Saturday, July 19, 2008

awed and inspired

the following is my entry to the cisv international people's project (ipp) blog that i posted after trekking a mountain to plant a tree and swim by the waterfalls. pictures to follow. to read other ipp entries, go to

i consider myself to be a spiritual person and in no other instance is God's presence made more evident than in nature. whenever i see nature, like we did today, i am humbled. i look at the waterfalls and i appreciate God's greatness and ingenuity; i see the mountains and marvel at how they look - molded by God's own hands and covered with a carpet of grass and trees. i am awed at how one powerful volcanic eruption can destroy a river, displace population, and change lives... forever. yet it is precisely that destruction 17 years ago that brings 24 people from 10 different countries together to rebuild a culture, a community, and many lives.

i am inspired by these people, who today, made a difference for others... and most likely, for themselves. i am inspired by their determination to push on, despite fatigue and heat, to dig a hole, plant a tree, or climb a mountain.

sometimes, God deals people (and at times, an entire nation) acts of devastation and we question the wisdom of it all. today showed me that perhaps it is not ours to question; the perfection of such an act was in the presence of each of the 24 people in this camp.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

ninong benny

i attempted five times to finish this entry, and failed; each time ended with me sobbing. i still do. but this has to be done. below is my eulogy to my uncle benny whom i sorely miss.

it took his death to resurrect my blog. how ironic. part of me refused to write about him because part of me refused to accept that he was gone. it's like burying your father twice.

more than an uncle and a godfather, what he was to me, was a father. when dad passed, he stood as father, teacher, and counselor, not just to me and my siblings, but to the many whom his life has touched and changed. he was our patriarch; he championed family traditions and values that mark who we, as a family, are today. and though i know that many call him "ninong" as well, i'd like to think that i was the original. i was, after all, his godchild for forty years... and that for me is a big thing.

i share three things with ninong benny.

first is my name -- sulit. in the filipino language, my surname means "worth every centavo." it's not a very easy name to live up to, especially when those who precede you leave such big shoes to fill and cast huge shadows. dad and ninong benny were giants; imagine the footprints they left behind.

ninong benny taught me that anything worth doing was worth doing well. HE certainly did. he worked well, taught well, ate well, lived well, and loved well. just take a look at his house. it took him 10 years to "build" it, so much so that carpenters and painters became permanent fixtures and residents. he went through every meticulous detail and didn't stop until he was satisfied.

like him, i am a teacher. i remember him being pleased with my decision to leave my colorful and high-paying corporate job to teach. he too gave up a lot - an opportunity to raise his family abroad where the grass was "greener." but, no. wife and two young kids in tow, he came back, not just to build his medical career, but more importantly probably, to teach. he taught as a way of giving back to the country he so much loved. that passion made him a much sought-after mentor for only the brave. true to his name, he taught very well... but he also expected the same, if not more, from his residents. i guess he wanted everyone to be a sulit (and what's wrong with that?).

by my many conversations with him, i thought that there wasn't a question that he didn't know the answer to. what he knew, he shared to many... not just his residents, but to his children, grandchildren, and anyone who had the time and privilege to sit beside him and chat with him.

like him too, i am big... but ninong was not just physically big; he did everything BIG. he had a big house and threw big parties. he had to, because he was a man with a big heart. his annual birthday parties were were so well-attended that it went on for hours and was known to blow a fuse or two in more than one occasion.

he gave even when he had nothing to give. so generous was this man that he even shared his own family with me. many times he told me reassuringly, "alam mo naman na anak kita, diba?" (you DO know that you are my daughter, don't you?) THAT i knew, never doubted, and lived out. so enjoined am i to his family that often times, when aly and i introduce ourselves, we claim, "magkapatid kami; iba lang ang mga magulang namin." (we're siblings; we just have different parents.)

he was always known for his hospitality. of this, the bible says, "let brotherly love continue. do not
neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." (hebrews 13: 1 - 2) safe to say that ninong did his Godly duty. i'd like to think that all of us who have benefited from his hospitality are "benny's angels." we should only be so lucky.

whenever i saw ninong, i would always greet him with a buzz on both cheeks. he would insist on it with his hearty line, "other side!" i know that i can longer do that to him... but not forever. i look forward to the day that i could do that again, when we meet "on the other side."

rest well, ninong. it's time to go home.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

heroes - no relation to the tv series

history has come full circle... at least for some of my students.

once upon a time, every child's parent was his / her hero. there was also a time when athletes from all playing fields were placed on pedastals. when war came, heroes were made in a field of a different kind: the battlefield... and in comics. that was when superheroes came to be. superman, captain america, iron man... the whole lot of them.

people need heroes in their lives... to look up to, to aspire to become. back then, everyone wanted to be a baseball player, or a soldier, or a policeman... noble professions back then. realistically, no one could go faster than a speeding bullet or leap tall buildings in a single bound, let alone fly. but regardless of super abilities, heroes, back then at least, were looked upon and admired for what they stood for and upheld: concepts of justice and good triumphing over evil... those kinds of things!

sadly, i remember the time when many children (and adults) in our country wanted to be actors. wannabes, that's what they were. good looks were a ticket in; never mind that they didn't have talent. there were more than enough to fill in the daily slots of "that's entertainment" where televiewers suffered from watching the wards attempt to entertain with their skits, dances, songs, and on-the-spot drama classes. not to be outdone, the other channel had circles of so-called talents. some heroes they were. in an impoverished country such as ours, it was a get-rich-quick deal. fatalists that we are, we went for it, hook, line, and sinker. i remember thinking, "what will our country be in 10 years time? we'll have so many actors and no doctors, no policemen, no teachers..."

these days, a lot of people want to be nurses... not to be of service, but rather, as a ticket out of here and out of poverty. really, who can blame them? thought bubble: hmmm... i wonder if there are actors that became nurses?

i've always believed that to become a strong nation, we need strong leaders. after all, it is the leaders who pave the way, who give the direction. it's a simple matter of command responsibility.

my class discussed leadership qualities in religion class last quarter. we listed qualities we thought good leaders ought to have then evaluated leaders of countries (u.s.a. and the philippines) and our school against these. well, let's just say that bush and gma could not hold a candle to our school directress. we also evaluated Christ. Christ was definitely a good leader. He certainly showed people the way... it was up to them to follow or not. but i digress...

i next assigned my students to interview and report on a person whom they thought was a good leader. i would later ask them to write feature articles on their interviewees for english class. to my delight, i discovered that more than half my class wrote about their parents (most others wrote about their relatives - aunts and a grandparent; one interviewed our school directress). they admired them for reasons such as responsibility, diligence, and optimism. but what struck a chord with me was how my students looked up to their parents for traits like generosity, hospitality, piety, and trust and obedience to God. "my father lives his life for the Lord," said one. another mentioned how her dad could not live a day without praying, praising, worshipping, or talking to God. how awesome is that?! a few of my students refered to their parents as their idols and stated that they wanted to follow in their footsteps. and though their essays may be wanting in organization and spelling, they certainly were not lacking in inspiration.

to my students' parents, congratulations! i'm as proud of you as i am of your own children.
it's times like these that i wish i had more than 12 students in my class. imagine what our country would be like 10 years from now if we had more of them.