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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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The truth about online classes told by a struggling Thomasian

“I can’t do anything but comply with what the institution demands because I’m afraid to be left out.”

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

When technology becomes a hallmark for the future, it can be difficult to imagine a life where it wasn’t used to encompass much of our everyday activities. Then again, we knew a childhood with sparse technological influences, but all the same, we grew up at a time technology was becoming revolutionized—which makes us, to some extent, caught in the middle. And this is why it puts us in such a difficult position, because until now we live in a desperate attempt to try and bridge the gap between face-to-face and digital learning.

It becomes especially difficult at a time when some of us live in apprehension and some are mourning. When survival should be first and foremost prioritized, the need for productivity counteracts it in the most perfect example: online-based instruction.

The costs of online learning

“I can barely access any online classes due to internet speed. And I wish I can keep up, but I simply can’t,” Cecilio “Josh” Malang, an Asian Studies freshman, shared in an interview with TomasinoWeb.

With the COVID-19 pandemic and resumption of online classes co-occurring, students are compelled to follow through alongside complications in connection, inaccessibility of digital-based media, inconducive learning environments, and mental health issues.

“Whenever there is a scheduled online class, I consult the president of our class and inform her that I won’t be able to attend, and she orients our professors about it. Luckily, my classmates summarize the discussions for me,” although this put him in a tough position in part because intermediary learning has its disadvantages, “they are more advanced since they have the chance to attend online classes without interruption.” 

In response to concerns such as this, the university has made it publicly known that they are working in collaboration with telecommunication companies so that students may “increase chances to participate in a virtual learning environment”.

But the question persists: is a virtual learning environment a conducive learning environment?

Malang adds that he attended an online class once through his phone, consuming an enormous amount of mobile data, but was ineffective because of frequent disconnection and inability to clearly comprehend the discussion, “It’s not like I am not trying to have a better connection. I have executed alternative ways I can resort to, but I am left with no choice but to wait for my classmates for the summarized discussion.”

‘Learning’ from home

“There is a hint of compassion based on the guidelines that were released, such as disallowing professors to give a failing grade, but I feel that to show genuine compassion, it must be at its fullest extent, and not just half of it,” Malang acknowledges that the university’s decision was not without its pros, but it was not without its cons either.

Among the advantages of online instruction, he notes, are that classes are resumed as per usual meaning the academic year won’t be extended, and that students can be productive and preoccupied, thus their concerns are shifted from worrying about their well-being to a variety of academic activities.

Likewise, Malang considered some of its drawbacks such as its ineffective effort towards sustainable learning since not all students consider their homes as convenient learning areas and that most especially, students become passive learners.

When being able to submit requirements online becomes central to supposed ‘online learning’, it gives the impression that the learning process is ignored. Requirements simply bypass and impede learning and online instruction becomes a half-baked substitute for quality education that all students deserve. The magnitude of learning, at this point, is of no importance.

Resilience… in this economy?

As Filipinos, we are habitually taught the virtue of resourcefulness, resilience, and diskarte or practical intelligence, and this is because the common social context for Filipinos is one of ubiquitous injustice and inequality. We are to make do with what we have instead of acknowledging the problem and compromising so that no one may have to suffer the consequences of not being privileged enough to get by with ease. 

This concern cuts through and beyond issues of connectivity. The world is at a standstill and we are constrained to be productive by virtue of online classes. A lot of students might not be in the right headspace to accomplish anything, but they aren’t given the luxury of choices.

“No student wishes to be left behind. No one wants a grade of INP either, because they will tend to overthink,” Malang remarks—the INP option becomes counterproductive because it leaves students with more apprehension at a time when personal well-being should be ahead of everything else.

Malang also shares that he has had trouble sleeping in part because of added responsibilities on top of those he already had, “One factor that contributed to my difficulty in sleeping is overthinking on ways on how to attend online classes.”

This goes to show that this is no time to compromise student welfare and turn a blind eye to their grievances. Psychological stressors are present even in the midst of our homes where we are quarantined, and they are not to be overlooked—mental health should be prioritized just as much as physical health. 

“I can’t do anything but comply with what the institution demands because I’m afraid to be left out,” Malang says. 

This is not the opportunity to challenge resilience in students, not when the health of the entire world is being jeopardized. Especially not when students are not granted with the same conveniences—no amount of sped up internet connection can make up for that. Quality education is supposed to be a right and not a privilege. When problems of connectivity and welfare arise, it really makes you wonder how it puts the onus on the student and not on the flawed education system itself.

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Online classes: Thomasians are left with no choice

While safe from the virus raging outside that is risking people’s lives, some Thomasians are silently dealing with digital-born problems within their homes.

