Noche buena with Tacloban Iskos: The blessing was on us
MANILA, Philippines – We both, of course, had planned to spend the night before Christmas with our families. The noche buena, after all, is the culmination of the Filipinos’ most sentimental and traditionally long season of lanterns and lights, caroling, exchange gifts, parties, and Simbang Gabi.
Last December 24, though, we left the comforts of home and brought our families – and noche buena – to the Kalayaan dorm in UP Diliman. At our university’s dormitories were fellow iskolars ng bayan who had nowhere to return to for the Christmas break. They are from UP Tacloban, and they lost their homes – and almost everything else – to Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
The UP administration had made efforts to help students who were affected by the super typhoon that wiped out many communities in Eastern Visayas. When the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs was looking for organizations to sponsor meals for these students now housed in Diliman, Jules volunteered his Alpha Phi Beta fraternity and the members’ families and friends.
We organized "Ang Pasko ng pagBangon: Noche Buena para sa Iskolar ng Bayan" at the Kalayaan Residence Hall. About 20 students from UP Tacloban and staff from Diliman were present.
Jules’ parents immediately agreed to join in the efforts and volunteered to prepare trays of spaghetti and fruit salad. His family came in full force, actually – his brother Jio was there too, and his sister Nina did a ballet dance number during the program.
Most Alphans were either out of town or out of the country at that time. Call it lucky, but Sean Bas missed his flight to Iloilo on December 18 and so decided to stay and prepare for the event.
Brods Rab and Marty Medina decided to stay too even though their family was already in Clark to spend Christmas there. Another brod, Alvin Ogena, also chose to proceed to Kalayaan dorm after hearing Mass to welcome Christmas there.
Meanwhile, there were also close friends who helped out. That’s how Charmen of NCPAG came into the picture, and so did Sunshine Kim.
Charmen’s family resides in the Middle East, but she usually spends her Christmas with her relatives in Taguig. However, for this year she decided to spend it on campus, bringing her brother Jestoni along. Jestoni just arrived from Riyadh in 2013. Sunshine took care of logistics.
It was a small celebration – games were held, performances were prepared, and we did a little Zumba to get everyone in the mood. And, of course, what would noche buena dinner be without food? And we had so much food – and prizes – thanks to the generous support from Jules’ brods from the West Coast in the US and those within the country.
Our meal was sumptuous, and we shared it even with the guards and staff of UP, and with patients spending Christmas at the nearby UP Infirmary.
The night ended with a little karaoke session, a countdown to midnight, and a little gift giving from us.
One of the UP Tacloban students said: "Thank you for spending your time with us, for sacrificing. Thank you for making us feel that we are not alone."
It made us sad and happy at the same time. For all of us who decided to stay with them to welcome the celebration of Christ's birth in Kalayaan, it wasn't a sacrifice at all. It taught us, if we may use a cliché, the true meaning of Christmas: love and hope. We give ourselves so that after everything that had happened, these fellow "Iskos" and "Iskas" will still have reason to smile and celebrate.
It was the most memorable Christmas celebration we both ever had – because, with family, old friends, and these new friends, we learned to be grateful together. In making them happy in our own little ways, we were the ones blessed instead. – Rappler.com
Mr Guiang and Ms Balana are students at the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance. He is also vice chairperson of the University Student Council and a resident lord of Alpha Phi Beta.