Two months ago, the New York Times had a news report of a man that took a busload of children and teachers hostage from his day-care centre in the Philippine capital, Manila, that he used to denounce corruption and demand better lives for impoverished children. The man had earlier taped a hand-written note to the bus windshield saying they were holding 32 children and two teachers, and were armed with two grenades, an Uzi assault rifle and a .45-caliber pistol.
They demanded housing and education for 145 children in a four-year-old day-care centre in Manila’s poor Tondo district where the incident, televised live around the world, appeared to have begun.
When I was in high school almost 30 years ago in Manila, part of the strict Jesuit training we underwent was to be “a man for others”. Every Friday afternoon my classmates and I would go down to the public elementary school to teach the kids about everything from Math to Science to Religion. You see it wasn’t so much the lessons we taught but about the lessons we learned by simply doing. It wasn’t about us it was about them. The experience challenged us in giving more of ourselves, our time and our energy to be with children who had less than nothing. Thousands of children in the Philippines walk several miles to the nearest school. They are often barefoot under a hot sun and scorching heat oftentimes even carry their own chairs so they won’t have to sit on cement or dirt floors.
My 10 year old son was so visibly moved by this story that he wanted to do something for these children. He had this wonderful idea to collect 500 pair of flip flops and send them to these kids in Manila. Children he didn’t know or would ever meet that lived halfway around the world. We didn’t know how we were going to do it or if we could do it at all. The image of these children walking barefoot is what guided him. Just imagine being so poor that a simple pair of flip-flops would be seen as something so wonderful. He created a flyer, asked mom to print it out and took it to school the next day. He asked to meet with the school principal and ran his idea by her. She agreed to let a flyer go home.
The response to his homegrown idea was so overwhelming. The plea to help in some little way was met with an outpouring of support. He collected 10 large trash bags filled with flip flops. There was even a jar filled with change and dollar bills that kids passed around and collected to help with the shipping. I was choked up on the inside. I was so moved by the experience as I witnessed my son take the first of many little steps in becoming that “man for others”. In today’s world where there is so much violence and strife, so much anger and hatred, people growing numb and weary to the many conflicts around the world, my spirits have been lifted by the act of this one boy. In a way it was a spirit triumphant in the face of adversity. This I believe to be the indomitable American spirit inside him, inside all of us. The spirit that will always choose to do good.
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