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?

Emergency Fund…taken for granted no more!

Having an emergency fund is a must in any financial plan as we do not want to touch the savings we have for our children’s education or the retirement fund we diligently built-up when some unforeseen events happen.

Although the pandemic disrupted this principle especially those who lost their jobs or got saddled with sickness, this simple guide remains to be relevant: a prescription of at least 3 to 6 months of your monthly cost of living and if you have more savings, it is better to put the excess in an investment fund that gives you better returns.

But first, why is an emergency fund important? Quoting Zach Buchenau, a personal finance expert (https://bethebudget.com/why-is-an-emergency-fund-important/) “emergency fund is important because it acts as a financial cushion in the event of an unexpected expense. Whether it be medical bills, home repairs, or a family crisis, an emergency fund can help you steer clear of debt, protect your assets, and avoid unnecessary financial struggle.”

So how do we build an emergency fund? Here’s a simple guide: Read more at https://www.saveandinvest.org/military-everyday-finances/start-emergency-fund

  • Chart your monthly income and expenses. This will help you determine not only your monthly cost of living but can also help you identify where you can cut expenses in order to set aside for the rainy days.
  • Set your emergency savings goal. As I mentioned earlier, a quick guide is 3 to 6 months.
  • Develop a plan to start saving. For some, cutting costs is a must and tracking your expenses can help you find what items you can give up to give way to savings.
  • Put your emergency fund in an accessible place. A regular bank savings account is a good place for this as you can access it without paying penalties. As such, do not mind the very low interest rate as that is the reason why you can withdraw it anytime.
  • Stick to your plan. It may not be easy as there are lots of reasons we come up with why we can’t set aside the amount regularly until the fund goal is reached but resist the temptation and stick to the purpose of the fund – it should only be used for Emergency.

I must add that expenses like tuition fees are not “emergency” expenses as these are scheduled and can be planned ahead. There are health plans that can help cover medical expenses and it is always advisable to get covered for these expenses too.

Finally, this Covid-19 pandemic has exposed our financial vulnerabilities and has taught us so many lessons including ensuring having a sufficient emergency fund, having health plans and insurance coverage. Let us not waste these lessons by not acting on them and plugging the holes in our financial plan.

Let’s not take for granted setting up an emergency fund anymore. It’s one lesson from this pandemic that we must learn and act on.

Losing a Mother

“Mothers are like glue. Even when you can’t see them, they’re still holding the family together.”

Susan Gale

She was 75. She had me at 20. So, she was lent to us by our gracious God for 55 years and I said “thank you for the 55 years of loving me.” This was the gist of our last conversation on my birthday when she greeted me 10 days before her last breath. She was already sick at that time but we were hopeful that she would get well as we always looked at her as ageless.

She had me at 20. She became a widow at 39. We had her until 3 months after she turned 75.

No one is really too old to lose a mother. Losing a mother leaves a vacuum in the family no one can fill. For the 4 of us siblings, she was our home – literally and figuratively. Despite our invitations to stay with any one of us, she opted to stay in the home she and my father built together before he passed on 35 years ago. She was someone who never imposes her being mother on us. We could genuinely be ourselves with her and she would just smile listening intently to our stories of adventures and misadventures.

A celebrated moment on a Christmas that we were complete after almost 30 years since Anne (2nd from left) was living in the UAE.

While we did our best to give her the comfort she deserves in her old age without her having to ask, as she squeezed every penny she earned to fend for us when we were growing up, there are still regrets – we wish she could see what we are doing with the farm properties she along with our father passed on to us; we wish we could have brought her to more places when she was still stronger; we wish we could have visited her more before this pandemic happened; we wish we could have given more…the list goes on.

A sweet memory with her 2 grandchildren on her 72nd birthday

I am sure many can relate with me so for those whose parents are still around and who are blessed with the opportunity to show gratitude, go thank them, hug them if you can, be generous with them…while you still have them around.

God loves our mother so much that He took her to her final resting place where there is no more pain. Only eternal peace. And where she is welcomed by our dear father – the only love of her life.

As we promised, we will take care of each other. So long!

Beyond great legs…start running!

All women love strong and shapely legs right? As we age, the forces of nature work their way towards our body and puts unsightly bulges here and there and we start looking at our old photos and wish…

…And wish we go back to our past shape. Hey, we actually can for as long as we are willing to do the sweat price (because the easier cosmetic route does not give you the benefits beyond what the eyes can see).

This teaches a simple truth: Effort produces results, no effort produces nothing. The effort is worth it.

