No Place Like Home

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San Esteban

South China Sea coast of long ago

At thirteen I convinced myself I had already earned my doctorate degree, all done with school, done with education. I saw myself standing, resplendent in my purple toga, proud as can be towering way above the crowd of high school kids all clamoring for recess. I had my Walter Mitty moments and daydreamed a lot. Why, the propeller sounds of a Pan


Far away places with strange-sounding names

American airliner flying overhead from Hong Kong to Manila could make me imagine “far away places with strange-sounding names.”


Yes, and only in my mind was I a PhD having earned it at the University of Hard Knocks.

I couldn’t wait to leave home to explore the world. School was a drag. Earning one’s keep was so unnecessary. Looking back now, I tell myself, “What a fool. How could you leave paradise? The willowy coconut trees, the pristine waters of the South China Sea, deserted beaches stretching for miles, the wind in your face and a carefree lifestyle away from an industrialized world.”


This carabao is wise beyond his age

The wise elders used to admonish us kids: “The grass is always greener on the other side.” I was intrigued. And it’s true. Come to think of it, why does the grass always look greener on the other side? Is that why the carabao always wants to move to another field to graze disregarding the lush zacate grass upon which it stands?

I remember I had on a pair of Elpo rubber shoes. I hated them. What I wanted was a pair of Converse All Star shoes. From America. Made in USA. For some reason the Converse shoes were all the rage and I wanted to wear that which was in vogue so I could be in. Thinking about it now, my pair of locally manufactured black and gray Elpo rubber shoes were just as good and fine. They protected my feet walking to and from school. They did their job.


Rice Fields in Ambalayat

Can I ever go back home again? Not according to the wise sage. Because you see, home is no longer as it was when I was young and growing up. The place has changed and what I expect to see is no longer there. Even the familiar faces – friends, relatives – they are no longer there. Home is a now an entirely different place.

Am I longing for the past? Maybe. There is a saying about leaving part of your heart someplace specially if the pleasure of the stay is so intense it gets seared in the mind. Perhaps that was it. I loved my childhood spent back in Farola… the little fishing enclave by the South China Sea.


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There were mornings I didn’t want to get up from bed. This was one of those mornings.


Night Rain

It rained during the night. I fell asleep to the soft, intricate maracas-like sounds of raindrops falling on the co-goon grass roof of our small and humble cottage. The rhythmic sounds were further made into tight percussion riffs by the crickets and night crawlers chirping, by the tiny fruit bats with their syncopated chomping on “kapas-sanglay” fruit, and by the herd of cicadas playing their inebriating kazoo music from the stand of acacia trees.


Gardenia – Rosal

I woke up to the familiar, musky, animal dropping laced smell of freshly soaked ground – a parched patch of earth that once stood arid and dry for many weeks. The ground percolated and came alive with the rich water infusion, loosening small boulders and clods into mud, awakening the docile earthworms already on the job, laboriously digging, burrowing, all the while leaving round, marble-shaped mud mounds in their wake.

The pervasive scent of flora came from the gardenia, its white blossoms giving out that sweet, unadulterated perfume. Then there were the sweet-sop trees, their branches sagging under the weight of ripening fruit. The guavas, pomelo trees, and goose berries added to the


Atis – SweetSop

overall garden aroma, accented only by the blooming orchids hanging in their coconut husk nests.

From my cot bed I filled my lungs with healthful rain-cleansed morning air. The spectacular sunrise burst out in splendor lighting up the morning firmament; I wasn’t moved. I just wanted to linger and lounge on my cot bed, wax the grateful dead, oblivious


Pan de Sal

to life itself and remaining zombie-like.

And so I tarried, half-asleep, but enjoying the smell of freshly brewing roasted-rice coffee. I heard the familiar cry, “Pan de Sal,”… “Pan de Sal,”… the Doppler effect taking over the sound fading into the distance.

Divine Intervention

“Her father will not recognize her as his daughter,” the distraught woman lamented. “He threw us out of his life like used rags. We haven’t received any remittances from him for years.”

Mother Superior sat there motionless. She listened, occasionally nodding her head in sympathy. She’s heard it all before. “Go on,” she would say. “How can we help you this time?”


Now middle-aged Remedios

The middle-aged woman, we will call her Remedios (not her real name), was close to tears as she spilled her guts out to the Mother Superior of the school her daughter attended. She was there to plead her case of dire poverty, requesting that her daughter be allowed to take the finals even though she can’t come up with the tuition balance.

