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The gift

October 12, 2019

To borrow a few words from his recent controversial quote, “Si Ricky Reyes, gilingin mo man yan, ang labas niyan mapagkawanggawang hamburger pa rin.”

I’ve always known “Mother Ricky,” as most fondly call the well-known philanthropist and Philippine hairdressing institution, as a tireless advocate of those with less in life.

To be sure, those of a certain generation will remember his “Isang Gunting, Isang Suklay” livelihood project, which has reached far flung areas of the Philippines, across several administrations, and effectively taught countless men, women and LGBTs to become barbers, hairdressers, makeup artists, manicurists and masseurs to augment their keep.

About two decades ago, when a prominent friend of his whose husband was an oncologist asked Mother Ricky to join her at the Cancer Institute of PGH (Philippine General Hospital), she knew he’d want to do something for the women undergoing chemotherapy.

“It was the first time I saw cancer patients — women with no hair and napakalungkot,” he recalled. “Right away, I thought of a ‘Look Good, Feel Good’ program, and a few days later, nagdala ako ng maraming bandana and tinuruan ko yung mga babae kung pano takpan yung ulo nila. Nagdala din ako ng mga lipsticks and taught them to color their lips and cheeks para wag sila namumutla.

“I told them, ‘O baka pag pinkish na ang mukha mo, the doctor will say you’re in the pink of health,’ so nabubuhay yung kalooban nila and later on naglalabasan na ng hospital at naglalamyerda na ang mga babaeng kalbo!”

Happy to have made a difference in the women’s cancer ward, Mother Ricky decided to check out a much smaller room next door where he saw cancer-stricken children who had just received chemo. The sight literally broke his heart.

“They were cramped in that small room — babies, toddlers — rolled up like fetuses on beds. Eh, hairdresser and sa totoo lang hindi ko alam yang chemo na yan so I asked the doctor, ‘Bakit sila namimilipit?’ I was told they were in pain kasi they had chemo without anesthesia kasi mahirap na ospital ang PGH. Right away sabi ko, ‘Doc, give me a space where I can do something.’ Sabi niya, ‘What will you do?’ And I said, ‘I think I’ll put up a small romper, bring some toys, books, a television,’ because I know that ang bata kahit masikip, pag nakakita ng laruan or cartoons, sumasaya yan.”

His project went on for five years and drew the help of his businessmen friends and wealthy clients, so much so that he was able to supply the children with food, milk and financial aid, all within a room called “Munting Paraiso.”

But going home one day, another heartbreaking sight caught Mother Ricky’s attention. Mothers and children sitting on the floor with their backs against the wall.

Again, he asked the doctors why there were there and in such a pitiful state.

“They told me, ‘Ay, mga out-patient po yan na taga-probinsya. Wala silang bahay dito sa Manila kaya pag-nagpapagamot sila, dito sila natutulog sa sahig, kung saan puwede sa garden ng ospital, sa mga jeep na naka-park sa labas.

“Sabi ko, ‘hindi naman tama ito,’ so I went to work,” Mother Ricky said as if it was the easiest thing to do — to found and establish Child Haus, which for the past 16 years has served as a home for cancer-stricken children and their parents for the duration of their treatment in Manila hospitals.

While Child Haus is no longer located on its original site, with two branches now — a two-storey and a seven-storey building built by tycoon Hans Sy so Mother Ricky can continue his amazing work for countless young cancer patients — it remains to be more than a home for these afflicted families but a haven where they can genuinely hope for healing, with a clean and comfortable place to live; nutritious food and complete medication; toys, books, playgrounds, TVs to keep them entertained; and spiritual formation to strengthen their spirit to fight disease.

“It’s all for free when they come here because there are many good Samaritans among us. And marami din akong hinoldap ng clients ko kaya nawalan na yata ako ng kliyente,” Mother Ricky quipped, chuckling at his ability to enjoin others to give freely from their stroke of luck in life.

Over the last 16 years, the Ricky Reyes Foundation has taken in an astounding 17,000 children with cancer at Child Haus from all over the country. Of that overwhelming number, less than a single percent succumbed to the disease because of the excellent care they receive at the home.

“They get to eat three to four times a day here kaya tumataba sila and lumalakas ang immune system. Awa ng Diyos, basta tuloy-tuloy ang gamutan nila as out-patients in hospitals, gumagaling at nakakauwi ang mga bata,” said the amazing Mother Ricky.

This was his story for family, friends and colleagues who I invited to join me at Child Haus last Sunday. I had long been supporting this life-saving and life-time project of his by publishing stories in the paper to help spread the word about such a worthy cause, but have never seen the wonders that happen at Child Haus for myself.

Aware it was my birthday on October 3, Mother Ricky called me and asked me to celebrate it with the kids the Sunday after. And I have to say, it was definitely the most meaningful birthday I’ve had in long time.

Mother Ricky truly gave me a gift to able to make 70 brave and beautiful children and their families forget their pain and worries for an afternoon with the help of people closest to me.

