What’s in a house? A story of service and compassion…Glad 1 The Promised Land

Blessed is he who considers the poor; The Lord will deliver him in time of trouble.”

Psalm 41:1

Growing up near the campus of the biggest school in my hometown in Midsayap, North Cotabato is something I consider a blessing as it gave me a front seat observing the academic community to which, I attribute to a significant extent, the moulding of my values and character.

The moment I stepped in a classroom at Southern Christian College (SCC) as a Grade 1 pupil, there was this one figure that from the eyes of an innocent child then, was bigger than life. He spoke with so much wisdom and vigor and when he talked, I couldn’t get my eyes and ears off him as he did not only speak of great stories about God and application of parables but he genuinely spoke from the heart. He was Reverend Dr. Eliezer Mapanao, the President of SCC from 1967-1987; 1994-1997- practically the entire time I was studying in this esteemed school from Grade 1 up to High School.

Despite his Harvard Master’s Degree in Theology and while serving as resident director for International Study Fellowship at Princeton University, he decided to accept the call of his father-in-law to “save” a struggling school which at that time was at rock bottom and moved his family from California to settle in our hometown to spread the light through education. He introduced the paradigm of soil and soul for social well-being. He was a great fundraiser using his pen and tongue to bring dollars for the construction of school buildings and implementation of academic and community programs. Read more about his inspiring life: https://southernchristiancollege.edu.ph/remembering-his-elyness-in-scc-a-tribute-to-dr-eliezer-d-mapanao/

“While we are a small college, we serve a big God, and he bids us to grow and glow… The first and best resource of SCC is its un-surrendering people. Lesser mortals would have presided over her funeral long ago.” ~Rev. Dr. Eliezer D. Mapanao

Jowena, his eldest daughter graduated with a degree in Psychology from the University of the Philippines and immediately after graduation, he asked her to teach in the program of the school for underprivileged children. She agreed to do so and as she was teaching, she observed that these Muslim children kept on missing classes as they would always get sick. A further survey revealed that it was because of their poor living conditions that caused the frequent absences which was exacerbated by a fire that destroyed almost all of their houses in that squatters’ area.

Such led to a fundraising effort by Jowena to buy a land and relocate these families. Later, through the leadership of Mrs. Leda Moralde, two hectares of land was purchased. Fast forward to 2015, those children whose families were recipients of the village are now young adults and while they had been given the land, they could not transfer because of some legal requisites and lack of funds.

The passing of Dr. Mapanao on October 13, 2015 at age 89, sparked the aspiration of the Muslim young adults led by Mrs. Norma Umali and Bai Puti to relocate. Moved by the appeal of these young adults (who were Jowena’s pupils 25 years ago), his wife, Mrs. Portia Mapanao responded which led to the founding of the Bangsamoro Young Adults Association (BYAA) whose Vision and Mission is to build the homes of 65 Muslim families and implement livelihood programs to make the community sustainable. She tapped her network, talked to government officials and appealed to the current SCC leadership through Dr. Edwin Balaki (incumbent President) for things to get moving.

I was privileged to be part of this relocation project becoming a reality which is aptly referred to as Glad 1, The Promised Land. A couple of years back, I got a letter from Mrs. Portia soliciting help and in my own humble way heeded to such call. A bigger opportunity came when I got in to be part of Team Manulife-John Hancock runners for the 2020 Boston Marathon (where my company Manulife-John Hancock is a proud sponsor for 35 years now). Each runner is required to do a fund-raising campaign. I chose this relocation project to be my recipient and raised close to 700,000 Philippines Pesos (roughly $15,000) from 92 generous individuals to construct 15 houses overshooting my target of 10 houses! Even if the usual Marathon did not happen this year, this worthy endeavour came out of it which I am truly honoured to initiate. To all my friends and family who generously opened their hearts to my call, may God bless you many times over. It was so inspiring to say the least!

Each house is built on a 150 sqm space (more or less) and is a one-room space with no divisions when it is turned-over. A house is built when the recipients thru BYAA are able to raise their share of 20,000 Pesos (which they save up for over a year on the average as the source of income of these families is peddling sliced fruits, vegetables and candies) as counterpart. The Foundation raises funds of 45,000 Pesos ($935 US) as each house costs 65,000 Pesos ($1,350 US) to build. Imagine how low-cost the houses are considering the small amount to build them but for each of these families, it is a dream come true.

For those from the Philippines and those knowledgeable about Mindanao, I grew up very much aware of the differences and conflicts between and among Christians and Muslims and this is what makes this project even more meaningful. As one anonymous donor said, it crosses cultural boundaries and is really an initiative to demonstrate that we can co-exist and live harmoniously. It takes a visionary leader with a compassionate heart to make it happen and such was Dr. Mapanao and Mrs. Portia Mapanao.