This wasn’t the first time Remedios had to grovel before the school administrator pleading for mercy and understanding. She did it when her daughter was a freshman in high school. Now, her daughter – who is a gifted child – is halfway thru her junior year.

As a young woman fresh out of high school, Remedios worked in Singapore as an OFW. She


A Young Remedios

was young, highly energetic, and engaging with unbounded curiosity. She loved to dance and socialize. She loved to meet new people and make new friends. Wide-eyed and eager to see the world she gladly took on domestic employment overseas. New to a universe bustling with highly driven people, young and impressionable, she soon found herself entangled in a doomed, superficial relationship with a married man.


Filising – a gifted child – in grade school

She bore him a child out-of-wedlock, a daughter, whom they named Filising (a combination of Filipiniana-Singaporianense). That was years ago.

Returning to the Philippines upon the non-renewal of her domestic contract, Remedios and Filising went to live with her eldest son, Sotero, in their small home with his family of four. As her son’s family grew bigger with the addition of a new baby, Remedios felt like she had to go to the big city to try her luck once again for overseas employment. Of course, Sotero and Filising protested. Sotero respectfully reminded his mother, “Besides, you can help us out by babysitting the new baby. We need you Mom. Don’t go. Stay.”

One day, without so much as a goodbye, Remedios left. Just like that. She left no address, no word as to where she was going. She just took off.


Filising (left) with a friend

Filising felt the sting of complete abandonment in her heart. Not only did her biological father disown her, now her mother has left her. She felt utter worthlessness. Her grades began to slip. She lost her appetite. Her beautiful, flowing, black tresses began to fall off. She was withering away in broad daylight.

Sotero was at a loss; he didn’t know what to do. He had no resources to take Filising to see a doctor. Why, Sotero was so penniless he couldn’t even summon the local quack-doctor-herbolario for some superstitious quackery; this local shaman charged too much for his services.

At school, Filising’s teachers noticed the change in their star pupil. Alarmed, they informed Mother Superior of what was going on. It was out of pure concern for her welfare that Mother Superior had Filising brought in to the office one afternoon for an informal chat. Divine intervention was at work. Mother Superior took it upon herself to use her own personal money to help Filising finish her junior year. Additionally, she gave Filising a job at the convent, helping in the library and in the sacerdotal vestments upkeep, and giving her board and lodging.

Filising graduated high school class valedictorian. She never reconnected with her mother Remedios, who walked out on her… long ago.


Generosity Killer


“When we do a random act of kindness, we do it without seeking recompense.”

Hatred kills generosity.

Hateful words deriding another person for their acts of charity, only serve to diminish the sympathy for others felt by the recipient of such unkind commentary.

In the end, the once charitable person, mocked and ridiculed for their acts of kindness becomes unwilling to give. Their once kind hearts, numbed by the senseless verbal attacks leveled at them, turn to stone.

Who suffers? The needy person; the intended recipient of the charity.

Such a story circulates in social media today, about a very bitter person’s reaction to another person’s charitable contributions to some needy kids.

“I can’t believe she actually gave money to this cause,” the poster wrote, reacting to a story posted in social media about a woman who donated to a charitable cause. The poster claimed familiarity with this generous person described in the story. Seems they were married at one time.

“She yelled at me whenever I put money in the collection plate on Sunday,” his commentary continued.

“She never allowed me to give money to my ailing parents either. Or give me money to bet at the cockfights. She was so tightfisted she squeaked when she walked. And now she gives to charitable causes? Hypocrite! How bogus. How fake. Making herself look good outside. Rotten inside. Can you believe it?” The poster continued with his unkind commentary.

A firestorm of posts erupted. Commenters from all corners dove in to the fray. The scene turned ugly.

“Hoy, you better stop posting… your comments are not true. You lying,” one poster wrote.

Someone who apparently knew them when they were a couple left this post: “If you do not stop commenting I will reveal all your stinky secrets. And the whole world will know just how rotten you were as a husband. Lazy and dumb. No work because no one will hire you. You are nothing but a freeloader.”

Still, another poster wrote, “Please think twice before you post. You are embarrassing yourself. Big time.”

Whoa. Time out. Let’s come up for air. What about the generous person described in the story – the original object of the disgruntled poster’s ire? How was she impacted by all this trash talk?


When hateful words kill a person’s generosity, the recipient of the charity suffers.

Sadly, the unkind posts impacted her negatively. She regretted ever having given to the cause of the needy kids. She vowed never to donate to such charitable causes. She faded into social networking obscurity. Vanished – never to be heard from again.

Ultimately, who lost in this brew-ha-ha? The disgruntled ex-husband you think? Not hardly.

