Pinoy kids keep pay-it-forward spirit alive in Tacloban

By Ronron Calunsod, Kyodo

Posted at Apr 17 2014 01:39 PM | Updated as of Apr 17 2014 09:39 PM

TACLOBAN CITY - Some children in the Philippines who found care with others in their misfortunes in life are "paying it forward" in Haiyan-hit areas in the central Philippines.

Joshua Trias, 17, was once homeless, going around the streets of Cavite Province south of Manila until he was found in 2009 by a nonprofit youth organization that later offered him an education and set his direction in life.

Two weeks after Haiyan pounded the central Philippines on Nov. 8 last year, Trias and two officers of the "My Rights -- Saving Kids in Peril" organization flew to Tacloban City, the capital of Leyte Province that bore the typhoon's brunt, to extend help to victims.

As they scoured the city in search especially for orphaned children, they were introduced to Shyra May Limpiado, a 16-year-old who lost her parents and nine siblings.

Limpiado survived by clinging to a tree during the strong winds and storm surge that swept their house in the coastal village of San Jose. Among her family, only she and her 11-year-old brother, who was in another town at the time of the typhoon, survived.

Trias and his colleagues also found other affected children, enough for them to be grouped into the local branch of My Rights -- Saving Kids in Peril.

The group grew to more than 60, aged 11 to 21. Limpiado is the group's treasurer and Trias, who intends to stay until May, guides them.

"I know the feeling of going through hardships in life because I've been through the same. That's why I'm very happy that I am able to help. And not only that, I also gain new friends," Trias told Kyodo News at a temporary camp in Tacloban City. "This is one of my ways of paying it forward. And even the local volunteers are paying it forward through our outreach activities here."

Limpiado said being with the group helped her recover from the pain of losing her family as she has found a second one in them.

"I feel a lot better now, although there are really times that I miss my parents and siblings. And I feel very good every time we do our volunteer activities, especially for children, because if I see their happy faces, I feel that my deceased siblings are also happy wherever they are now," she said.

Francis Advincula, the group's president, said that aside from receiving care from various people and groups, and their internal activities such as fellowships, the young volunteers also tell stories and help feed children in different communities in the city.

Trias said the "fellowship" among the members, held every Sunday, is meant to feed their spirituality, keep their values and help the members cope with their traumatic experiences.

The storytelling, he said, makes sure that proper values are passed on to children, offering food, particularly with "champorado" sweet chocolate rice porridge and biscuits, caters to their nutritional needs.

The group also gives out donated bicycles to some people who can use them to make a living.

"More than the material things, the mere fact that our volunteer work makes people happy and helps them recover from our traumatic experience here is what is most rewarding for me," Hanna Mae de Paz, the group's vice president, said.

Last week, the group prepared champorado for children in Barangay 70 in the badly hit Anibong district of Tacloban City.

On the day, Tokyo-based nonprofit "Make the Heaven" headed by Hiromitsu Noriyasu, a once prominent comedian in Japan under the stage name Tentsukuman, supported the group.

As the members arrived on their bicycles, more than a hundred children in the coastal village lined up with cups and bowls.

But first, they all danced and sang, and then listened to a story about a shy rooster narrated by Trias to highlight the value of self-confidence and pride.

Noriyasu, who was accompanied by five Japanese colleagues, also provided comic relief with his antics.

Shirley Boca, the village chief, expressed appreciation to the group's outreach, saying the sight of happy children helps them ease their sadness.

"Their activity here not only fills the stomach, it also comforts our hearts and minds," Boca said.

She said 199 people from her village of around 1,300 either died or went missing in Haiyan. All the houses were destroyed and daily living remains a big concern for the community.

Boca added the villagers continue to wait for a government allocation of a permanent resettlement site for them because the entire village was declared a no-build zone after the super typhoon.

"Our lives are still miserable more than five months since the typhoon because we continue to live in temporary shelters, without privacy, without electricity, without stable jobs, and with lingering fear of being swept again by another typhoon," Boca said.

But, she added, activities such as those of My Rights -- Saving Kids in Peril offer a big boost to village spirits.

The activities also help the group's members.

"I can really see my siblings in the (children we help), so seeing them happy today tells me that my younger brothers and sisters also are. This is really a healing process for me," Limpiado said.

And with help from the mother organization of My Rights -- Saving Kids in Peril, Limpiado and her brother will be able to continue with their studies through a scholarship grant.

Her dream is to become a teacher.

"I want to educate younger people and touch young peoples' lives, just like we're doing now," she said.