There were four of us including driver Mario, the two sisters Willa Tecson eldest and Mina Tecson, the younger one, and together we were to visit Mina’s personal projects, which lie outside her daily work duties. As we drove we chatted and I learned about the activities.
Mina Tecson established Pinagpalang Kamay Association Inc (PKAI), or Blessed Hand, after meeting missionaries working in the area. There was a finance problem. Though there was a basic set-up and people to assist, the situation was dire and the operation was at the brink of closing down. The problem lay in getting regular funds. One-off fund gathering could be done effectively but there were daily recurring demands for food, services and facilities maintenance.
On her own admission Mina said she’s quite a capable businesswoman but that didn’t bring her any deep satisfaction and she warmed to the idea of helping out with raising those necessary finances. Her own children, five in all, had pretty much grown up with the youngest into final studies, preceding college life, so she went for it.
An hour or so outside downtown Manila, into Quezon City and we passed through the district of Payatas, the place of the food for young children programme, but journeyed on to visit the special needs children first. For me it was a shocker to see a mountain of city rubbish so high as to be almost unbelievable.
Cottolengo Filipino – for abandoned, physically and mentally impaired children is at Montalban and is run by the Sons of Divine Providence. The place lies on the last stretch of road leading to the Sierra Madre range of mountains that reach from northern Cagayan into southern Quezon Province. It’s at Rodriguez, formerly known as Montalban, Rizal Province.
On arrival one of the children, a teenager with a dauntingly broad toothy smile greeted us. He was introduced as the ‘security guard’ and he enjoyed the joke immensely – was it a joke, he led us everywhere? This was Yoyo, who was allowed to go with us wherever we went in the tour.
Also Fr. Julio Cuesta Ortega, director of Cottolengo Filipino, a member of the brotherhood of the line of charity workers inspired by Saint Joseph Benedict Cottolengo (Italian, 1786 – 1842) who founded the Little House of Divine Providence so long ago and who is now seen as a saint of the Roman Catholic Church.
Thus, even before entering the old style entranceway, thanks to an energetic Yoyo, we were plunged into the twilight world of these children who were abandoned at various stages of life, mostly very young indeed, by a parent (parents are a luxury) who just could not manage.
Consider, the biological parents were clamped down by poverty, likely blighted by addiction. How could they care for a child with multiple defects that science has labeled in terms of, for example Angelo de la Cruz, who died only recently at age eight: abandoned at birth, disabled by cerebral palsy, speech impairment, spastic quadriplegia to paraplegia? How?
Also Kenneth Plaza who was found in front of Plaza Independencia, Cebu City. No one in the area knew the family of the child. He was referred to Cottelengo Filipino and admission was facilitated in March 2001. Now fourteen years old he has cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia.
All the young ones there have these histories of abandonment and severe handicap.
The very first room, shiny clean, housed a series of beds whereon lay in various contortions the afflicted children. The magic was, that with just a caress but more usually a poke here and a tug there, each one of those so-handicapped children were provoked into smiling. Not one remained inert. Each responded to contact, to some little affection, a held hand, ruffled hair, a pinched cheek.
That poor body, those poor bodies, clearly withheld a humanness that only needed proximate other-human attention for it to fire into life, to excite limb movements, curlings of the arms, twists of the legs, rolling of the eyes, hardly a sound though as most could not utter sounds and many could not hear.
Along the corridors and about the compound young ones with a variety of odd repeating postures and stances walked, waited, played or petitioned and each in turn registered some personal inward joy on receiving some loving attention, however slight. Some would not let go of Brother Julio.
Volunteer mothers cuddled impossibly prone life forms, distorted little bodies that could hardly grow yet there they were clinging to life and would do as long as their spirit allowed. But there are deaths, one the previous week, a child whose memory lives on in the community’s helpers and in the leaflet where his tiny frame forms part of a tragic yet rescued montage that combines both inhuman neglect and misfortune with human love and rescue.
Others live on for years and years and have this small cup of happiness to fill their otherwise desolate days. The question raises itself. What is the point. Is it worthwhile to nurture a human life under the conditions of disfigured illness. The answer was plain to see, yes, given there are people who are willing to love those little souls and give what they at rock bottom really need, attention, love, daily practical physical love.
There was a veritable gang of ‘hyper-actives’, highly mobile, and as a little joke Fr. Julio opened the door of their room, there were beds but where were the children? We laughed. We found them gathered about like any group of pals, all on one bed, devouring a television show.
After a while we bade our leave and thus we left those children and teenagers who can offer the medical world a cornucopia of afflictions, usually one-stamped-over-another in the same child: blind, mute, cerebral palsied, autistic, with Down Syndrom, and much more technically specific afflictions.
Yet, there they are, on our Earth, together with us; it’s just that they are sort of ‘over there’. Day-by-day the programme of help goes on, the volunteer mothers playing their part, the patient staff playing their’s. Mina hustling her neighbours for sustaining materials and cash. The devoted ones all combined in this extraordinary effort at providing a home for children who were cast aside, just like the rubbish that built the local Smokey Mountain.
Until our own human panacea arrives, when we treat others as we would like to be treated, and until those conditions arise to nurture our future children, we have to thank ‘god’ for what is happening in places like Cottolengo. Which raises the thought: where is god as some of us might like to ask? The answer is plain to see, the human beings working for others like this, that’s god. It’s easy to love that god as then, god really is love!
Then we went to visit the Lourdes Feeding Program which PKAI supports plus the livelihood encouragement and assistance activities that supplement the food for wanting children scheme!