They say that when God closes a door, somehow he opens a window. In my case, He did. In fact, He opened 29 windows.
There was Christine, the little preschool girl who burst with so much excitement when you lay any open book in front of her. There was Justin, the tall, quiet boy, who we awarded as "Most Behaved" because he could listen and sit down even when we didn't ask him to. There was Jimboy, a Grade 3 student, who had a charming smile and a penchant for reading aloud. There was James, a darling little thing, who drew a circle with a squiggle inside it to represent his assigned volunteer, Kuya Noel. There was Gwen, who shyly approached me and handed a piece of White Rabbit candy. Then, there was also Rey, the troublemaker who had me reprimanding him many times more than I wanted to, because both of us knew I had to because I cared.
They and 23 others were the windows that illuminated my soul the very next day after the competition. It was an affair I had been planning for weeks--a "Valentine's Date" in KRIS Library-Quezon City with poor children from Barangay Holy Spirit's slum areas. It is also an affair I will be thinking back to in weeks to come.
It started with an opening message from me and my dad, the founder of KRIS Library. There was only one rule, we told them: Behave. But, of course, to these little tadpoles, it was more of a suggestion.
Amid the whispers of excitement, I divided the 29 children into 6 groups with one KRIS volunteer assigned to each. The first activity was "Getting to Know You". I had them sit in circles facing one another. I told them, "Choose one person in the group to draw on a piece of paper. Write his name, age, and favorite things." An hour later, we had a wall full of white papers with squiggles and stick figures and scribbles and colors and stains--and all 29 of them were mighty proud of their Mona Lisas and Last Suppers.
The second activity was "Feeding". In their same places, they had a lunch of pancit and donuts (donuts, thanks to the kind gesture of Kuya VA and Ate Glo Ann, two of our volunteers).
With stomachs full, we sent their minds running as they all sat down to read and be read books. This was originally planned for around 30 minutes, but we had to extend because the children wanted more. Those who could read tugged my shirt and asked for more books.Those who couldn't asked their volunteer ate or kuya for another story. Those who were far too young pointed at the colorful images deep-seated in the library shelves.
With much excitement, we descended into the final part of our day: the games. Thanks to the effort of another volunteer, Ate Linda, games were much-enjoyed. The kids were asked to spell with letter cards; they were asked to recall history lessons as they ran from choices A through C in a game like "Pera O Bayong"; and they even racked their brains to make their respective volunteers triumph in "Pinoy Henyo".
The laughing and running and playing soon quieted down; it was time for goodbye. With the masterful origami skills of Mari Yamamoto, a Japanese volunteer who flew in all the way from Shanghai, the goodie bags were given in exquisite little paper bags; and some children even went home clutching swans with flapping wings or leaping frogs--all made out of paper. Likewise, many children are grateful to Ate Iza, another volunteer, for bringing preschool books to be given away.
Each one of them left the library with a goodie bag, a book, and some school supplies. I also caught many donning bright smiles and unashamed laughter. Hopefully, they also each leave with the desire of coming back to the library.
Somehow, at the end of the day, I realized that I didn't just have 29 sunny windows. I also had 7 pillars of strength. These were the volunteers who sacrificed a whole weekend day for the children who came. They brought themselves, some gifts, and an admirable amount of selfless service. They have inspired me in so many ways. VA and Glo Ann Odevilas, Linda De Guzman, Mari Yamamoto, Noel Cabauatan, Iza Santos, and Anton Duane Nocum, I could not thank you enough.
Somehow, at the end of the day, I also realized that the young man who won in the speech competition deserves to be in London this summer. This is because, I think, I deserve to stay. Or because Christine, Jimboy, Rey, Justin, and the many others deserve to have an ate who will let them tug her shirt, reach for books atop the shelves, and enunciate in a loud voice starting with, "Once upon a time..."
Either way, I now feel like a winner.