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A hand-mime performance by the students of the Divine Healer Academy of Sorsogon. Photo by Büm Tenorio Jr.

The Samsung Hall of SM Aura was filled to the rafters with generous hearts who came in full force to show their support for the students of the Divine Healer Academy of Sorsogon. Father Gerard Deveza, a compassionate healing priest and founder of the mission school, now on its 14th year, expressed his loving gratitude to all who came to this thanksgiving concert.

“The love you shared has allowed these children to complete their education year after year,” Fr. Gerard said.

Several talented students of the Divine Healer Academy came all the way from Sorsogon to personally pay tribute to the benefactors who have supported them since Kindergarten.  They came well prepared to open the show with a doxology, their unique rendition of The Lord’s Prayer, a beautiful prayer dance that moved the audience to prayerful tears of joy and wonder.

Divine Healer Academy of Sorsogon students give roses and handwritten letters of gratitude to guests.

Orven Ebrada, an exceptional student who serenaded guests with a love song, drew much appreciation. The students’ hand-mime performance drew raves from an enthralled audience.

Mitch Valdes brought the house down with rib-tickling wit and candor. The gifted Minstrels Divos, composed of Ding Mercado, Eugene Villaluz and Chad Borja,  joined Mitch on stage to take us all happily back in time through the disco tunes of the ‘70s. The trio then kept us swaying to romantic ballads and swooning over Broadway hits.  Little did people know that Ding was nursing a severe case of painful laryngitis while Chad was mourning the loss of his lovable mother who just passed  five days before the show. So grateful were the students for their loving sacrifice, of being there despite their pain.

The joyful finale brought the students back on stage holding hands with radiant smiles as they sang the OPM song Magkakapatid. They delighted their guests by going down to personally deliver roses and handwritten letters of gratitude to each one.

The students’ parting words: “You are so much a part of what we are right now. Your love and support has made it possible for us to continue our education and make our dreams come true. Thank you for being our inspiration. We will always remember you in our prayers, our beloved benefactors.”

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

Serenade of Life

Reach International School (RIS) students.

Reach International School and Childstart International performed Rhythms and Riddles: Serenade of Life at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium, RCBC Plaza in Makati City with an inclusive cast of passionate students composed of all kinds of learners.

When the theater curtains were drawn, a huge screen was revealed with the words of William James, “The sovereign cure for worry is prayer.” I mulled through this message that soothed my spirits, and felt so grateful to be where I was at that very moment. It also helped that the show opened with the students’ touching rendition of Celine Dion and Andrea Bocelli’s The Prayer.

The show runners of the annual school production opted to creatively present aphorisms on the human experience through song and dance. They gathered inspiration from the quotes and riddles of St. Augustine of Hippo, Victor Hugo, Nobel Prize laureate Nelson Mandela, and even the iconic French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry among others.

The purpose of the program according to Cynthia Tinsay Gonzalez, the dedicated school administrator, is to promote important life values such as strengthening faith, relations with family and friends, the sacrifice for freedom, the thrill of an adventure, and more. These aphorisms and values make life meaningful to the student.

In one of the highlights of the show, the students from Childstart International performed their version of A Thousand Miles by Vanessa Carlton as a testament of the boundless lengths one would go for a friend, and how that relationship eases the journey.

Little fireflies Ma. Zarina Maningat and Chloe Denise Aurora Gonzalez perform Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles.

The male students from Reach International stole the show with a moving adaptation of Lukas Graham’s 7 Years as a response to facing the loneliness of growing up, and there is much to appreciate if we look at those growing around and with us.

The show ended on a high note with the nostalgic rhythm of the ‘70s in VST and Co. songs Awitin Mo at Isasayaw Ko and Tayo’y Magsayawan. The audience was in for a last-minute surprise as the students performed a black-light routine and light show, which ended with a thunderous curtain call.

In her sixth year as director of the school production, Maritess Bichara del Rosario lauded the cooperation of the students, faculty and staff as “an exquisite portrait of unconditional love all around.” She hints that ideas and preparation are already cooking up for next year’s production. “Each year, we try to express and give everyone working with us, and watching us, a gift of insight, a special message excitedly packaged in the children’s talent, to ponder on, appreciate and learn from.”

