Of Goodness

I know what you’re thinking—this is going to be one of those preachy articles about charity. Probably written by a person who wants praise for it, to feel better about herself. That’s not entirely false, actually, but give me a chance and keep reading.

Let’s start by establishing the fact that I grew up pretty self-involved. I am an only child of two people who waited a long time to have a baby, so I was doted on and cared for every minute of every day. Sharing was not really in my vocabulary, as you can imagine. I floated through school being responsible, studious and obedient, and it pleased me to often be referred to as ‘good’. Life, as far as I knew, was also always ‘good’. I did not see or experience anything to show me otherwise.

And then, in my junior year of college, I happened to be in a Theology class that required a semester of community immersion. Our group was assigned to go to the Cribs Foundation in Marikina every Saturday for the duration of that sem. We were tasked to help out with the orphaned babies there, feed them, play with them, put them to sleep, etc. I remember my first thought was that we were lucky—we would get to hang with a bunch of cute babies instead of living in the slums or visiting prisoners, which would have been umm, uncomfortable to say the least.

So we went to the orphanage that first day and it was fun, everyone loves babies after all. The hours flew by, and before I knew it the immersion was over. On our last visit, one of the babies was crying and clinging onto me before I put her in her crib, as though she knew that would be the last time we would see each other.

Then it hit me—how many more goodbyes would this child have to say in her lifetime? The babies could only stay in this orphanage for a few years. If they were not adopted within that time, they would have to be placed in different shelters. How many volunteers, caretakers, foster families and adoptive parents might she go through? Who would care to cherish and celebrate any of her milestones, her first steps, her first words, or when she started to read and write? Who would hug her in the middle of the night when there’s thunder and lightning and bad dreams? Who would defend her from bullies? Who would encourage her to pursue her dreams—or worse, would she even have the luxury to dream?

I cried that day because it became all too real to me that the world isn’t fair. Here I was, brought up with the very best my parents could offer. While there were 25 other children in that center, and a multitude more around the world, who may never experience that kind of love, that kind of care and support. And I cried too because of how shallow and insignificant I felt, to not be able to do anything much except offer a few hours of my time that semester, in the midst of partying with my friends, studying for exams, having crushes on boys and planning my future career in the corporate world.

In my mid twenties, I realized my life felt quite empty, like something was missing. I wanted to give back somehow, so I sought to join a group of girls called the Zugbuana Jaycees, who were known for community efforts around Cebu. In the seven or eight years that I was an active member, and eventually leader, of that group, my friends and I managed to complete a lot of projects, from huge fashion show fundraisers for the benefit of sexually abused women and children, to granting scholarships to children from impoverished families, to livelihood or hygiene workshops at children’s centers, medical missions, activities for the handicapped, and so on. After every event I would give myself a little pat on the back and tell myself—‘you did good today.’ But you see, that wasn’t all. Because at the back of my mind, I wasn’t sure if I was doing all that because I really wanted to help, or because I wanted to feel good about myself, to tell myself I’m doing my part, I’m doing what a good person is supposed to do, or perhaps I wanted people to think that I was a good person. Maybe it was all of it, and somehow it just never felt like it was enough. I let that thought simmer for some time and moved along.

Today, at thirty plus years old (ha!), I have finally come to realize there is nothing to prove to anyone, nothing to prove to myself. I know whatever I do will never be enough to make a real dent in the world. And you know what? That is ok. For as long as I can make things just a little better, just a little easier for someone, it is good enough. For as long as small acts of kindness might inspire others to do a little more for others as well, it is good enough. As a wise friend of mine told me, the concept of depth is relative to everyone—what might have been a random thing for me, like smiling at a stranger, might have meant the world to that person on a really bad day.  So for as long as you accept whatever shortcomings you have, start each day with an earnest heart, and do whatever you can, yes it is good enough.

And so, about 15 years after that first visit to Cribs Foundation, I found myself back there again, with some of my close friends, this time bringing things to help the orphanage. It still breaks my heart to see babies as young as 13 days brought there because they were abandoned at the hospital, to think of what happens when they get sick, or scared, to know that we cannot really shelter them from the evils in this world. But to see how many people were so eager to help and give, to spend time on a weekend, to hold a child and make her smile, hoping that she will find her way to a loving family and grow up to be a fine young lady someday, hoping she will think of all the volunteers, caretakers and donors at that center, and somehow feel there is still some kindness and goodness left here—that is not just good enough. That is everything. Because in as much as we were helping these babies, they were helping us too: they were teaching us hope, they were strengthening our faith.

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So the point I’m making is that we all need to believe that everyone can make a difference. Whether it’s for a cause like these orphans, or for the sick and elderly, the soldiers fighting to protect our country, animal welfare, prisoners, farmers, victims of abuse and human trafficking, the environment, or even for causes closer to home like taking care of our household help, extending more patience and understanding to family members, being sincere to people at work—we can all spare a little kindness, a little charity. J.K. Rowling says it perfectly: ‘We do not need magic to change the world. We carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.’

 

*In case you want to know more about the Cribs Foundation and wish to help out as well, check out their website at www.cribsfoundation.com.

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