“So, tell us about the start of the Kids for Peace Foundation”, said the reporter. I’ve been asked that question so many times I already lost count. One would think that by now I’ve already gotten so bored with the question but the truth is, it still excites me. I like talking about our humble beginnings because it grounds me. I looked at the reporter, smiled, and said “it started with a letter”. My voice trailed off as I tried to hold back tears. I’m always emotional when I talk about Kids for Peace.
I was being interviewed for the 2015 CSR Youth Awards, a project of CSR Today – a department of the Benita and Catalino Yap Foundation (BCYF). Their goal is to recognize outstanding young men and women who have initiated projects anchored on Citizenship, Sustainability, and Social Responsibility. It’s a prestigious award and I was still surprised that I was one of the nominees. It’s my first nomination and I’m just humbled and grateful for the opportunity.
I went on about the two fighter planes that I saw, how I cheered when I saw them drop bombs and how I felt bad when I learned that the bombs kill anyone it hits : good or bad, guilty or innocent, male or female, Christian or Muslim, young or old. It’s an equalizer and it does not give a damn about who you are. It hits you, it destroys you. Literally. That scared me and as an ambitious incoming first year high school student, I wrote a letter asking people to write peace messages to let those in the evacuation centers know that there are people who are with them, praying for them, and caring for them. The letter reached people from all over the world which is surprising because in hindsight, that happened at a time when Facebook did not even exist and social media wasn’t as “big”. I guess sometimes you just have to do it. Stop thinking about what other people will say. Go out there and do it.
For years Kids for Peace has been facilitating psycho-social interventions with survivors of war and disaster. We figured, giving these survivors the space they need to breathe and let all emotions out is just as important as giving them food, clothing, and shelter. We would sit down and listen to stories of survival: how one kid carried a kettle filled with rice while running away from explosions, how one father lost his son while fleeing their village which is under attack. The stories went on and it took so much effort to put on a straight face as they showed both physical and emotional wounds. We then organized creative expressions camps with workshops on different media (photography, film, book writing, illustration, song writing, soil painting, theater) which they can use to express their thoughts and feelings.
Volunteerism is not easy. You need to have a lot of heart to be able to do this kind of job. You need to understand that when you are out there on the field, you are there for them and not for yourself. You need to be strong because sometimes, the odds will be against you. While those instances will push you to give up, it’s also those instances that will push you to keep going. There were times when I thought of quitting and closing the foundation. I thought about it several times already. But I stopped whenever I thought about the people we helped and the people we’ll be helping in the future. It’s not about us, it’s about THEM. With that, we go back to why we started, and the fire in the belly drives us to do our work again.
During the awards night, all 27 finalists were asked to stand up so that they may be recognized and applauded for their efforts. It felt great to be acknowledged, to receive that pat on the back for a job well done. It meant so much and it gave us the affirmation that we needed, that go signal that we are on the right track.
I did not win but that’s okay. For me, it’s enough that we made it to the top 27. It’s enough that the spirit of volunteerism and the efforts of the young men and women were given recognition. To Noreen Bautista, thank you so much. It really means so much to us. To Ica Fernandez and Daniel Abunales, thank you for journeying with us. To my mom, thank you for supporting me since day one. Benita and Catalino Yap Foundation, thank you so much for the recognition. Like I said, I am humbled and grateful. To all of the mentors, volunteers, young men and women who have been with the Kids for Peace Foundation, thank you. This is for you.