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Artwork by Patricia Jardin

Inside the safety of their homes, shielded from the pandemic, students are focused in front of their monitors while bearing constant fear of failing to comply before the set deadlines. While safe from the virus raging outside that is risking people’s lives, some Thomasians are silently dealing with digital-born problems within their homes. 

After the release of an advisory from the University of Santo Tomas that announced the continuation of online classes lasting until the end of the second term, A.Y. 2019-2020, the Thomasian community sought compassion above all else amid the pandemic and enhanced community quarantine. After all, the University prides itself with the three Cs: commitment, competence and compassion. Scattered across the country, the Thomasian population is facing varying and immense disparity of privilege and resources. 

Absolute compliance

Surrounded in dim lights, an uncomfortable dreadful night is fast approaching as the clock continues to tick and getting closer to the deadline. It is when desperation and frustration find its way towards a slouched figure that’s struggling to reconnect with their online classes, awfully aware of time slipping between their fingers.

Jude Wyndel Poblete, a freshman from the College of Accountancy, is facing difficulties more than ever with online classes because of his current situation; living at Northern Samar, their unstable internet connection combined with multiple power interruptions are the source of his worry and frustration.  Poblete experienced firsthand the inability to comply when he failed to take his mock examination from their respective college due to unstable internet connection and power interruptions that he expressed on his Twitter account. 

When the university announced the resumption of online classes, Poblete anticipated what would happen, “I was really worried about not being able to comply with the online requirements given the fact that I’m at the province,” Poblete shared with TomasinoWeb. “We are more than eager to pass this term but due to some hindrances, we are left with no choice but to accept whatever happens.”

Overwhelming emotions

Once the clock hits the deadline, it’s game over. It’s a student’s worst nightmare—the submit button gone, any other chances disappear and the stunned silence that comes afterward is painful and unbearable. 

Poblete narrates that their college mock examination was supposed to boost the students’ confidence in taking their online classes. However, not being able to take the exam because of his current situation plummeted his motivation in studying, “It [mock examination] caused me to have mental distress and breakdown. I started crying and I had no urge to study for my upcoming exams anymore.” 

The reason for his breakdown is because of his fear of having an incomplete grade that will be a burden for upcoming semesters, “It’s hard to settle for a grade of INP, that’s why we are doing our best to comply with the requirements given by our professors but some factors are hindering us.” 

Not everyone is privileged

The University of Santo Tomas is one of the universities that is known in the country by providing its students with quality education. Moreover, it is a common fact that the Thomasian community, in every way,  is a perfect blend of unique diversity.

Poblete pointed out, “I hope that the university will consider the situation of those students who are UNPRIVILEGED,” because there are students that aren’t properly equipped for online classes. “Online classes are not suitable in our country since we have no strong and stable internet connection here,” he added. 

Further addressing the problem that he encountered, “It is really hard to study by ourselves because we could not digest what the book or PowerPoint presentation is saying without explanation from our professors.” Poblete emphasized that online classes do not give the quality education that Thomasians need.

Because of the hindrances that affect his online classes, Poblete asserted his dismay as he sympathizes with other students who are going through the same situation as him. “It also has been tough for us, knowing that all those sleepless nights and efforts we’ve exerted will be put into waste just because we are not privileged.”

No student left behind

Though Poblete is having a series of difficulties, he wanted to remind everyone to never feel sorry just because of their status by stating his sentiments towards the students who are struggling with online classes, “Let us be reminded that we can get through this. Never feel sorry for being unprivileged, let them feel sorry for themselves for being inconsiderate. No students will be left behind!” 

People did not predict that the one-week suspension of classes would eventually lead to more than a month of community quarantinethat March 9 was the last time they would see their block mates and friends. Not until the pandemic is over and declared as COVID-free nation. 

Thomasians are calling out for the university administration to reconsider their decision that is stated in its Institutional Continuity Plan. Poblete believes that ending the term is what the students need, “the issue here is not about grades anymore but the safety of the whole Thomasian community.”

Privilege is not given to everyone, the university must also consider the students who will suffer through repercussions because of the several limitations that the online classes have; lack of materials, unstable internet connection, an unhealthy situation that a student may be in and power interruptions. The students have  no choice but to cope with the situation that is full of disarray because of the pandemic; prioritizing their basic needs, their health, and also trying to meet their assigned deadlines.

Therefore, the voices of Thomasians are clear: We deserve compassion, we deserve a quality education. And most importantly, we deserve a healthy learning environment. 

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The Rise of Galvanize

“Unang-una, sumasayaw kami kasi masaya kami doon. So, kung ‘di na masaya, parang nawala na yung purpose mo sa sayaw.”

