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The Power of One

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     SEVEN. This is the age where kids start to leave kindergarten with their toys and crayons to explore the new realm that is called school, where children, now called students, are not always allowed to play, and naptime becomes a period to miss.

     At age seven, Kesz Valdez was already helping out street children. For his seventh birthday, he wanted to give them gifts.

     These small acts of charity made him win the 2012 International Children’s Peace Prize, out of two other finalists. Their small actions to help, as said by Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu who awarded him, “show the incredible resilience in the human spirit.”

     During the UST-UNICEF General Assembly last Thursday, Kesz shared his inspiring story to the old and the new set of student-volunteers of the university-wide organization after he attended as one of their guest speakers.

The Baptism of Fire

     Cris ‘Kesz’ Valdez grew up in a dumpsite and, like a lot of those living in garbage communities, was exposed to the dangers of poverty and diseases. He ran away from home after being physically abused by his father and since then, began to live as a street child. At age five, after a fire gave him burns all around his body, he was saved by Harnin ‘Bonn’ Manalaysay – also the mentor of Efren Peñaflorida, creator of the Kariton Klasrum – who raised him as his own child.

     “The day I felt the burn on my body was like my baptism of fire. It was so painful that I cried on the dumpsite, on the hospital, and on the days that followed. I cried in pain,” Kesz said. “On the other hand, it was also the day that I was saved. Now I have tears of joy because since then, the fire that burned through my flesh was the same fire that started a flame in my heart.”

     It was the flame of volunteerism.

The Fire of Volunteerism

     Kesz started volunteering for the Kariton Klasrum when he was six, during those times his Kuya Bonn taught and demonstrated to him the value of helping others.

     When he was eight, he realized that children like him could also help a lot of other children back, so he created his own organization, Championing Community Children, to give back to street children in need. “Gusto ko rin pong [ibalik yung tulong] sa mga bata [kasi] ako dati yung natutulungan, pero ngayon ako na po yung tumutulong sa kanila,” he said.

     He emphasized that everyone could be volunteers in their own little ways, in their own simple methods, even without the help of creating associations or organizations.

     He proved his point using three phrases.

ONE is never too young to give back to society

     “One small yet significant difference can change the world we live in,” Kesz said. “Pwede nating patunayan sa mundo na walang edad, kasarian at maging [ilang] karanasan na makakatigil sa kakayahan ng isang tao na makatulong.”

     Championing Community Children is a proof of this. The organization has helped and reached out to communities all around Cavite, which was its starting area, and is currently aiming to reach and help more street children from all around the country. They have taught thousands of street children proper hygiene, gave them ‘Gifts of Hope’ – which contained slippers, toothbrushes and other simple hygienic materials – and encouraged other street children to spread the word, pay it forward and become a champion to their own communities.

     “So, when you see a need, do something and stand up! No age requirement. Make the first step and take charge,” he said, encouraging the student-volunteers.

ONE is never too poor to think of ways to help others

     A person may be poor, but he or she is never incapable of using his or her resources and do anything to help others. Being poor does not remove the desire to help others and block the opportunity to serve. This is what Kesz pointed out when he shared his second advice.

     “While I was still making bad choices, somebody showed me the way and led me by following his example,” he said. Though his Kuya Bonn does not possess an artificial intelligence in a suit of armor, and even though he is not a genius, billionaire or philanthropist, he helped show Kesz the way through his own good example. It led Kesz to his own path of volunteerism. He may not be as rich as other businessmen, but he has helped a lot of street children on his own compassion and free will.

     Being rich or poor does not matter, the act of helping does.

ONE is never too ordinary to be a hero

     The third and the final advice showed the truth behind helping others.

     “I believe that we all have a desire to do good to this world,” Kesz said. “We cry for change, but change begins in each and every one of us.”

     An enlightened mind and heart can help change the world. This is what Kesz wants to prove as he stood before the volunteers, and here he was – a changed person, from a former street child to an advocate and herald of children’s rights.

     “Yes, I am just one, but I want to help make peace for generations to come. One is never too ordinary to do something to help anyone in need. In simple ways like sharing a pair of slippers and sharing the simple knowledge of hand washing and washing of feet can help a lot of street children. These are simple acts that can pave way to change hearts in the world.”