Now we are down to just 10 more houses to go. Ten more families waiting to have a house they can call their own. As we celebrate Christmas this year, we call on you to respond. This year had been beset by many challenges but there is still so much to be thankful for and giving to this worthy cause may just be one way to give back. No amount is small not to matter. Every heartfelt donation will be much appreciated.

Mrs. Portia just celebrated her 86th birthday last November 21 and her only wish is to complete this project as envisioned by her late husband. What a life testimony this is!

It is my prayer that you will be moved to donate and together, let us realise the dream of The Promised Land.

For your donations, please give to https://www.gofundme.com/f/glad1relocationproject?sharetype=teams&member=3527002&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_source=customer&utm_campaign=p_na%20share-sheet&rcid=c1dbcb935ac6455bbd8654c5a3ebb844&fbclid=IwAR3tTjB_jOPttwXHBUl1KjkBtNpldpQa8YbulTbCIp7Vj-Z2zine9w9rgvU

The beauty in simplicity…Bohol!

This place exudes warmth and you feel that the moment you land in the new Panglao International Airport. The endless trees on one side and the ocean on the other welcome you like family embracing you after a long absence.

I love the simplicity of Bohol and yes, it’s one of my happy places here in my home country, the Philippines. Bohol, for me, affirms that there really is beauty in simplicity. It’s less crowded white beaches, many options of beautiful resorts (but not the sprawling types that tend to be intimidating), the island hopping with little coves of super fine white sand, the butterfly and firefly gardens, the bee farm, the tarsier sanctuary, the historic churches, the Chocolate Hills (the country’s 3rd National Geological Monument), the man-made forest, the caves, waterfalls, the relaxing Loboc River cruise…the list is long and that means, you will not run out of activities to do. The variety of things to do gives both the adventurous and those who prefer just to get away from the busy city life so many to choose from. Dining places offering good food also abound at prices that are budget-friendly. Just like the place, the Boholanos, in general are simple. They have that aura in them that’s warm and welcoming; that makes you feel you’re home.

Bohol is also a historical destination. The Blood Compact Shrine is one monument that tells of the first international treaty of friendship between Spain and the Philippines. The massive churches that abound in Bohol with almost each of its 47 towns having one is another interesting story. (Trivia: Do you know that these churches are products of forced labor brought about by a revolt in the 1620s?) Read more about this here: https://www.bohol-philippines.com/bohol-church.html

I brought my family there a few years ago as a gift to my mother whose wish is to celebrate her birthday with us siblings and her beloved “apos” (grandchildren). I love gifting my loved ones with travels rather than with material things as experience is more lasting and leaves wonderful memories. (Too bad, my other sister Anne and her family is based in Abu Dhabi and could not join us.)

Two years ago, an epic reunion happened in this idyllic place. This time with my childhood best friends. Friends I made when we were still innocent of the world as we started being friends when we were 5 or 6 years old being neighbors, church mates and classmates.

You don’t have to have anything in common with people you’ve known since you were five. With old friends, you’ve got your whole life in common.

~Lyle Lovett

It was a reunion I thought could not happen as we are spread across the globe – Lanny is based in New York; Vivien in Los Angeles, Lyncie in Toronto, Marylene in Cebu, Jeany in our hometown in Cotabato and myself in Manila. But it did! Thanks to the wedding of Vivien’s beautiful daughter to a charming young man whose family hails from Bohol. We all said yes and ended as principal sponsors of such a lovely and meaningful wedding celebration in an islet of a beautiful resort in Panglao.

Our reunion is very, very meaningful to all of us as it was the first time for us to get together as a group after 35 years! The first and “only” time we are complete because we lost one recently. Our dear Marylene went up to a better place less than two months ago. We could have been together for our second reunion last May in Dumaguete but Covid-19 got in the way. Bohol will forever be etched in our hearts as a place where we had the best bonding times.

The first and only time we are complete because our dear Marylene went up to a better place. (Maybe, she was saying goodbye in this picture?)

When I go to Bohol again (and for sure, will go there again and again), it will be nostalgic and that makes Bohol a much more special “happy place” for me.

When Everyday is Saturday

By: Bing De Los Reyes 

When you turn gold (in age, that is), you start thinking what will be your next phase? When will you retire from corporate work or if you’re an entrepreneur, is your succession planning well in place? I’m in this phase in my life now and as I think about it, I’m putting more details on how it will be when everyday is Saturday.

Yes, I’m referring to retirement. That phase in our lives when we change gears and embark on a new adventure. That’s how I look at retirement. It’s wrapping up a life stage to start a new one where I can give more time and attention to some meaningful ventures that I have set aside because I am tied up with many responsibilities as an employee. Retirement may mean slowing down on deadlines and deliverables but never an end to a meaningful and productive life. In fact, it may just be a more meaningful phase awaiting.