Amby Burfoot, podiumrunner.com

I started running in July 2018 at age 52 so it’s not yet too long ago but this is the best I have felt so far as far as my body condition is concerned. I’ve never been really overweight though but at that time, I was heavy at 134 pounds and I didn’t like it when I noticed I had to buy clothes a size bigger than the previous year so I thought it was time to level up my work-out. (I am 113 pounds now and overachieved my 115 pounds goal). It was so timely because I had been wanting to join the Angkor Wat Half Marathon which our company was a sponsor of. I downloaded a 5K Runner App and the rest is history. Since then I had been running at least 3 times a week. Prior to this pandemic, I travelled a lot so my running shoes are always with me. That’s another benefit of running – you get to explore new places and see them from a different perspective when the place is still quiet and not busy at sunrise (I’m a morning runner).

Running is certainly one of the best, if not the best, exercise to tone your legs but beyond that there are so many other health benefits. Amby Burfoot’s article published in Podium Runner lists evidence-based benefits and I am sharing six (6) of them here (for the complete list, please read: https://www.podiumrunner.com/culture/10-amazing-benefits-running-might-not-known/

  • Running adds years to your life and life to your years. Because of the overall effect of running in the body (cardiovascular, body composition, hormonal balance), studies show that runners actually gain 3 years into one’s life span.
  • Running helps you sleep better.There is a direct correlation between exercising and getting a good sleep and many studies validate this.
  • Running can improve your knees and back. I am sure you have heard the opposite of this and would not believe this is a fact. Burfoot shared a study of 675 marathoners by The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery which revealed that the “arthritis rate of active marathoners was below that of the general U.S. population (Arthritis prevalence was 8.8% for the subgroup of U.S. marathoners which is significantly lower than the prevalence in the matched U.S. population of 17.9%). I am sure, a big part of this is the fact that runners take extra care of their knees by doing strengthening exercises to make sure that they continue running.
  • Running helps you lose weight, and keep it off. We all know of those who lose weight by doing some diet of sorts and while there had been success stories, there are more cases of “losers” who gained it all back again. On the other hand, if you lose weight by running (as it is one exercise that really makes you burn more calories) and you keep on running at least three times a week, you will most likely keep the extra pounds away. The average person burns 280 to 520 calories with 30 minutes of running. Amount of calories burned depend on weight, time spent running and speed. ~https://caloriesburnedhq.com/calories-burned-running/
  • Running improves mental health, and reduces depression. For sure, running makes you feel good. It gives you a rush of endorphins that runners refer to as runners high. This chemical in the brain has been found to have many positive effects on the body including pain reduction, boost in happiness and pleasure and reduction in stress and anxiety.~https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/runners-high
  • Running lowers your blood pressure. Running and other moderate exercise is a proven, non-drug-related way to lower blood pressure and this is because running strengthens one’s heart muscles and make it more effective.
Pre-run and Post-run stretching

I have to stress how important pre- and post-run stretching is to avoid injuries and muscle aches. Pre-run stretches should be dynamic (active stretches where you engage your muscles and joints warming them up causing blood circulation) while post-run can be static (stretches where you hold a pose for 15-20 seconds) to cool down your muscles and slow down your breathing. Check this CNBC-TV18 you tube video for great pre- and post-runs stretching routine: https://youtu.be/qq1kGDd4Q60

Running and Yoga

Since running involves the use of the same muscles and joints, I can say that yoga is its perfect partner as the latter works out the other muscle groups and joints not used in running. Thus, it further enhances your run. Yoga exercise improves mobility and strengthens your core which improve one’s stability and performance. The other great thing with yoga practice is it teaches you the correct breathing which is so helpful in running. Read more on mobility : https://strengthrunning.com/2019/10/mobility-training-for-runners/

Psychic Rewards

Another reward that makes me feel so good is when I know that someone has been encouraged to exercise because of me. I was able to organise an informal group of runners (mostly beginners) and we would participate in different runs. Some of us even joined runs abroad (Cambodia and Vietnam) and we had so much fun!

There you go – there are just so many benefits that running gives and it certainly goes beyond having great legs. Just a word of advice though, if and when you decide to start running, make sure you build your endurance and increase your mileage just about 10%-15% every week. This way, you avoid getting injured and be traumatised so early before reaping any of the benefits and if you have a medical condition, make sure you ask your doctor’s advice if running is good for you.

And make sure you invest in a good and appropriate pair of running shoes!