Sunday, April 10, 2011

Topping the Grossness of Willing Willie

April 6, 2011

Fifteen boys came out of the van, ages ranging from seven perhaps to 18. They were held up in traffic and were late and I was getting a little peeved waiting.

They had come from the Pangarap Boys Shelter and their volunteer leader, a young German named Felix was sheepishly apologetic.

They looked out of place – not the jeans or the oversized t-shirts or the sneakers - in the American Military Cemetery. It was in their faces:

Why are we here? Who is this guy greeting me?

Looking detached, they looked hardened.

Felix contacted me weeks ago asking if I could give his boys a tour. I said yes, hoping to find a sponsor for them but if not, I’d do it for free. I heard good things about the shelter taking care of 100 male street kids and several dozen girls.

The smaller ones got to me, some bearing scars on their faces, a few looking too skinny. The older ones, having lived on the streets weren’t sure how to deal with my do-gooder smiling face. But despite appearances, I caught their stolen gazes of the whole expanse. Acres of perfectly landscaped garden, endless precise lines of crosses, never before seen huge trees, and an unusual open sided cylindrical building. They were at least curious.

I faced the boys slightly nervous that my Filipino language skills were being put to the test and even more important, calibrating my tour to children and young people which I’ve always felt to be challenging. But there was Felix, an idealistic German who came to the Philippines to offer a year of service with poor boys, probably paid nothing. He guilt-tripped me. But he wasn’t helpful by whispering before we started, that the tour may have been a silly goody-two-shoes idea. These boys have had it tough, many sexually abused and a cemetery wasn’t exactly on their bucket list.

A light-bulb moment. It was a week now, writing letters, signing petitions, going into a full Facebook war against advertisers, Channel 5 and Willie Revillame who decided in one of his sleazy segments to get a crying boy to dance like a hustler and have the crowd hooting like savages. (Since this piece was written, the show has been temporarily cancelled set off by a massive exodus of advertisers).

So, I decided, if that bully was going to make a boy cry and dance like a sex toy so he can get ten grand, Screw It, I’m going to give 15 boys with REAL LIFE nightmares the grandest tour they’ll ever know if only to relieve them of the REAL pain they’ve been through.

We started with the huge war maps, a challenge since it wasn’t a TV screen. They had to get out of their couch potato passive mode and make them examine countries, battleship formations, the arrows of engagement with the enemy, the history of World War II in the Pacific. Yes, the whole Kaboom for a bunch that were not my usual overeducated guests. My scholarly illuminations would have to be put on hold.

Where is the Philippines in this map, I bellowed for attention?

Aha, yes, young man you got it.

On this battle map of Manila, where is your home? There was quiet. Some mumbled, we have no home.

Shit, wrong question.

Ok, where is the shelter? They strained looking for a clue and I kept egging them on. A boy found it, shouted “Pasay” and his finger aimed directly to the place they now called home.

Each time they bested me with the correct answer, I allowed no time for gloating. Off we went to the next wall and to the next and to the hallways outside before they could act indifferent.

My usual lecture script was out the window. What do the boys frigging care about the battle of Guadalcanal, or the China Burma Theater or the expansionist motives of super powers. That’s for another day.

So I got them to touch the smoothness and porosity of the Travertine walls. I made them look up to the frieze, commanding them to read important battle sites, Bougainville, Leyte Gulf, Bataan, Solomons. I made them stroke a gravestone, reading the engraved words together,


They pronunciation was askew at times, but they read it loud and in unison. I tried explaining the problems faced with the over 3,000 remains that were not identified. That was hard until a boy said quietly:

It’s like me before I got to the shelter. I didn’t know who I was.

We walked to a vantage point in the cemetery with a commanding view of the long entrance, the memorial court, and the chapel. I made them appreciate the straight lines of the Mahogany trees, the Memorial circle, the color of grass, the composition of the Acacia trees, framed by Travertine columns, and the vertical secular chapel. It was a crash course on aesthetics.

It’s usually halfway through the tour when I consciously stop talking to look back at my guests. The boys were now quiet, some taking in the distant clear views of Laguna Lake, and the mountains of Antipolo. Others had fingers tracing the etched names of the departed. Others were filled with awe and the majesty of space. They had lost their hardened, cynical looks, replaced with serene faces. They were engaged once again with their humanity.

They started to whisper among themselves. I sensed a question. The group chose the smiling one who asked:

How do you engrave a name? Can I learn that?

Another asked: Is it hard to climb a tree and trim it?

And another: Will I need dark pants to apply here? I like this place.

I looked the other way when they asked, so they won’t see my lament and rage. This is the sort of Q&A that you don’t see on TV. Instead we have shows that dangle thousand peso bills provided by Belo, or Smart, or Pepsodent, or Knorr, to dancing boys, girls, and begging old women for guffaws and a perverted notion of instilling brand loyalty and audience ratings.