 Changing the world

     As the popular Filipino proverb says, “Kapag gusto, may paraan. Kung ayaw, laging may dahilan.”

     Kesz is just one, but he is a testament that anyone can make a change, no matter how young or poor one is.

     Nelson Mandela, former South African president, said that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

     “Totoo po yun,” Kesz said. “Kapag ginamit po natin yung knowledge natin at sinamahan natin ng compassion, yung desire natin na ma-observe na tumulong sa ibang tao, unti-unti, we can change the world, one heart at a time.”

By Rhenn Anthony S. Taguiam
Photo taken by Denise A. Sabio

 

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Patungo sa Panibagong Yugto

Maligayang pagbati, bagong Tomasino! Dito nagsisimula ang isang bagong yugto at paglalakbay tungo sa magandang kinabukasan.

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Kuha ni Christine Annmarie Tapawan ng TomasinoWeb

Pagdiwang! Dumating na naman ang panahon ng pagsalubong sa humigit-kumulang na 15,000 na bagong Tomasino! Ang Thomasian Welcome Walk ay ginanap noong Martes, ika-6 ng Agosto. Ang taunang pagdaan sa ilalim ng makasaysayang Arch of the Centuries ay itinuturing na simula ng buhay Tomasino. Hinati muli ang programa sa dalawa, ang unang kalahati ay nagsimula ng alas-nuwebe ng umaga at ang pangalawa naman ay alas-dos ng hapon.

Samu’t saring ingay at saya ang bumalot sa Unibersidad. Malalaking ngiti at makikislap na mata ang makikitang nakapinta sa mukha ng mga bagong Tomasino. Handang-handa na sa panibagong kabanata ng kanilang buhay kolehiyo. Kasabay ang kalabog ng mga puso, sa bawat hampas ng tambol—ito ay dumadagundong. Ramdam na ramdam ang bagong enerhiya na dala ng mga mag-aaral mula sa iba’t ibang fakultad at kolehiyo. Ano nga ba ang pakiramdam na makapasok sa arko patungo sa maraming oportunidad at pangarap na naghihintay? Ibinahagi ng mga bagong mag-aaral ang kanilang mga saloobin at pakiramdam sa ilang panayam kasama ng TomasinoWeb.

Para kay Keziah Taguba na mula sa Legal Management, masaya pa rin ito kahit pangalawang beses na niyang dumalo. “It still feels surreal,” aniya. Kada taon, malaki ang preparasyon na ginagawa ng mga mag-aaral upang makapagbigay ng masayang karanasan na hindi kaagad malilimutan. “Nakakatuwa ‘yung warm welcome ng Thomasian community lagi sa mga freshman nila, family talaga yung turing nila sa ‘min.” 

Kuha ni Ralph Estrella ng TomasinoWeb

Ang bagong yugto na ito ay nagdadala ng mga bagong pagkakataon at oportunidad upang makilala ang sarili, makagawa ng mga masasayang ala-ala, at syempre, tuparin ang mga pangarap. Para kay Abby Salvador, galing din sa Legal Management, ngayong nasa kolehiyo na siya, inaasahan niya ang mga kaganapan sa Unibersidad katulad ng UAAP season, Paskuhan, at iba’t-iba pa. “Mas gusto ko pang ma-experience ‘yung Thomasian spirit ngayon na college na.” 

Pamilya. Isang salita na naglalarawan sa mga Tomasino. Ayon kay Red Ronas mula sa Advertising Arts, ito ang naramdaman niya ngayong Welcome Walk, “Masaya pa rin at na-feel ko na part pa rin ako ng family.” 

Bagama’t masaya ang byahe patungo sa mga pangarap, hindi maiiwasan ang mga problema na darating. Para kay Renzi Queral na isang Medical Biology freshman, “Masaya [yung welcome walk]. It’s a new experience pa din and at the same time ‘yun nga may [feeling ng] pressure din pero yung pressure na yun, I look at it as a motivation na lang. May kasama din akong iba in this journey.” 

Kuha ni Ralph Estrella ng TomasinoWeb

Given na ‘yung mas magiging challenging siya pero on the brighter side, mas magiging fulfilling siya kasi mas nararanasan na namin yung totoong buhay,” aniya. 