The vivid dances, enthralling  rhythms and most importantly morals and maxims instilled by the message of this school production will be something the students will bear for a lifetime.

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

O Holy Night

Our Lady of Guadalupe Parish — third prize winner, church category.

When you visit a belen in the various municipalities all over the province of Tarlac as night falls, especially on weekends, you will see its people come alive. Selfies are in vogue while smiling street vendors ply their cotton candy, cooked peanuts, suman, hot balut, cold drinks and toys.

Tarlaqueños themselves visit popular belen sites and proudly play hosts to visitors from neighboring provinces, people from Metro Manila, balikbayans and fellow Filipinos from other parts of the country. Groups of families and friends gather together to pause and pray as there is a prayer posted at the foot of each Nativity scene. These are joyful scenes created by the Belenismo experience, which starts early in November and on through January to welcome a blessed new year.

“Belenismo sa Tarlac is a project that takes a lot of prayers to make it come true,” says  indefatigable Isa Cojuangco Suntay of the Tarlac Heritage Foundation. Isa and her mother, Isabel Cojuangco Suntay, have been spearheading the Belenismo together in the last nine years.

“We cannot thank God enough for making it a success all through these years,” adds Isa. According to her, the Belenismo’s success is due to commitments from generous sponsors; Tarlaqueños themselves who, despite all odds, put up belen entries in different categories each year; and to an enthusiastic board of judges who so gamely give of their time to travel from Manila to Tarlac just to spend 16 to 20 hours judging belen after belen even if some are not officially registered in the contest.

“When you see Tarlaqueños from all walks of life coming together for Belenismo, that is heaven-sent. For me every participant is a winner and I thank each of them for joining,” Isa says.

Belenismo is a beautiful reminder of Christmas. The favorable recognition that the Belenismo has received throughout the years has certainly made it cement the province of Tarlac as the belen capital of the Philippines.

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

Russell’s conquest

Russell Austin Tee. Photos courtesy of Raymond Saldaña and Gold’s Gym

While judging this year’s Bodycon competition at the Novotel last month, I was impressed by a young gentleman among the Top 6 finalists. Twenty-year-old Russell Austin Tee captured the judges’ hearts with his enthusiasm, humble demeanor, good looks and friendly disposition. He wore a minimum of clothing and a cheerful smile that never left his amiable face.

Though he did not win the top prize, his determination, discipline and well-rounded lifestyle impressed the judges who consider Russell a winner in his own right, an inspiration to the youth and a worthy fitness ambassador!

Looking back, he gratefully recalled how his fitness journey began.

“I grew up in a family where my mother would always prepare food for us. She told us to eat everything she prepared so as a young kid, I grew fat and plump. If you saw me I was like a bowling ball! Growing up, I always got tired easily when climbing up four floors up to my class room. I saw the other kids who were much slimmer, much more agile, and much more active in sports. ‘How are they not tired?’ I always asked myself,” he recalls.

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On the badminton court, he also noticed how others had so much stamina, looking fresh after returning all his shots while he ended up panting, exhausted, unable to keep up.

“My inspiration was initially born out of my own personal frustration. I was frustrated that I was round, sluggish and couldn’t move as fast,” he says.

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What started out as a frustration to get thinner eventually became a lifestyle as he would always turn to sports and physical fitness as a stress reliever. He eventually found himself packing a sports bag the night before going to school, filling it with extra clothes to be used for sports the next day. He began staying later and later to exercise, engage in sports with friends and train on his own during breaks.

It took some sacrifice in terms of eating habits. Russell’s daily diet plan now consists of chicken breast, tuna, bangus, vegetables, fruits, some oats or sweet potato. Peanut butter and wheat bread is his favorite snack. He prepares his own food every morning before he leaves for school except for Sunday, which he admits to calling his “cheat day” when the family gets together to eat.

In order to develop his physique, Russell committed himself to a fitness program. Currently, he is training under Anthony Gesalan, a fitness coach at Gold’s Gym in Katipunan, Quezon City. According to Russell, “Anthony is a very knowledgeable coach. I feel very lucky to have gotten him as a trainer given that he has imparted years of knowledge to me. I would not have been able to be my fittest (which was during Bodycon!) if it were not for his guidance. He pushes me and inspires me to become a better version of myself.”

