For this group of volunteers, Christmas is not just for kids
CHRISTMAS MIGHT ALWAYS be a season celebrated with children in mind, but for some, it is also a time for another set of kids – those, that despite their age, will always be young at heart.
These are the individuals that groups like Apo Ng Luwalhati (ApoL), celebrate their holidays with – neglected and homeless elderly who were rescued in the streets of Manila.
ApoL is a special ‘group project’ that was formed six years ago by Michelle Alejandro, Dr. Sheryll Villanueva, Dr. Charos Pascual, Kathrina Lacno, Jane Sunga and Khristine Gamboa, a diverse set of professionals who wanted to reach out and care for some of the forgotten citizens of the city.
Their outreach centers support Luwalhati ng Maynila, an institution managed by the DSWD–Manila District which is located at the Boy’s Town Complex in Parang, Marikina. It provides shelter and rehabilitation to 400 homeless elderly people.
“ApoL is a personal initiative, and is not a formal or structured organization. It intends to promote volunteerism, by providing a venue or opportunity for ordinary individuals and groups (friends, families, schoolmates, and workmates) to share and work together for a charitable cause. Thus, our past projects have been participated by students, educators (teachers, counselors, administrators, etc.), medical practitioners (medical doctors, dentists, nurses, etc.), entrepreneurs, office workers and many more,” said Michelle Alejandro, one of the founding members.
Their group started as a way of thanksgiving for the blessings the individual members have received. “But later on, we somehow began to realize that there is actually more to just wanting to ‘give back’ or ‘pay forward.’ That we have a responsibility to fulfill, because we live not only for ourselves, but for others as well.”
ApoL started in 2011, when the group organized their first Christmas outreach – ‘Ibalik ang Ningning sa Luwalhati ng Maynila.’
“Sheryll and I initially thought of organizing a simple outreach activity as a thanksgiving for our answered prayers, through the intercession of St. Pio. We still did not know what project we were going to do, until my mother told me about Luwalhati ng Maynila, and took me there for a visit. Then the rest was history,” Alejandro revealed.
The group name embodies their primary beneficiary, but aside from this, the name “Apo ng Luwalhati” (Grandchildren of Glory), also articulates the group’s mission, which is to “glorify God’s name” through simple and selfless acts of mercy and compassion.
For years, volunteers of ApoL have been conducting a special gift-giving event every Christmas for the elderly of Luwalhati ng Maynila. During these celebrations, the group organizes a special film showing, conducts grooming and wellness activities, does caroling at the bedridden quarters of the foundation, and stages a Christmas program complete with lunch, performances, and gift-giving.
“We offer simple services like nail trim, nail polishing, ear cleaning, haircut, shaving, light massage, wound care, make-up, etc. Aside from this, we also provide entertainment by setting-up a film showing, and having performances and games during our Christmas program.”
Aside from this, the group also conducts monthly visits at the center where they also do grooming activities, film showing, and serving light meals. In the past, they would also do clean-up activities and even partnered with an NGO (Resources for the Blind) in a repainting project.
Special place for the elderly
“What kept us coming back is the warmth of the elders. Although our project is not as grand as other groups, we still feel how happy the elders are with what we do for them. Since we come regularly, we see that some of them really look forward to our visits, and watch out for our schedule on their calendar. They are also quite vocal about this most of the time. That is why we really try out best not to miss or cancel our monthly dates with them,” Alejandro said.
For ApoL, the group believes that something as simple as their presence makes the elderly people feel special and cared for.
“Usually it is actually the simplest things that really creates much impact – like our warm smiles, a hand shake, simple pats on the back, chatting with them, and of course, giving them warm hugs. These are also the things we make sure they get from us. Simple gestures like these somehow comfort them, and somehow give them a feeling of home and family. We may only do little about their living conditions, because of our own limitations, but the least we may do is to help them not totally lose sight of the beauty in life,” she said.
Stories of the heart
ApoL has had many stories that continue to inspire the group to go back. In one occasion, while doing their caroling at the bedridden quarters for the first time, an elderly woman cried with a smile, saying that it was a good thing the group sang for them, because they never get to join the program outside.
“During one of our monthly visits, I was cutting the nails of one lola when she mentioned that it will be her birthday a few weeks from then. So I mentioned this to one of the volunteers who was nearby and she gave her one bottle of lotion as a gift. She began to cry, and said, “Wala nang bumibisita sa akin dito. Nakalimutan na nila ako. Buti nandito kayo. Salamat…” Later on she told me how her nephew brought her there. He said he will just leave her there for a while, and promised to pick her up soon. But unfortunately, he has not come back for her nor visited her for a long time.”
Paying it forward
Alejandro shared that although the elderly truly appreciate what the group does for them, they feel that they actually gained more in return.
“As of now, we cannot claim that we have contributed much to Luwalhati. More than what we can or have given to the elders or to the institution itself, I would say that we, as volunteers (including our donors and supporters), have benefited the most from this project. The people we have encountered and the experiences we have had have given us something far more valuable,” said Alejandro. “Aside from being able to reach out to others, we have also began to learn to reach within ourselves…awaken that sense of ‘being human.’ You know, when you immerse yourself in these types of deeds, you begin to see more than what your eyes can see, hear more than what your ears can hear, and feel more than what you can actually hold or touch. ‘More’ because this time you begin to put your heart into it.”
To volunteer, visit www.facebook.com/ApoNgLuwalhati, send them a message to know the details (like monthly schedule), and just show up at Luwalhati.