Kay Kiara Gimao, na galing din sa College of Science, isang karangalan ang maging isang Tomasino. “Syempre po masaya tsaka honored, pero tsaka syempre pressured din kasi dala namin yung pangalan ng UST sa kahit anong gawin namin,” aniya. Maraming bagay ang pwedeng mangyari at maranasan sa kolehiyo at para sa kanya, gusto niyang tumutok sa mga gusto niya, “[Sana] mas ma-expose kami sa mga bagay na gusto talaga namin. Magiging specific siya unlike sa SHS na broad pa ‘yung lessons at syempre looking forward sa events.”

Pagkatapos ng Welcome Walk, nagtungo ang mga mga mag-aaral sa Quadricentennial Pavillion upang makinig at ipagdiwang ang banal na misang pinangunahan ni Rev. Fr. Herminio Dagohoy, O.P. Dala din ng bagong pagkakataon ang bagong mga hamon. Maari man itong humadlang sa ating mga pangarap, dapat nating tandaan na huwag tayong hihinto. 

Kuha ni Troy Jacob Quinan ng TomasinoWeb

My dear Thomasians, after this orientation week, you will return to this place again in 2024. You have started your journey today to QPav. It begins today,” ani Rev. Fr. Dagohoy. “When your journey becomes tough and you want to stop, don’t!” dagdag niya. 

Pray that God may speak to you in your dreams, in your vision, and even in your deep sleep. Is it possible? Yes, because you are God’s beloved children.” Tinapos ni Rev. Fr. Dagohoy ang homiliya ng pagbabati sa mga bagong Tomasino. “Welcome to the University of Santo Tomas, where champions in life are born.” 

Maligayang pagbati, bagong Tomasino! Dito nagsisimula ang isang bagong yugto at paglalakbay tungo sa magandang kinabukasan. Ipakita mo ang marka ng pagiging isang tigre at sinasalubong ka ng Unibersidad nang may pagmamahal at pagtanggap. 

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Heist School, pelikulang likha ng Communication Arts alumni, kalahok sa Cinemalaya Short Feature 2019

Isang grupo ng Communication Arts alumni ang tatahak ng kategoryang Short Feature ngayong Cinemalaya 2019. Mga nagsipagtapos noong isang taon, ang Last Minute Films ay kalahok sa nasabing film festival dala ang kanilang pelikulang Heist School. 

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Photo from Last Minute Films.
Litrato mula sa Last Minute Films

Isang grupo ng Communication Arts alumni ang tatahak ng kategoryang Short Feature ngayong Cinemalaya 2019. Mga nagsipagtapos noong isang taon, ang Last Minute Films ay kalahok sa nasabing film festival dala ang kanilang pelikulang Heist School

Desperadong maipasa ang kanilang klase sa matematika upang makapagtapos, ang apat na bida ng Heist School ay ‘di-inaakalang magtitipon at magtutulungan upang makamit ang imposible. Higit na naimpluwensiyahan ng pagkakaibigan nina Julius Renomeron, Jr., ang direktor, at Johmar Damiles na co-writer, ang ideya ng isang heist film na salin sa lokal na konteksto ay matagal nang nabuo. Ang mga pelikula ng Oceans Eleven at ang indie film na Patintero: Ang Alamat ni Meng Patalo ang nagsilbing inspirasyon ng grupo. Nilikha ng Last Minute Films ang Heist School bilang isang simpleng istorya ng magkakaibigan. Minabuti nilang siyasatin ang impluwensya ng eskwelahan at kapaligiran sa pagbuo ng mabuting asal ng isang tao.

Nagsimula bilang isang grupo sa film class, ang Last Minute Films ay sumulong mula sa pagpupulong sa loob ng silid-paaralan patungo sa pakikipanayam sa CNN Philippines. Sa likod ng Last Minute Films ay siyam na tao: si Klaire Dulay, ang production manager; si John Paolo Barrameda, ang sound recordist, sound designer, editor at manunulat; sina Pauline Carlos at Zhino Koe, ang mga casting directors; si Ezren Caneda, ang location manager at production designer; si Johmar Damiles, ang director of photography, editor at manunulat; sina Alvin Jamora at Keanu Managuas, ang mga assistant directors; at si Julius Renomeron, Jr., ang direktor at isa sa mga editor at manunulat.