On his other interests outside the gym, Russell exclaims, “I love Pokemon! I am one of those people who absolutely love Pokemon. I get into competitive battling whenever I’m free. I am also into playing Clash of Clans, Clash Royale, and PvZ Heroes, although I am not as active as I used to be.” He also loves to cook pasta, visit museums, go out with friends, do anything sporty and physical like rock climbing, table tennis, football, badminton and swimming.

While preparing for the Bodycon, he did not neglect his school life, which is not an easy feat. Russell is a junior in Ateneo taking up BS Management and active in two organizations. He is currently a cluster representative of the Ateneo Consultants for Organizational Development and Empowerment (CODE). As a cluster representative, he meets clients within the university and works with them in making their organizations more efficient and effective. He is also a force officer of the Ateneo Junior Marketing Association (AJMA) and currently a project head of the Marketing Camp, a one-day marketing seminar for high school students.

“I am really grateful that I was given such an opportunity to inspire and be inspired. Joining Bodycon, I did not expect to meet people who are so willing to help each other grow in fitness. I am really grateful to Gold’s Gym Philippines for seeing the potential in me during the go-see and allowing me to push my limits. I am also grateful for my co-participants, to whom this experience would not have been the same, for being so open, so genuine, and so kind as to imparting their knowledge and expertise.”

There is one special person who continues to inspire Russell day in and day out with his unconditional love. Russell says, “My dad  (Richard Ngo Tee) supports me in everything I do. If it weren’t for him, I would not be who I am today, nor would I be able to learn and grow with the people that I have met. I am really thankful that he is always there, looking out for me and being a super single parent who has done everything to provide the best he can for my brothers and me. He really inspires me every day to push myself and become better than who I was yesterday.”

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@ yahoo.com.)

Thank you, Mama Nena!

100-year-old Mama Nena La’O and granddaughter Maricar Xerez-Burgos.

Thanksgiving is a favorite season of mine, hence I was so thrilled to receive an invitation to an afternoon of giving thanks by the inspiring ladies of B.I.G. “Building, Inspiring and Giving” is the motto of this group composed of 10 lovable ladies. Not only are they talented, prayerful, generous, entertaining and funny, they know how to express gratitude.

That afternoon, each of the 10 ladies had prepared a beautiful tale to tell that allowed us their blessed guests to peer into their noble hearts that burn with love, passion and gratitude. Their grateful spirits were infectious! We all went home enriched and even happier that we came. I am sharing with you one of the beautiful stories I heard that day.

Maricar Manese Xerez-Burgos greeted us with a radiant smile. The beautiful garden setting provided a picturesque backdrop and a refreshing breeze blew gently as she stood. Her eyes lit up the moment she spoke about the blessed family ties that bind her to a beloved family matriarch.

“The topic that I chose for today is my gratefulness towards my 100-year-old grandmother, and the values that she has imparted, which I will forever cherish, and hopefully pass on to future generations,” Maricar began. “It isn’t uncommon to find most of you having fond memories of your own mothers and grandmothers. We associate them with their loving, caring and nurturing qualities that form our core and enable us to go through the challenges and hardships of life knowing that “home” — something with which we closely associate our mothers, and while temporary in this earth, is the closest thing we can get to heavenly peace.”

“Dr. Carmen Consing La’O, or Mama Nena as the grandchildren fondly call her, is the wife of Julian La’O, a lawyer and former patriarch of a multitude of people! He was the eldest of 10 siblings, which produced 64 first cousins and over 150 second cousins in my generation. My grandmother has six children that produced 20 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren — all were delivered from their mothers’ wombs and were first seen by her eyes. Our 100-year-old grandmother made our home and most certainly shaped our values.

“Her love and devotion to God is something to emulate. Piety is a bit of an understatement, and perhaps common among women of her generation. But to see her love for God translate to service for others is truly amazing.

“The same devotion to God had led her to live a code exemplified by her devotion to her husband, which extends not until the day he died, but even today. She would prepare all his meals and be present by his side until the day he died. But even after his death, she continued to pray for him and would visit him at Manila Memorial Park every week.