I’ve been working in the corporate world for over 3 decades and while there were work weeks that extend until weekends, there were more weekends spent to rest and re-fuel and when I have the whole Saturday for myself (I mean, when there’s no work to attend to), it feels so good! So, I imagine retirement as everyday being Saturday. Heaven, right?

But wait, can I really live a life doing practically nothing? I don’t think so and that is why it is important to plan. I want to continue to have a meaningful and productive life in my next phase and I can only achieve this if I planned ahead for it. 

My journey in the corporate world had been long and exciting and I will share with you the planning process I implemented to prepare for yet another exciting life stage in my succeeding articles – the good steps I took and the missteps that we can learn from.

For starters, here’s what you can do now to start the planning process towards a comfortable retirement. If you do it right, you may not even take 30 years before embarking on this phase. The key is starting it early:

  1. Envision the future that you want
  2. Know the price tag of that future that you want
  3. Start paying for that future now while you can still do it on installment basis.

So how will it be for you when everyday is Saturday?

Set it up early…ensuring your child’s future

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

~Nelson Mandela

One thing I am truly proud of as a Filipino is how we value education and parents go through great lengths to have their children finish a degree as we believe that it increases the probability of our children having a good future.

My story is no different. The conversation I had with my father that fateful night when I was in second year high school continues to be vivid in my mind until now. He came home and saw me crying because I was not yet enrolled as he was still sourcing the money. He sat me down and told me that no matter what happens, I will be enrolled and he promised that even if it takes selling all that he has, he will make sure he gets me through school. He passed away when I was in my junior year in College and indeed, he left provisions so I could finish my degree. His life insurance policy made sure I continue my studies despite the unstable income of my mother from her “sari-sari” store (a sari-sari store is a small neighbourhood store that sells common sundry items; sari-sari is a Filipino word for variety).

Thank you, Papang for fulfilling your promise.

When it was my turn to have a child of my own, setting up an education fund for our daughter was one of the first decisions we made as parents. Both my husband and I got separate policies three months apart. Last year, after 15 years, our education plans matured so we now have her college fund ready (she will be entering college in less than 2 years). Since both my husband and I are still earning, we have the choice to re-invest a portion of it which she can use later after graduation or if we need it for some education requirements, we can do that too. Our decision to set it up early gave us the options now plus the peace of mind that no matter what happens to our ability to earn, she can finish her chosen degree just like what my father did to me.

Our bundle of joy at about the time we started her education fund

The key is to start early. As soon as your bundle of joy is born (or better still, before birth), start setting up his/her education fund because the more years you have to grow the fund, the less amount you need to start it.

Invest it in a fund that is not easy to access. Simply putting it in a savings account does not only put your money to sleep (as it hardly earns anything) but it also gives you easy access to it so the risk of diverting it to other things is high.

Make it grow. If you start it early, like ten years or more before you actually need it, you can be more aggressive in the funds you invest in. Aggressive funds like equity give more upside but may also be more volatile. However, the longer time horizon you have mitigates the risks. Do frequent top-ups so you catch the “downs” of the market and get higher returns. Don’t just invest one time. Invest frequently.

Having more children requires an even more deliberate approach to education funding especially that we have other needs to prepare for like our retirement. Considering the ever-increasing cost of education, it’s either you will compromise the comforts of your daily living now by cutting your expenses here and there or you compromise your ability to save for a comfortable retirement. Both require long-term planning.

So while you still can, start it now. Every delay has a price to pay.

For related blogs, please read the links below:

Easy breezy Baguio

This City of Pines is a place of retreat from the hustle-bustle of the busy city and is simply the kind of respite we crave from time to time. With an estimated 2.5 million Benguet pine trees surrounding the city and the uphill and downhill terrain and panoramic view of houses on the hills as well as foggy mountains, Baguio is definitely a wonderful escape I consider one of my happy places.

Apartments and staycation places abound with price range to choose from and for people like me who travel to places to relax and be refreshed there are lots of choices. I go for homey apartments with a view of either the pine trees or the mountains in quiet neighbourhoods and our recent trip is certainly one choice I am happy to have made especially with its tasteful interiors and thoughtful amenities and very attentive caretakers . http://freds.com.ph/baguio/page/gallery

Coffee Shops and cafes are staples in our agenda and we search for nice ones with good reviews. For our family trip this time, we were quite satisfied with our choices and the cold December weather added to the thrill.