The ex-wife? Nope.

The needy kids? You bet.



Charity Begins at Home


Juzel Ann Macanas (right) with her Mom upon receiving her award certificate

“Dear Sir,” her email message to me began.

“I will not be able to attend the scheduled scholar’s meeting with Mr Bunoan because…”

I paused reading her email message. For a long moment my mind painted the word “Excusitis.” This can’t be.

“I have a scheduling conflict,” the email message continued.

And why is this young lady sending me this email message? I am chair of the scholarship committee and I work closely with Mr Albert Bunoan, VP Fld Ops, taking care of our scholars’ needs. It was a courtesy email message.

It turns out that our scholar-email-message-writer and 10th grade honor student, Ms Juzel Ann Macanas from Barangay Libtong, was scheduled to work with Libtong’s Local Community Charity organization that same day. She was slated to help distribute food to the homeless and hungry on that same day as our scheduled scholar’s meeting.

the face of poverty

Father and his child try to sleep away their hunger

My answer was simple and immediate:  “Juzel Ann – Go distribute food. Attend the next meeting. Let Mr Bunoan know.”

How impressive is that?

Juzel Ann Macanas, SAS Ai scholar actively involved in community volunteer charity work for the needy.

How many young people would bother to do such thankless volunteer work, much less surrender their precious leisure time? Not many I’d venture to speculate.

What Juzel Ann is doing with her free time, helping feed the poor, is noteworthy. It bodes well for her future. This same act of charity serves as a testament to the effectiveness of the financial aid program wherein she is a beneficiary.

Charity begins at home.

SAS Ai’s Christmas Angel


Imelda visiting the Tagudin Plaza and Municipal Hall

Ms Imelda Villanueva attended Saint Augustine School (SAS), graduated (Batch 81) and went on out into the world of work to make a name for herself. She and her family currently live in New York where she works.

She is one, among the many friends of SAS Alumni International, who takes quite seriously, our mission of outreach to bright kids from poor families in their quest to finish high school at SAS.


“Daklis” or dragnet fishing involves the entire community. Imelda joined the fishing effort.

Currently vacationing in the Philippines, she’s enjoying the company of family and friends from the old country in Tampugo, while taking care of personal business in metro Manila and Makati city.

Home in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, she’s seen participating in the community tradition of “dragnet” fishing, or daklis in the Ilocano vernacular. At Tampugo Beach, Imelda tasted fresh “Aryaw-yaw” – or silverfish fry caught by the daklis and salloy.


Albert receiving the Christmas gifts for the students from Imelda

More importantly – and this is what Imelda takes the most pride – she brought home Christmas presents for the kids in the financial aid program. She did this act of kindness in addition to financially supporting the cause.

Now, how thoughtful and kind is that?

She got together with Mr Albert Bunoan, our SAS Ai VP of Field Operations and presented the gifts for the kids before leaving for Manila. Time constraints prevented her from personally meeting with the kids. Maybe next time.

Indeed we are grateful and deeply touched by Ms Imelda’s generosity to the kids. In turn, the kids will treasure their presents and thank Ms Imelda Villanueva by successfully graduating high school!

Letter to our Current Scholars in the Program


“College and High School are totally different. They have only one thing in common:  that you need to study hard to make it.”

Dear Co-scholars,

Hi! How are you guys? Are you enjoying high school? Are you working hard on your studies? I hope you are. Don’t be “easy-go-lucky”. College is so different from high school. College and High School have only one requirement in common: that you should really study hard.

Some disciplines we are learning in college were also taught in high school. If you are already in the habit of studying hard, you will NOT be left out. Here in college, knowledge and skills are mostly self-learned. Instructors are not going to explain everything. They are not going to do all the talking. They are not going to chase you and beg you to listen to their lecture. No Ma’am. No Sir. It is your responsibility to help yourself.

By the way, you should expose yourselves to doing different activities, such as, speaking in front of a large audience. It will help you with your self-confidence. You should also talk more using the English language because they are not going to let you speak in Tagalog, not unless you are in a subject, such as, “Filipino”.


“Studying Hard is a good Habit to Form.”

You should take time to rest when you can. Do not get used to the idea of “mañana habit,” otherwise known as procrastination. Do not be a slacker – forget the “bahala na” attitude. Time flies fast; you need to use your time wisely. Have a mature outlook, be serious and focused. Be independent but ask for help if you need it.

Anyways, enjoy while you still can. I hope you all the best guys. God bless and Good luck.

Signed/ Kristine Joy Cardenas