A sponsor of seven children, Steve Krumholz recently traveled to the Philippines as a volunteer on a surgical mission trip sponsored by the Society of Philippine Surgeons in America. While in the Philippines, he had the opportunity to visit not only his sponsored children, but also the children and their families that he has helped support with generous contributions since becoming a friend to Children International in 2006.
At the community center, Cynthia Tiotuyco introduced me to 10-year-old sponsored child Rachel Labayo, who also lives in Bagbag Cemetery. Rachel felt bad that her mom works so hard to provide for the family. Rachel found a small piece of open dirt, in the midst of a sea of cement graves, and planted vegetables so her family had additional food. I was taken so much by this story of ingenuity and motivation that I asked to sponsor one of her siblings and was introduced to 8-year-old Marjorie, who became my 7th sponsored child.
On the following Monday, Cynthia Tiotuyco and her staff took me to two special locations. The first stop was at Santo Nino Elementary School in Caloocan City. This school had a new classroom built through the fundraising efforts of Aura’s House. When I entered the compound that contains Santo Nino School, I was greeted by a group of majorettes doing a dance routine, while dozens of 1st graders waved flags for me. In the background I could see the nine classes share an open classroom area. Not very conducive to a good learning environment, but they were making the most of limited classroom space (due to overcrowding in schools, there are three shifts of students, from 6 AM until 10 AM, 10 AM until 2 PM and 2 PM until 6 PM).
After completion of the choreographed dance routine by the majorettes, I was led to the classroom of Christian Capin, whose classroom was funded by Kristen Palana, the founder of Aura’s House.
Upon entering, I was loudly greeted by a sea of smiling faces. Christian, a tiny 9-year-old boy, presented me with a drawing of his classroom and a handwritten letter thanking me, Aura’s House and Children International for the construction of this special classroom. Then an upper classman, a third grader sang “Hero” to me – though I think the words are more appropriate for the Aura’s House team who helped make this classroom a reality: “So when you feel like hope is gone, look inside you and be strong and you’ll finally see the truth, that a hero lies in you.”
Our final stop was at Bagbag Cemetery, where Eduardo Garcia and his family formerly lived. Rachel and Marjorie Labayo and their siblings still call it home. After stopping at Eduardo’s former home, which is now occupied by his paternal grandmother, I climbed over dozens of graves, almost one on top of the other, to reach the Labayo home. A tarpaulin stretched over several pieces of wood covering three graves was home to this family of eight. An extension cord powered a fan and a single light bulb. I sat for photographs with Rachel, Marjorie and the Garcias and realized how fragile their lives are, nestled among the dead who rested here. I resolved to find a home for Rachel and Marjorie so they can also escape from the isolation of living here.
I realized that, as sponsors, we are heroes to our sponsored children. I know that not everyone has the means or ability to visit their sponsored children, but hopefully you will take comfort in knowing that your sponsorship is making a world of difference in the lives of others – children you may never meet, but who will think of you as their heroes.
On my trip to the Philippines I met many who I consider heroes. The surgeons who give freely of their time and talents to bring world class surgical care to their impoverished countrymen. The Children International field staff in Legazpi City and Manila/Quezon City, and the many staffers and executives in Kansas City who paved the way for a very successful visit. They made me feel like their best friend and they went to great lengths to make me feel welcome, to help me see the big picture and understand how sponsors fit into the global community of helping others.
To the sponsored children and families I met – the Maninangs, the Garcias, the Beltrans, and the Labayos – I owe a great deal of affection and admiration for their strength amidst seemingly overwhelming odds against them. As sponsors you can make a difference in the lives of others. Perhaps you will never meet your sponsored children, but please know that you are a hero to them…. “It’s a long road when you face the world alone”, but you are reaching out a hand for them to hold.