April 21, 2013

More Than A Medal Could Offer

            “You are more than your grades.” It was a mantra that one of my high school moderators would constantly tell a class of competitive honor students. It was supposed to soothe us somehow, because unsatisfactory grades made us feel inadequate and would earn us a scolding from some of our parents. I never really understood his point when he told us that. To be honest, I thought it was too good to be true.

            For one, as much as you want to be more than your grades, you can’t erase the fact that students are measured by the marks in their report cards. We spent years being praised because of high grades and chastised when they are “not good enough.” Why else would we think that grades weren’t an integral part of our existence?

            It was only in college that I began to understand what our moderator was trying to inject into our grade-conscious minds back then. The realization didn’t just hit me when I woke up one morning though. It actually came in a more pleasant way—through the smiles of children. I have to admit that even if I’ve spent 16 years in the university that I’m studying in, I have such a love-hate relationship with it. Sometimes, I wonder why I did not pursue a future outside of the walls of the school that I practically grew up in. On the other hand, there are also times when I feel as if I made the right decision—that this was my home after all. One of these instances was when I was exposed to the Akay Kalinga Centre for Street Children.

            At first, I didn’t look beyond assisting a non-government organization for one of my Development Communication subject. The original plan was to do my part and earn a grade. That was it. Besides, I was never good with children. This is why I was surprised when the kids at the center slowly wriggled their way inside my heart with their genuine smiles and happy dispositions. In the middle of our stay there, a friend of ours who’d accompany us to the centre from time to time decided to comment on the things we did and had in mind for the organization.

            “You know, that’s not part of your job anymore.” He said.

            I didn’t think twice. Somehow, I already knew what to tell him. “We know. We just want to do it.”

            We reached a point where whatever grade we’d earn didn’t matter anymore. Even after we completed the required hours of service, we found ourselves using our semestral break to shoot a documentary about street children. It was one of the wishes of the overall head of the center, yet we didn’t have the time to do it during our “official” hours there. Instead, we found time to fulfill his request even after the semester had already ended.

            I’d like to think our documentary entitled, “Sino?” was not just made of the usual “blood, sweat and tears”. So much more was put into that film. It was a mix of a number of sleepless nights, a limited budget due to not having allowance during semestral break and of course, a trio of determined souls willing to sacrifice almost anything to see the smiles of the kids in the organization. Though it only made it as an entry to the 8th Mindanao Film Festival without garnering any awards, I was somehow still proud because we fulfilled one of the goals we stated in the Development Communication plans that we submitted to our instructor. That goal was recognition. The first step to helping out an organization like Akay Kalinga is to help spread the word about it. Through the documentary, I’d like to think we somehow did that. I hope that even if it wasn’t good enough for the Best Documentary Film award, it was still able to fulfill its purpose.

            “Sino?” was shown in a mall in Davao City. Xeng, Mico and I were worried at times because we weren’t sure if there would be people who would be willing to watch our film. Even if, by any chance, there were only a few people in the cinema, I really hope that we were able to reach them, to tug at their heartstrings and to help them realize that there are less fortunate kids out there who need our help.

            Of course, even after the film festival, we couldn’t just stop at that. We organized a Christmas-themed project especially for the kids called the Secret Santa Project. It was difficult to be contented with what we’ve done for them. The thought of all those little children smiling up at us whenever we visited made my heart swell. Seeing them happy was more than enough as compensation. As some people might put it, their joy was priceless.

            Though only a few people heeded our call for donations, we were still able to bring joy to the kids of Akay Kalinga. We are forever grateful to the kind people who were moved by our amateur advertising attempts through a few posters in school and a couple of weeks of reposting about our cause on various social networking sites. It was all worth it though. The glee that was present in their faces the moment they opened their presents made everything worthwhile.

            As I stood there in the middle of a small crowd of kids laughing and smiling with their presents in their little hands, I suddenly remembered one of my favorite Religion teachers. Back in high school, he shared to us a meaningful quote, Happiness is a perfume you cannot pour on others without getting some on yourself.” At that very moment, I finally understood what he meant. I realized that, even if we hate school at times, we will eventually be able to apply the things we learned before—maybe not everything, but maybe the lessons that matter most.

            Graduation came and went. Before the event, most people worried over their WPAs and the points they earned from extracurricular activities. After all, who wouldn’t want to march out of graduation with a neck that’s strained by a bunch of medals? To be honest, 16-year old me would be delighted at the idea of it. Right now, I’m just glad that I was able to touch the lives of others and vice versa. I may have graduated without any special awards or citations, but I’m quite content with the fact that I found something that was worth far more than any medal out there.

Wrote this in January in time for graduation. I had some plans for this write-up, but they never materialized. Posting it while it's still (semi-) relevant.

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