07 October 2010

The House of Hope


So here I am at the Bacolod Airport seated in front of a window staring every now and again at a mountain range. In contrast to the bright sunshine when I flew in yesterday, the day is a bit on the overcast side. Any more clouds and take-off will be like getting on the inside of a blender.

Thanks to my generous host – who took me on a bit of a tour – I did something that immediately overshadowed my two previous visits to this city: I got out of the poblacion.

First, we visited my host university’s 55-hectare Eco-Park situated in this village called Granada. Getting there was a mere 15-minute drive from the university. For some reason – and this I was candid enough to tell my host – I felt so happy to see the sugarcane plantations on both sides of the road as we drove along. I mean, growing up, we learned to associate Bacolod with sugar production. Yet, on both previous visits to the city, the only sugar I ever saw was served with coffee.


It had started to drizzle slightly as we arrived at the park. That, I was quick to tell the caretaker when she greeted us with umbrellas, was no problem whatsoever. I did not tell her that I play football most afternoons in Lipa under more than drizzles as I excused myself to snap some pictures with my cell phone.

The place was... uhrm... green... There was something liberating about being in a place where Nature seemed to be fully in charge; and we men were incidental. Kind of puts things in perspective, in stark contrast to cities where men are in charge and Nature can but take umbrage after it is violated.



With the drizzle making the ground damp, the smell of earth mixed with the lush oxygen in the air made breathing almost an ecstasy. Ah, the outdoors...

Before long I was being ushered to an exhibition room where visiting children are educated about the benefits to be gained from protecting the environment. Before they leave, they are encouraged to leave little notes making promises to Nature. I hope the kids do not grow up to be like many of our politicians.



As we drove out of the property, I just had to ask my host to stop the car for a moment so I could take some quick shots inside the orchidarium. My Dad having once lovingly nurtured orchids when he was alive, I continue to have this thing about orchids to this day. Albeit, I am too lazy to grow some myself…




From the Eco-Park, we drove the short distance to this place called the Bahay Pag-asa: House of Hope. Through this facility, my host informed me, the university works with the justice system to bring in juvenile offenders who, if they are incarcerated with adult criminals, will only end up molested or becoming hardened criminals themselves.


There are things – in life – that I can only describe as humbling. This place was one such thing.

The university employs a token staff to keep house in what is – essentially – a correctional facility. But university faculty members donate their time to go to the facility on a regular basis to help educate the juvenile offenders and – hopefully – give them a new lease on life.


Surprisingly – my host replied to a query from me – there have been those who had tried to run away from the place. These kids were, I was told, probably overwhelmed and unable to cope with lives that suddenly possessed structure and purpose. Hope, it suddenly dawned upon me as a result this piece of information, must be scary for those who grew up with little of it.

There are those, however, who do make it. It was edifying to hear from my host that there were a couple of youngsters who earned integration into St. Joseph’s high school and another couple more boys now enrolled at the university.

As I inspected the rooms of the facility with my host, I could visualize the kids being taught with utter patience by their volunteer teachers. This was no longer about money; neither was this about the countless petty things we love to preoccupy ourselves with as a people. This was about lives; and when lives are at stake, there will always be those who will go to great lengths to ensure their preservation.



Too bad the fifteen boys in the facility were all out being x-rayed. I guess it did not really matter. The old books in the small library and the ageing computers – donated, I was told, by other schools – these were the embodiment of the hope that the facility offers to young boys and who out of it they will never have access to. Drugs, drink and gangs these kids will have plenty of on the streets. But seldom hope...

The boys arrived just as we were leaving the facility. Each came off the vehicle beaming with smiles on their faces. A few waved at my companion, who they recognized. They looked fresh-faced, happy and so full of hope as normal young lads their age rather tend to be. I felt happy for and with them.

The House of Hope has given them hope in their hearts; and as Gerry Marsden's song promises, indeed at the end of a storm is a golden sky…






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