A visit to Camp John Hay is another must. With a large concentration of pine trees in the area, one can easily fall in love with the place. Early this year (before the stricter travel measures due to the pandemic was imposed), we had the chance to participate in the Baguio Marathon which started and ended in Camp John Hay. I did half marathon and the downhill and uphill route was certainly not for the faint of heart. The route went all the way to the Lion’s Head along Kennon Road and just when the finish line is already in sight, you have to run another kilometre uphill with your legs almost giving up.

Another must-visit is the Bencab Museum. The display of contemporary artworks in this museum is wide and the museum itself with its modern and clean design is lovely. National Artist Benedicto Reyes Cabrera’s (Bencab) works are beautiful. He is indeed one source of Filipino pride. Read more about his works and profile: http://www.bencabmuseum.org/national-artist/

Due to its idyllic weather, fruits are abundant and the Baguio market is a feast of various produce from the province. For coffee drinkers, Benguet coffee is synonymous to great coffee. In fact, an Atok-grown coffee emerged as the grand champion in the 3rd Philippine Coffee Competition held in March 2018. Oliver Oliem’s Arabica coffee entry won 1st place while 2 other Benguet Arabica coffee entries also won 3rd and 5th place among 700 entries. Atok coffee was described as a blend with flavour characteristics of apricot, lemongrass, pomelo, oolong Tea and the aroma of a rose. The National Barista Champion 2020 Adrian Vocalan also used coffee from Itogon, Benguet. No wonder there was a queue in the Fresh Roast shop at the Baguio marketplace where you can get Benguet premium and flavoured coffees. Read more: https://pia.gov.ph/features/articles/1019148

For sure, Baguio will always be one of my favourite places in the country and I am just so happy to note of Baguio’s Re-greening Masterplan which includes a tree-cutting moratorium. It is my hope that House Bill No. 7090 seeking for 10-year moratorium on tree cutting in the city (by Baguio Congressman Mark Go) last July 13, 2020 will be passed to reinforce the 5-year tree-cutting moratorium imposed in residential, business and public areas in the city.

With the newly opened NLEX-SLEX Connector which is expected to cut down travel time from Metro Manila and is set to be fully operational by January 14, 2020, Baguio will certainly be more attractive to people like me who just want to be away and experience easy breezy Baguio.

That thing they call “nesting”…discovering (and rediscovering) the joys of staying home

“The ultimate luxury is being able to relax and enjoy your home.”

~Jeff Lincoln

Attitude is everything and in such a situation as being forced to stay home for an extended period like what’s happening now with this pandemic, it’s either we wallow in frustration or we embrace it and for many including myself, we chose the latter.

So we settled in and “nested” – a condition that makes us do stuff for our home and in our home: decorating and redecorating it; purchasing things to re-create the “experience” we used to do outside but could not do now like fine dining, reading a book at a cafe, going to the salon, having a massage, watching a movie on the big screen and many more.

I moved around some pieces of furniture. This one used to be in a section at the garage which has been brought up to the balcony by five men as the daybed is very heavy.

To entertain ourselves, we looked for activities to do and new hobbies to be occupied with. Plantherapy trended giving birth to the monikers “plantitas and plantitos”. Photos of home-cooked food also flooded IG and FB (and I had many of these as well) and more tiktok videos uploaded.

I am no different. As a family whose weekend routine always included dining out and going to the malls, it was hard at first but we slowly got used to it. Saturdays became my movie days with my teenage daughter and we discovered that we both like watching true stories of sports icons and athletes as well as underdogs. My daughter loves to cook and bake so her dad and I were happy recipients of her experiments. The culinary skill of my niece was optimised too and my foray of the kitchen resulted to compliments from my husband and daughter. We realised that birthdays and anniversaries can be special too even if celebrated only at home. In fact, I like it more with celebrations that started with a special breakfast and ended with a fine dinner.

So I started buying pretty dining wares from the online marketplace to complete the fine dining experience at home and satisfy my shopaholic cravings. The Dalgona coffee and oatmeal cookies of my daughter became an afternoon treat and as the quarantine went into extension after extension, I went farther into re-creating the home experience. One luxury purchase I made, justified as a birthday gift to myself, was this wonderful Breville Home Barista Express https://www.breville.com.ph/the-barista-express that allowed me to make specialty coffees at home.

I joined the plant craze and started collecting different varieties of monstera, philodendron, aglaonema, fittonia, calathea and rubber trees and gained more knowledge as I researched on how to care for them and the benefits they bring to the home. Having this penchant for aesthetics, I went further deep into repotting my babies in lovely (and pricey…sigh) clay pots. Having these plants led me to reinvent some spaces in our home which now offer a more relaxed and refreshing vibe.

I also was finally able to start writing blogs which was something I wanted to do for sometime now but didn’t find the time to start.

When we go back to being able to do more of the going out stuff, I think it won’t be the same for me as this nesting have taught me the ultimate luxury of enjoying home.