Here in this expanse of green, mosaic patterns and a sheltering sky, these boys were checking their self worth and the possibility of a decent job. A few days or months before, a few of them probably had to macho dance for some pedophile before the Shelter saved them. How bizarre if not abominable that there are TV programs, supported by companies that mimic what poor boys actually do.

We rounded the memorial circle examining all the maps which fascinated them and ended inside a 60-foot tall chapel covered floor to ceiling with a mosaic of a maiden bringing flowers to lay beside the gravestones. The artistry and the diligence in creation captivated them, seeing yet another vocation to learn.

I told them about the lives of some of these young men, how they fought bravely, how they saved their comrades, how they died many, barely 20 years of age. They listened intently to the carillon striking the hour and playing a hymn.

The boys are light footed, expansive, with smiles all around, having seen something today other than shampoo commercials, macho dancing, or the grime of their neighborhood. The unusual breezy day is tonic; they fill their lungs with rare clean air.

It was hard to say goodbye to them. I told Felix to send me more and I’ll find the sponsors. He said thank you and I told him THANK YOU for being the foreigner who cared for our boys. Better than the local turds who’d peddle them on the street or on television.

I shook each boy’s hand giving them a lesson in civility.

I said Thank You. They said Salamat.

I said Salamat, looked quickly away and walked briskly to my car.

If you want to know more about Pangarap, make a donation, or sponsor the activities for the boys and girls, please call Tel: 834 1061 / 551 3733.


S--- Talker said...

John, you probably already know it, but let me say it again: What you did for the boys is precisely what has to be done for all the underprivileged sectors of the Philippines. We have to re-orient them with their humanity. We have to show them that goodness stands alone, that it need/must not be propped up by the promise of monetary gain.

Anonymous said...

sana makita kita sa news na lumalaban ka sa kaso na ipapasa daw ng tv5 sayo...face it bro..may pinaglalaban ka naman eh..wag puro blog lng. face it to prove na lng din kung ano ang mga sinusulat mo...congrats sa blog

The Caretaker of Schrödinger's Cat said...

I stumbled on your blog because of all the Willie Revillame brouahaha. Pleasantly surprised about your American cemetery tours, though. My grandfather is buried there and every time I go home our entire family goes there to pay our respects to him and his colleagues. Keep up the good work you are doing and your support of our youth. Best Regards!

marie said...

Comforting. Made me think of the RH Bill. Needs to pass.

Anonymous said...

Very touching, John. Thank you! The sort of thing that every "able" Filipino should consider in their bucket list...for the sake of humanity and their sense of patriotism. I would like to do my share. Living abroad makes me want to do more for the country that raised me. It made me realize that we need to work harder at developing a child's future, as the children are the ones who shape all nations. If the church is against the RH Bill, they must think of a sensible way to provide for a child's development! The church must acknowledge that they have caused this problem, too!

Anonymous said...

hey john, u r doing a good job. Keep at it my friend!!!!

vdybuncio said...

There you go. John you made me a bit more human and sensitive in this brazen world. I shed a tear which I didn't do when my grandmothrr and father passed away. For making me cry, you owe me ten thousand pesos. Where, by the way, is Balingit?

RC said...

This was an uplifting read. And, if by any chance, you want to reinforce the message on teamwork and caring for each other, our dragon boat team will be more than willing to host the boys for a session. Our sport has been a very effective way to illustrate this message. Thank you, John, and more power.

beektur said...

thank you john. thank you very much and more power to you and your work.

John Silva said...

Dear RC. There is a phone number at the end of the article. Call them and offer your services. And let me know you did so I can follow up as well. Cheers.

John Silva said...

Dear Vdybuncio,

I do not have your e mail. And I don't know what you mean by Balingit. Cheers

bheng said...

Hi John,

Thank you so much for sharing not only your time but a part of yourself to the boys. I am presently connected with Childhope Asia Philippines, an NGO which caters to street children as well but we work directly on the streets, reaching out to about 1,200 street children a year. I'd like to think that at least one of the boys whom you have given a tour was among those referred by Childhope to Pangarap. I really thank God for people like you who always find time to extend a helping hand. God bless you for all that you do to uplift the situation of the disadvantaged. I hope you can also include some of our street children in your next outreach activity! Thanks again, John and God bless you always!

mamdulz said...

i got quite emotional while reading this. thank you john for touching the lives of these young men as well as mine.

leo udtohan said...

and John Silva is facing libel to be filed by TV 5 President Rey Espinosa...

I have only one comment: Press Freedom.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing...I hope many more will do what you have done. God bless you!

Anonymous said...

I honor you for your advocacies. I am inspired to do more for our youth. God bless you.
- Maricel

Nicole said...

more power to you and your eye opening tours john!

Kathleen Burkhalter said...

I was looking for your story about finding the Rizal execution photo, and found this. This is wonderful. It swells the heart and gives me great hope. Thank you!