Ang Daming Ngiti: A day with the kids of Bahay Aruga
Last December 20, 2016, I joined a charity event called “Ang Daming Ngiti” (a lot of smiles) for the benefit of the children of Bahay Aruga, in Paco Manila. Bahay Aruga is a free halfway house for pediatric cancer patients. This is where the children and their guardians stay for free when the kids, who mostly live in provinces, have to go to Manila and undergo checkups or treatments in the Pediatric Oncology of Philippine General Hospital which is just a few blocks away.
I came across this project when a friend of mine, Lyka, together with her friends (they call themselves Hacienderas. The story of their group name deserves another blog post haha!) posted this project on Twitter.
I intended to participate as a donor but I believe God has other plans. As I was sending Lyka a message asking her what to donate, I found myself saying that I also want to be a volunteer on the day of the event itself. And when she said yes, my heart skipped a happy beat!
One thing that I’ve proven is that there is power in numbers. The more people donated, the more children were benefited. The Hacienderas did a good job seeking donors and thus a great amount of donation, both in cash and in kind, came. On my part, as a volunteer, I also asked some of my friends if they wanted to donate. True enough they generously responded! I was also overwhelmed with the support I got from my friends as they donated art materials, books, toys and toiletries. To all of you, thank you so much! You made a lot of kids very happy!
On the day of the ADN, I woke up feeling so excited like it was my birthday! I was so happy to meet the organizers, and other volunteers! Being friends with them was my unexpected bonus in being part of this event.
Ms. Lia and her family, another donor, was so kind enough to go to Bahay Aruga to deliver her family’s donations. She also brought along her twin boys who are both so adorable.
At 3pm, we were led to Bahay Aruga. Once we got inside, the group was divided into two. Some of the volunteers organized the venue, while some of us took time to get to know the kids and their guardians. I got to bond with two boys who are almost the same age as my son. They are best buddies and since one of them is shy, his best buddy speaks for him. Such a cute bond I saw there. There are also two girls who treat each other like sisters. And then there is this cute little girl who just loves to sit on my lap and use Snapchat. 😉
I also got the chance to talk to some of their guardians who were able to explain to me the health condition of some of the kids; the type of cancer they have, the frequency of treatment, the medications they take. For a parent like me, it was heartbreaking just hearing all of those. But if there’s anything that I tried to do the entire time, it is to just smile and be happy for the kids.
During the program, we played games with them, with volunteers paring up with the kids to help them win prizes. Mind you, the volunteers mean business. we are all competitive and wanted to win a prize for each child! It was a joy to see each kid’s happiness as he/she gets a prize.
After some games, gifts were distributed and food were served. The event ended with a big smile, not just on kids’ faces but to all of us volunteers and organizers as well. It was one fun-filled Christmas party!
Spending time with these kids was such an amazing experience for me. They are the real epitome of strength. True, they are like any kids who wants to play, have fun, get some toys, but they are also kids with a magnitude of a sickness to face. With smiles like theirs, it made me wonder how they face each day being so young and sick; to go through all those tests & checks, to travel all the way to Manila to get cured, to not able to do things other kids can do because of their sickness. Yet they can still smile, laugh, even run and play just like any kid. Each of us can learn a lot from these children, to have that so much hope even faced with probably the toughest battle they will face in their entire lives.
The best part of this entire experience was definitely all the embrace I got from the kids. It was such an overwhelming feeling. They are filled with so much appreciation and happiness. Words will never give justice to the emotions I felt each time a kid hugs me. With just a simple embrace they made me feel just how thankful they are.
Just a little confession. During the event, I expected myself to cry or maybe shed some tears, but I did not. The entire time I was smiling, conversing and just making the most out of my time with each kid and their guardian. But as I was driving home that night, when I was already alone, I felt my tears fell. In the silence of my thoughts, all alone in the car, my eyes just well up and I cried. I cried because I was happy, thankful, but at the same time I am crying out of sadness and confusion. It was a mix of various conflicting emotions. At first I was asking God why these kids have to suffer.. why do they have to go through so much as such their young age? But later, these questions led me to ask myself what more can I do for them? In all those range of emotions, I believe it is where God unveiled to me the purpose of why He led me to this event; it is to start making a difference in other children’s lives. It is through those tears that I began to understand why after years of wanting to do this, to be a part of in a charity event as a volunteer, none of those that I planned happened. I believe God wanted to make this my first volunteer experience. As a parent who has seen my child fight for his life and spend so many days in the hospital on several heartbreaking instances, this experience with pediatric cancer parents and their guardians will have a deeper impact on me. Being part of this will lead me to want to do more; to be part of making a difference in the lives of the kids, even just for a day.
My take away from this experience is, there is really happiness in sharing; sharing not only your blessings, but also your time, your service. We left Bahay Aruga with the kids probably thinking that we made them happy, but really, it is the other way around. They are the ones that made an impact in my life. They are the ones who give happiness a whole new definition in my book. It was definitely a life-changing experience for me.
To end, here is a short video that tells the story of the ADN posted by Justine in her YouTube channel. Congratulations Haciendaras. you all did a great job. To God be to the glory!
For donations in both cash and kind, below are the details of Bahay Aruga:
Address: 1123 San Marcelino St, Paco, Manila, 1007 Metro Manila
Landline: (02) 498 1705