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Photo from Asian Hiphop Philippines Facebook page

Known for their numerous achievements starting off as champions in Step Up 2016, honing gold from UAAP Streetdance Junior Division and down to the most recent performance as a qualifier for the Asian Hip-hop 2020 in Hong Kong—this team still manages to bring home the bacon as it was recollected by Nina Reyes, Liya Escudero, Manuel Ilagan and captain, Jonas Belgica.

Behind every success is a group that started from humble beginnings, which was formed by Mr. Angelo Sicat back in 2016 when the newly added administration and system of Senior High School in UST was established.

Fronted by Coach John, the organization always brings out their best and never forgets their roots. Besides hip-hop, they also have a contemporary division in the team which is led by Coach Dany.

Keeping up with an outstanding record, the team manages to hold up with the demand for new members every year since Senior High School only has 2 academic years. Because of this, graduating Grade 12 members are to be replaced by new ones who still have two years in their hands.

Nevertheless, despite a short exposure they still aspire for one another most especially for new recruits, “Kini-keep pa rin po namin yung bond, parang ayaw namin ma-feel na leftout sila basta as one po kami nagw-work.

Additionally, they practice devotion and praying before every competition which shows how much they value their efforts and how thankful they are with the bond they have. With this connection, they can say that they are unique from other dance organizations because of the values they uphold which strengthens them, “Nilalagay namin sa center si God.

Just like other organizations, they feel that pressure is part of the process of performing most especially how they always manage to win over every competition that they can get their feet and hands on.

“‘Tas laging sinasabi ng coach namin na ang mahalaga is mag-enjoy kayo, na after ng performance wala kayong regrets. So, manalo-matalo, masaya pa rin naman po kami and hindi namin hinahayaan yung pressure na yun mabago yung mindset namin.”, as the members narrate how they deal with expectations from the public. Trust is what makes them serve the best moves in the stage.

When asked how they accommodate their academic responsibilities notwithstanding the countless hours they dedicate to training, they find a way to patch it up by helping each other out. The key to this is by communicating with teammates, “Parehas din ng struggle mo, like, if parehas kayo ng strand makakausap mo siya in a way na magtutulungan kayo for acads and tsaka time management.”

With loads of challenges and trials upon their shoulders, they admitted that there was a time wherein it did cross their minds that they wanted to quit. But then, each of them realized that staying is much more worth it than walking away from the passion that they have for dancing.

As Nina and Liya recalls enthusiastically, “Kasi pag passionate ka po sa ginagawa mo talaga, sometimes, yung physical mo ganyan yung mental mo. Parang ayoko na talaga pero parang you find yourself pa rin doing what you love parang nasa heart mo na talaga eh.”

Manuel even shared how he battled the fear of quitting, “Ipapa-realize talaga sayo ng coach mo kung ano yung purpose mo kung bakit ko ginawa yun kahit mahirap siya. Doon mo mare-realize na it’s for your dreams din, para din sa sarili mo, para sa parents mo, para maging proud sila sayo.

Kung hindi siya masaya, hindi siya sayaw. Kasi, unang-una, sumasayaw kami kasi masaya kami doon. So, kung ‘di na masaya, parang nawala na yung purpose mo sa sayaw,” as Jonas denotes what drives him more amidst the difficult problems he faces as the captain.

With the mention of training, it is understood that it takes a lot of work and practice to master the art of dancing but some still think that it doesn’t fall under the category of sports.

Kasi naging mainstream na yung basketball, yung volleyball ganon. As in yun na yung tinitignan na permanent sport, ganon yung mga tao kasi parang limited lang yung understanding nila to what dancing really is kasi tingin nila gagalaw-galaw lang yun pero hindi nila alam na may certain requirement and certain kind of preparation na kailangan mo gawin para ma-achieve mo yung ganong klaseng mga movements,” they said.

Jonas Belgica, Darlo Emmanuel Ilagan, Lia Resabella Escudero, and Niña Marie Reyes | Christine Annmarie Tapawan/TomasinoWeb

There has been a stereotype about dancers and competitions because people think that since dancing doesn’t require a person to lift weights and only perform on stage for around 4 minutes, it’s not fully regarded as a sport––which is not right because it also needs training and proper discipline. The same as the amount of hardwork and effort that is put into sports like basketball and other sports. 

They reiterated that educating people about what dancing is all about will greatly change this kind of mindset.

They hope that this would change but are still grateful for the support they receive most especially with the upcoming Season 82 UAAP Streetdance and the 2020 Asian Hip-hop competition this coming May.

Dancing, whatever the genre an individual chooses to exhibit, is both a sport and art that expresses words into graceful and prodigious movements up to any extent the body can procure.

Freedom.

Love.

Fulfillment.

Competence.

For them, these four words resonated the sensation of being a dancer of Galvanize.

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