go there for a vacation, but for a National Summer Youth Build.
I volunteered for Kalinga Luzon, a program of Gawad Kalinga for the storm-stricken provinces, along with eight YFCs from my sector. We were assigned to Bongabong, the site on top of a hill.
We arrived at the site around ten, Friday night. We had several detours so even if we were in Calapan at one in the afternoon, we settled in late that night. I felt uneasy that first night because I didn’t know anybody else aside from my companions from Manila. I thought I would have a hard time reaching out, but I was wrong – totally wrong.
Like most YFCs, they thirst for pictures. They all wanted to see their faces in the picture, no matter how small it would be. As the documenter of the team, I took pictures while groups Manila, Mindoro, and Zamboanga were forming their cheer. What supposedly candid pictures became firing squad types! I was not able to do anything but smile. It made me feel better.
Since we’re all YFCs, we started each morning with worship at six, just as the sun was rising. It was just so fantastic praising and glorifying God while appreciating His other creations.
During our first meal together, each group cooked their own food. Then, we figured out that it was a bad idea for there were so many that we were not able to finish all. We cooked our food as one team, of course, with the help of our Titas from Calapan and the other locals. There was even a time when the volunteer soldiers cooked our rice! It was partly embarrassing, but we were like a big family – we YFCs, the locals, and the soldiers. We shared the same food during our one-week stay.
Living there for one week was a totally different experience. Fortunately, I was able to adjust real fast to a lifestyle of a volunteer. Being there meant a few sacrifices. Because the site was on top of a hill, there was no nearby sari-sari store where we could buy some things that we needed. The town proper was one kilometer away from us.
We needed a generator to produce electricity during the dark. That means we didn’t have electricity during the day. Aside from having no electricity, our water was also scarce. The water we drank was delivered by our Titos. The local fire truck supplied our water for bathing, washing, et cetera. In a bigger picture, we really had limited resources.
To top it all, I have no personal means of communication. Sun Cellular didn’t have network coverage in that part of Mindoro. I needed to borrow someone else’s phone just to report my day to my mom, who obviously missed me a lot.
Come to think of it, as I sacrificed the pleasure of having a store just around the corner, running water, 24-hr electricity, and unlimited texting, I actually found pleasure in them!
Because there was no nearby store, the simple Samurai crackers and Mister Donut sparked the friendship between all of us there. I can still remember how we planned to be asked to get more of the Samurai crackers. Xtian, a mission volunteer from Zamboanga,asked boldly if we could have the donuts so we could eat them. Also, without other means of communication except our cellphones, there was nothing left to do when we were resting but chat. Armed with our stories from our own provinces, we began to build our relationship.
I can still remember May, who could forget her? May Rose M. Salimo, the little girl who added color in our stay there. According to her, she’s six years old, incoming grade two pupil, second honors, and her birthday was March. That amazed us because she was too young to be an incoming grade two pupil if she just turned six! Then when others queried about her birthday, she told them May. “Ano ba talaga? May or March?” then she said March, but she can’t tell us a definite date. Then one afternoon, she invited us to their house along the highway. She said they have spaghetti because it’s her birthday. I later learned that indeed, she was six, turning seven on the 17th of May. She was indeed second honors…in Kindergarten.
May was really a smart kid, although she spoke differently for her age. She attended the Holy Mass with the rest of the team. She even guided us in the town. That was the time she started with her ‘secret.’ She called her crush secret. She talked about secrets all week! She even linked some of us to each other. Fortunately she had no one for me. She would bring water to the guys who were working under the sun. We would then tease her to her secret who was working at that time.
Even though she thinks that way in her early years, I can see hope in her little eyes. She even claimed the first orange house to be theirs soon. She can’t wait to start a new life with her family. As the youngest in her family, she’s a child who displays innocence about the big world. With her, one can feel the true essence of Gawad Kalinga. I, myself, cannot wait for the houses to be finished so that they can start anew right away. Indeed, it is a work of love, for we, team Bongabong, define love as the commitment to the Higher Good, to oneself, and to others. As we commit into helping build those houses, we helped the beneficiaries build their new life.
May’s eyes were twinkling. She went up the hill everyday just to be with us. There was a time when she wanted to sleep with us. She wanted to stay with her newfound friends. But of course, her mother said no and obeyed. I know she wished for us to stay longer. She wanted to play with us. She wished she would have a stronger house. A house that would not be flown away by the strong wind. A permanent house that will put no danger to her family of being crashed by a speeding van who lost control. She wished for a home.
Back here in Pasig, I can only see a few stars. I have no way of seeing a shooting star with all the bright lights. I can’t wish on it. Then I realized, I should not be wishing. I should be praying. It makes my wishes come true. It is the only way my wishes, May’s wishes, and all other wishes will come true. Under the faint light of the moon, in a little piece of star-cut paper, I write my prayer for May and for all other Mays sleeping soundly. “The work is big Lord. Allow my love to be bigger.”