Thursday, December 10, 2009

How they love one another

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
WISHING YOU ALL a meaningful Human Rights Day. It’s been 62 years since the International Declaration of Human Rights was signed and adopted by nations the world over. And where are we?
Last week’s Time magazine cover story was about “The Decade from Hell”. Indeed, in the past 10 years, terrorist attacks, wars, financial melt-downs, natural and man-made disasters, viruses, diseases, hunger and all kinds of violence have visited this planet and sent humanity running for cover. Humanity continues to be under attack.
We are now ending this decade and entering the next. Christians are observing the Advent season and ushering in Christmas. Muslims have just ended their own yearly observance of Eid ul Adha or feast of sacrifice. All these as we Filipinos remain shocked beyond words by the Nov. 23 massacre of more than 60 human beings, 30 journalists among them, in the Ampatuan fiefdom in Maguindanao.
The evils and tragedies of the past and the present, the human rights violations and crimes against humanity have been widely documented and written about, but sadly, the little stories about compassion and caring for one another are often unwritten and forgotten. The great news about Efren Penaflorida who was voted the CNN Hero of the Year was all but drowned out by the blood that flowed in Maguindanao.

I was recently invited to the 20th anniversary of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly (COSE) and the launching of the book “Love Grows: A Primer” and the 10 Ulirang Nakakatanda (10 Outstanding Older People) Awards. I was asked to say a few worlds about the little book which COSE published. Many of the people at the celebration were advanced not only in age but also in wisdom and in grace. Most of them came from the poor sector of society. One of the special guests was a 107-year-old lady who walked straight to the podium unaided.

Written history—as we’ve studied and read it—has always been from the point of view of those who were in power or wanted to wrest power. The history of nations were written from the point of view of politics and power and the people who made things happen in a big way. The scholars who wrote them do not include the voices of the little people who were themselves part of history. I mean real voices, real faces, real stories.

I say all these because I think COSE’s unpretentious book could provide some missing voices in our cultural history. Some of the stories of the goldie oldies tell of a bygone era that many of us have not experienced. The war, the idyllic countryside of their youth and, to borrow the title of a great opus, love in the time of cholera.

What’s different about this book? This book is mainly about caring and community among older people most of whom happen to be poor. It is about growing and becoming. It is about dignity in the face of the inevitable.

I praise COSE for making this book happen. I have often wondered what it would have been like if there were no writers who wrote about the life of Jesus Christ, what he taught about love and justice and forgiveness and peace and giving up one’s life for one’s friends. We would have little to go by.

So you see, I said to the older people and young ones present, it is important that the good things are recalled (while they can) and told and written and read so that older people of the present and the future will be inspired to give of themselves. The stories in the book are not stunning stories about dramatic lives and dramatic deeds. They are small stories about loving service.

This book reassures us that we have not lost it all—to politicians, warlords, climate change, globalization, showbiz, fast food and what-have-you. Many generations from now, this humble book will really be history. It will provide some missing pieces. Many who will read it will be amazed and they will say, “See, how they loved one another.”

Here are COSE’s “10 Ulirang Nakakatanda” of 2009 and their good deeds. (This is probably the only time the awardees will read their names in a newspaper.)

Pelagia Baclayo took a course on herbal medicine and then, as member of an organized group of older people, opened a herbal garden for the community. Salve Basiano, whose husband is blind, helped organize blind musicians to play in malls as an income generating project. She is also the past president of the Confederation of Older People’s Organizations of the Philippines.

Estrella Buelo, president of the Quiapo Group of Older People is active in prison work. Perfecto Cunanan is a farmer leader who organized older farmers to join community based programs. Rodolfo Larida is one of the few male home carers in his community and is available 24/7 for bedridden patients in urban poor areas.

Crispulo Migrino is disabled but serves as president of the federation of 13 groups in Commonwealth-, QC.

Epifania Noblado not only takes care of the infirm in Arayat, Pampanga, she advocates home care to be part of government policy.

Eufrocia Omayam helped develop community-based programs in Davao which allow older people to take care of one another. Lina Patricio’s home in the city was demolished and her family was dumped in Paliparan, Cavite but she, along with a group of religious sisters and other older people, helped to organize her community. Priscilla Mariano is a respected elder in her community. Though not in good health, she pushed the passing of an ordinance that would recognize the needs of older people so that they could be assisted. She has been serving in the board of hospital and water services for 35 years without compensation.

COSE’s programs are managed by older people themselves. An affiliate of Helpage International, COSE aims to keep older people active in communities and increase awareness of their importance.