Ngayong sila ay nakapagtapos na ng kolehiyo, dito nagkaroon ng problema ang grupo—nahirapan sila sa pagpupulong matapos nilang lisanin ang kanlungan ng mga Tigre. Kahit na mayroon itong dalang pagsubok, ang mga natitirang miyembro ay handang gumawa ng ibang pelikula. Sa ngayon, pinag-iisipan ng grupo na mag-angkat ng bagong tao sa Last Minute Films, ibinahagi ng direktor na si Renomeron sa isang online interview kasama ng TomasinoWeb.

Mula nang kanilang mapanalunan ang Sine Reel X, isang kompetisyon ng pelikula sa pagitan ng mga magtatapos na mag-aaral ng Communication Arts, ang Heist School ay unti-unting nakilala sa loob ng Unibersidad ng Santo Tomas hanggang sila’y makilala sa film festivals ng ibang unibersidad. Ang Heist School ay lumahok sa One La Salle Film Festival noong Hulyo ng nakaraang taon kung saan ibinahagi nila ang pelikula sa mas maraming tao.

Inilarawan ni Renomeron ang karanasan bilang “humbling and pressure-filled” na mapaligiran ng kapwa mga direktor, mga manunulat at filmmakers mula sa iba’t-ibang unibersidad. Dito, sila’y nagbahagi ng kaniya-kaniyang karanasan sa produksiyon ng kanilang mga pelikula. 

[B]eing a filmmaker din siguro ay yung pag-build mo rin ng support system from your fellow filmmakers kasi in the end naman, kayo-kayo din ang magkikita sa industry,” dagdag ni Renomeron. Nais niyang magkaroon ang Unibersidad ng Santo Tomas ng ganitong uri ng kulturang pelikula dahil ito’y mas maliit kumpara sa ibang unibersidad.

Pagkatapos ng One La Salle Film Festival, ang Heist School ay nakilahok sa Indie Un-film Festival, at sa Maginhawa Film Festival noong huling Disyembre. Para sa ibang Tomasinong filmmakers, ibinahagi niyang huwag sumuko sa sariling mga pangarap, maging maunawain sa mga pagpuna at “it takes time to learn how to master a craft you want to pursue but it also takes patience to survive”.

Sa pamamahagi ng kanilang pelikula sa mga film festivals, malaking bagay ang pagkakaroon ng matinding suporta, paliwanag ng director of photography na si Johmar Damiles. Mula sa mga dating propesor tulad nina Sir Nico Hernandez at Sir Seymour Sanchez, mga kasamahan sa organisasyon tulad ng TomasinoWeb at Thomasian Film Society at lalo’t higit nang mula sa mga kaibigan at pamilya, ang kanilang tulong ay malaking bahagi ng kanilang pagpapatuloy. 

Pagkatapos ng Cinemalaya, nais ng Last Minute Films na isumite ang Heist School sa iba’t-ibang international film festivals kung kakayanin ng kanilang pondo. Nang tanungin ng TomasinoWeb kung may kasunod na kabanata ang Heist School, sagot nila’y ibig din nilang lumikha ng iba pang pelikulang hindi pa nila nakikitang ginagawa.  

As young filmmakers, the Cinemalaya experience has been overwhelming for us,” bahagi ni Johmar Damiles. “It gives me anxiety and at the same time, excitement as [a] Thomasian filmmaker.” Salaysay niya, ang pagiging kalahok ng Cinemalaya ay isa nang malaking pribilehiyo para sa isang grupong hindi ganoon kasanay sa paglikha ng pelikula. 

Opisyal na poster ng pelikula

Ang Heist School ay ipapalabas kasama ng ibang kalahok na pelikula sa ika-labinlimang iterasyon ng Cinemalaya Film Festival mula sa Agosto 2-13. Maaaring mapanood ang mga pelikula at short features hindi lamang sa Cultural Center of the Philippines, kundi pati rin sa mga piling Ayala Malls sa Luzon, Ayala Malls Legazpi, Capitol Central Bacolod, Abreeza Davao, Vista Cinemas Pampanga, Vista Cinemas Naga, at Vista Cinemas Iloilo.