The day started with a Holy Mass officiated by Rev. Fr. Sal Anthony Dumabok who spoke the truth in the sermon when he said, we needn’t wait to die to experience heaven — we can make our own heaven on earth by doing good, just as Mother Ricky does every single day at Child Haus.

Media friends Gorgy Rula, Jerry Olea and Kate Adajar took part in the mass by taking turns with the readings and psalms, while my besties from the Society of Philippine Entertainment Editor (SPEEd), Ian Fariñas and Nickie Wang, and top entertainment columnists Ricky Gallardo and Jun Lalin took charge of the buffet and served food to the children and their families from start to finish.

Days before the party, I called my forever children’s party organizer Bamba Rivera and asked her if she could find a way to clear the sched of my favorite magician for my sons’ birthdays even if I knew it was a long shot. She said, “OK, Ma’am, but please make sure he gets to perform first because he’s got an event in Alabang by 2 p.m.”

Without meaning to, though, I lost track of time as the children had a special program for me where they sang songs and handed me birthday cards they made themselves. There wasn’t a dry eye in the function room done up so beautifully by Mother Ricky’s angels in Child Haus — Daydee Castillo, Rachel Cruzado and Marianne de Roca — from the children’s thoughtfulness and pureness of heart, each one singing with all their might, even if some of them were in wheel chairs or needed their parents to carry them onstage.

Apparently, even Ivan the Selfie Magician was so touched that he extended his usual performance to wow these very special children with his illusion tricks and take the time to bring his pet — a friendly giant white python — around for the kids to stroke and pat on the head.

“Sorry you’re so late for your next appointment,” I told Ivan as he packed up his bag of tricks and got ready to leave. When he looked up at me, he smiled and teared up, “I was very happy to do it, Tita Tessa; the cause of delay was so worth it.”

Besides Ivan’s performance, the children also enjoyed swaying to upbeat song numbers from acoustic duo BOU (Both of Us) comprised of Natasia Cunanan and Sherman Tupas and singer-songwriter Hazel Faith. My one-call-away-friend, seasoned music executive Ciso Chan, thoughtfully took them to the party not only to share their wonderful talents with the kids, but also their own stories of fighting cancer in their families.

Both Natasia and Hazel’s mothers are cancer survivors and they openly talked about the experience of almost losing hope but finding strength in God, the goodness of others and the power of love.

Without being asked, well-loved lifestyle PR maven Jingjing Romero and Cindy Ejercito — the beautiful wife of former Sen. JV Ejercito — who were also among my guests also generously shared of themselves at the party. Besides giving personalized tokens for the kids and a much-appreciated donation to Child Haus, respectively, they came out to say they are cancer survivors and encouraged the parents to stay strong for the children because miracles do happen.

Lending their support at the outreach too were Dean of Entertainment Journalists Tita Ethel Ramos, my mentor and former editor Ninang Crispina Belen, and veteran journalists Esther Depasupil, Veronica Samio, Virgie Balatico, Ogie Rodriguez and Linda Rapadas.

Donations for the giveaways for the kids came from big-hearted PR friends Joy Buensalido of Buensalido and Associates; Kane Choa, Aaron Domingo and Justin Irons of ABS-CBN; Angel Javier Cruz and Marian Domingo of GMA Network; Claire Papa of Unilab; Rosbel Buñag and Alex Pastor of Stratworks; and Joan Octanim of ComCo. They sent in backpacks, notebooks, books, pillows, face towels and cakes upon cakes for the children to enjoy.

Of course, my The Manila Times Lifestyle and Entertainment staff, who are in every way my family too were in full force — Christina Alpad, Iza Iglesias and Arlo Custodio — to assist me in any way they can; while my super “from outside-the-biz” friends, Vike Llave, Irene and Dominic Garcia, Trina Molina, and Cindy, together with my sisters Ada and Diosa and their husbands Dr. Jun Esquivel and Jun Llave, respectively, and my niece Danni all helped to spread cheer to the children while digging deep into their hearts and pockets for donations to Child Haus.

And last but not the least, beside me all the way was my cute and ever supportive hubby Je Arriola who ran around with me wherever I had to during and in the lead up to Sunday’s amazing experience, and just as happy as I was to share what little of our own blessing we could with the children.

I’m so grateful to these wonderful individuals — the good Samaritans of the day as Mother Ricky called them — for readily giving of themselves with just a few texts or a quick call from yours truly.

I especially want to thank the popular beauty guru and my guru of kindness Mother Ricky for embracing me as a friend and inspiring me to give of myself beyond family and friends.

Most of all, I would like to extend my most heartfelt thanks to the children and their families at Child Haus. Thank you for welcoming us into your beautiful home, for showing us the true meaning of dignity and courage, and for reminding what truly matters more in life.

I hope we can come and visit again to partake of such an amazing gift to be among all of you. Thank you for giving me a most memorable celebration.

Credit belongs to : www.manilatimes.net

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