1:13 PM

Pasig River's Tanglaw ng Lahi

Posted by Prosy Delacruz

Annie by the loom, weaving sinamay fibers to be made into curtains.

“ Everyone is spiritual, they are waking up to a dimension of their soul or their being, they bump into love, compassion, real peace, real joy and that is where they live their lives from, authentic! You have in your life what you are grateful for, you see potential, you see possibilities, and you become a source of wisdom, inspiration, guidance”. Reverend Dr. Michael Beckwith, Agape International Spiritual Center

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Part I story appeared July 25, 2009, about Joff Froi Tecson Fernandez, an 18 year old varsity player, midpoint in college, aspiring to a career in hotel management. Death took him too soon. He was our hatinggabi, ushering folks from dark nights to dawn, giving joy to everyone, as he was joy himself.

This story, Part II, is about Annie Tecson Fernandez, Joff’s mother, whose grief paralyzed her when he died. She then decided, to be grateful for her remaining blessings: Jeff, her youngest son and Gie, her loving husband. This is her journey toward healing.

*****

Next to the Pasig River’s tributary is a new development, an oasis of five – story condominium complex, where children swim, play, and bike around the complex, with wafting aromas of tocino and longganisa, waking up one’s senses. The sounds of thriving children fill the air.

Nearby are Pasig's streetchildren; they live at the riverbanks, not far from the complex. They sleep in corrugated roofed-shanties, breathing in the exhaust from nearby factories’ chimneys, as if farting odors with impunity and indifference to the environment.

Some folks disown Pasig River as it embodies what’s despicable about the Philippines: the inhospitable air trigger asthma, bronchitis, coughs, and tuberculosis in families. Respiratory illnesses persist, but more than its murky waters with floating solid wastes, families around the banks have lost hope. They use their children to beg, to hustle, and some evolve to be cunning tricksters, euphemistically called “streetchildren.“ The local government unit despises their predatory behaviors. Foreign visitors reinforce their poverty status through alms giving. Not Annie.

These children are for whom Annie lives as ‘tanglaw ng lahi’, perhaps not the Atenean type who authors books for the cultural center of the Philippines, nor the passionate writer who has an affair with letters, but Annie’s strength comes from a belief that as God’s children, they too deserve the same opportunities as any other child to thrive.

After a tiresome week of cleaning, cooking, and laundry for her family, instead of a day at the spa, Annie teaches them on Saturday mornings. She works with the local barangay unit (LGU) and her persuasive influence has gained her students a newly built classroom.

With a soothing voice, she sings to them. “ In his time…in his time…”, a lullaby she last sang to Joff, when his multiple organs failed, after contracting dengue fever. She embraced him to keep him from shivering, as if a warm blanket.

Her inner warmth is what she projects, as she sings. “ In His Time, In His Time”, she serenades her students to get their attention. A difficult process for her to do, but in embracing her grief, she connects to her inner strength, and engages them.

“ Who are we? “, she sweetly asks.

“ Anak tayo ng Diyos. “ , a chorus.

“ Kung anak tayo ng Diyos, magnanakaw ba tayo ng koryente? Ano ang gagawin nating pag nakita natin ang ating kapitbahay ay nagnanakaw? “

“ Mam, sasabihin po namin na lahat tayo ay nagbabayad ng mataas na presyo. “

“ Kung hindi nila nanakawin, wala tayong dagdag na 200 pesos kada pamilya, diba? “

And she shows them the bill, an 8% surcharge for each household. When someone steals, we all pay. The social consequences of pilferage are made transparent.

On Saturdays, they learn how to be responsible. They show up with clean clothes and brushed teeth. They get lessons on how to be honest, how to nourish their bodies and their minds and how to respect authorities. They go to public libraries and learn how to read. They also learn how to add and subtract. Field trips are given as incentives.

But, the statistics are grim: for 100,000 children who start first grade, only 10,000 finish high school, a dropout rate of 90%, perhaps distracted by video games in internet cafes, Php 15.00 an hour.

But, if they persist, they stand a chance at a high school diploma. Those who do, eventually get college scholarships. They come back to inspire: “ We sat in your chair once. At times, we did not care to listen. We went to the library, read books, and our minds got opened. Some of us are teachers, bank tellers, coordinators, directors, and factory workers.

*****

Annie gratefully credits her husband, Gie, a tall, lean man who puts folks at ease by his positive demeanor, in encouraging her to teach. He works at a multinational conglomerate and problem-solves corporate concerns, combining systems with wholesome people relationships. He too volunteers to teach them with Annie, after a tiresome workweek.

As a team, Gie and Annie inspire each other to a commitment of service. Their actions are vivid examples for Jeff, their youngest, a college sophomore, who also devotes his Sunday mornings playing drums and a beat box at church services. Jeff has been volunteering since a teenager.

Just like the lighted cross on a Pasig church that rises above the shanties, Annie and her family are the tanglaw ng lahi for their community. They facilitate new opportunities for those who hold attitudes that through diligence and persistence, they too can transcend their poverty.

Lives change, not immediately, but revealed much after decades of volunteers and students’ consistent efforts.

When we fully care about another, poverty dies naturally, as we connect heart to heart. No longer imprisoned by poverty of spirit, in the forms of cynicism, unused imagination, dogmatic opinions, or collective indifference, we become linked as our better selves! We become entrepreneurial in spirits, limitless in creativity, and bottomless in kindness and consideration!

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