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A road he didn’t walk alone: the valedictorian who realized ‘we’ is better than ‘I’

Through others, he realized things about himself that he could never do so alone and because of this, he was able to grow and become much stronger, not just for himself, but for everyone else.

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Photo grabbed from John Rabena's Facebook account

In this time and age, it has always been ideal to be independent, to not rely on anyone but ourselves. The belief that people should be able to make it on their own had always left a gaping hole in one’s heart as the feeling of incompleteness settles in. Eventually, life becomes a search for meaning—a quest to look for something to piece everything together. 

People believed that being at the top meant being alone. Those who run ahead often leave others behind and continue down an empty path where success becomes their only fuel for motivation. It’s a lonely feeling but it doesn’t have to be that way. To celebrate with, to be with, and to love others is what this graduate from Philosophy mentioned in his speech.  

Having been given the award as valedictorian for Batch 2019, John Alfred Rabena shared with TomasinoWeb his thoughts, his experiences, and his realizations during his stay in the University.

He’s grateful for being the only one in the world, unique and gifted in his own way—but it doesn’t stop there. “Subalit, ang ‘ako’ ay hindi maaaring mapag-isa at makulong sa sarili, sapagkat kulang ang ‘ako’ kung wala ang ‘ikaw’,” he stated.

Rabena realized that he was not alone and this simple realization changed his views on life. Through others, he realized things about himself that he could never do so alone and because of this, he was able to grow and become much stronger, not just for himself, but for everyone else. “Kaya’t sa kabila ng sakit at pait na iniwan ng taong minahal natin o patuloy nating minamahal,” he explained, “masasabi nating mas nakikilala ang sarili sa pagbangon araw-araw at mas lalong tumatatag sa pagharap sa buhay.”

Rabena also took the chance to extend his gratitude to the people that gave him endless support right from the start, up until the very end of his Thomasian journey. To his family and his friends, who were always there for him through his ups and downs and the ones who never got tired of cheering him on and telling him that he will make it.

“To our teachers who went beyond the minimum in order to boost our willpower when we thought that the routine [seems] to be endless and obscure,” he continued, “To our librarians and staff who quietly and persistently work in order for us to receive the education that we deserve.” He also thanked the security guards who always put the safety of others as their priority instead of their own, a selfless and kind act that deserved to be recognized and appreciated.

Of course, hardships and problems are inevitable. Rabena admits to feeling like giving up and hopeless, just like everyone else but he gives out a reminder to just hold on and hold on tight, “kayang-kaya ko ito dahil may tayo.” He points out that as education increases academic knowledge, it should also help in nurturing talents so that the life lived will be inclined to one with purpose and meaning. To live a life with love and compassion is enough proof that what was learned inside the classroom could be manifested into actions. For knowledge and promises to be acts of kindness and service, it’s the highest form of success anyone could imagine. “These are the people who gave me the courage to say: KAYA KO ‘TO!”

“Because our education does not end in the cultivation of IQ or the feeding of inert ideas,” Rabena expounds, “We ought to live up to the mission of our University: to spread the light! LUMINA PANDIT.”

To stand up for what is right is what he believes in, even if it’s scary, even if no one else is doing it, do what is just. Life can be better understood if people would step out of the box that’s keeping them from realizing that knowledge is useless if it’s just words. The only time education has fulfilled its purpose is when what was learned turns into what should be done. “Only then can we say that our education has gone from the classroom to the real venture called “life”,” Rabena stated.

The world is a cruel place, but this doesn’t serve as an excuse for it to stay this way. While change is still possible, aim for it—aim for a world where everyone is safe and on equal grounds, where hate could no longer be defined. It’s not too late to fight for what is right, for what is the truth, all while being kind and compassionate. To feel scared is normal and understandable, but don’t let that fear take over—push through.

“Panalo ang Tomasino dahil siya’y may paninindigan sa katotohanan. Panalo ang Tomasino dahil siya’y nagmamahal,” Rabena continues, “Panalo ang pamilyang Tomasino, dahil ang bawat isa’y tumatatayo para sa “tayo.” Tomasino, tayo naman!”

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