“Her devotion to the rest of the family is just as sacred. While she had the energy, she fervently prepared and hosted family gatherings at her Paco house every Sunday, plus holidays, and every birthday of every family member (including in-laws) with a banquet. Any in-law knew that his or her attendance was a pre-condition to marrying into the family.”

Maricar fondly recalls how her grandmother entertained her husband Alby over sumptuous meals even when she was not around. She took time out to bond with him as she did with all the rest of her prospective in-laws. She was always interested and attentive to each one. Not only did she encourage them to enjoy her table laden with homemade pancit molo, callos, paella, pasta, chicken relleno and many more but obliged them to linger long after the food was gone. This is how she built the precious ties that bind her huge family together to this very day.

But her food, her home and hospitality did not stop at family, far from it. For as long as Maricar can remember, up to the recent years when she still had the energy to stand on her own, she would offer her home, her food and companionship to those in need — more so to people whom she knew could not return the favor. And when they would leave, she would always remark, “Thank you for coming and spending time with us.”

Maricar said, “Every time I witness these events, I could only stare at her in awe for what she has done and the many lives she has touched. It was never a bother for her, and you could see the joy in her eyes for being of help. She wasn’t only joyful, but grateful to be of help. And that really gives you a perspective that joyfulness and gratefulness go hand-in-hand.”

This loving granddaughter concludes, “Whenever I think of my grandmother, the only emotion I could conjure is happiness — happiness because I am oh-so grateful that the Lord gave me Mama Nena.”

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

Impact (Conclusion)

PEARL, HS ‘86. (Front row, from left) Rojinie Ramsay-Cortes, Malu Gamboa, Mailet Bonoan-Ancheta, Carmella Gana-Araullo, Sandee Hechanova-Albar, Victoria Mendoza-Fritz, Pia Barbin-SyCip, Menchit Aldeguer-Fajardo, Trixie Herbosa-Grau, Monette Quiogue, Mia Paterno-Rodriguez, Mariel Tiangco-Coronel, Valerie Mayor-Sotto and Janice Abellaneda-Macapagal; (back row, from left) Lucia Palisoc-Castro, Trisha Rodriguez-Pertierra, Debbie Miranda-Ledesma, Loudette Roman-Tanjuatco, Junie Navarro, Marixi Buhay-Salud, Rocio Pantaleon and Julie Harper-Mapua. Photo by Mon Lindo

(Conclusion)

The Assumption spirit continues to thrive through the unique velada tradition.

“This annual celebration welcomes home many alumni who come from far and near. It is a source of great joy as well as an inspiration to continue living what we have received from our Assumption education,” said Assumption Alumnae Association (AAA) moderator Sr. Remedios Carmen V. Locsin, r.a.  (I am also proud to say that Sr. Remedios was my Grade 2 teacher.)

This year’s meaningful velada, aptly titled Impact, hosted by the Silver jubilarians of AC Batch ‘91, joyfully united the Pearl, Jade, Ruby, Gold, Diamond, Emerald, Blue Diamond and Platinum jubilarians on stage at the Mother Rose Auditorium in a spectacle of songs and dances.

Another highlight of the yearly celebration was the presentation of love offerings prepared by each batch for their school, which consisted of generous contributions from highly organized fundraisers that brought the classmates together for a fun and noble purpose.

We were so touched by the efforts of AC Batch ‘90 who worked really hard to come up with P2.6 million to support various needs of AC mission schools. Together with the many contributions, more underprivileged students will be able to receive transformative education that Assumption is known for.

Congratulations to all the jubilarians and thank you for your generosity of heart. Inspired by our Mother foundress St. Marie Eugenie, may you continue to transform the world in your own little sphere of influence, creating an “Impact,” by making of this earth a place of glory for God.

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

Impact

SILVER, HS 1991. Jennie Verano, Jackie Verano, Almira Alpapara-Go, Ces Valera Tolentino, Trina Monsod, Arie Reyes-Cuerva Kidder, Nanny Villarosa Drilon, Dea Carcereny Rubio, Al de Leon, Cecille Lorenzana Romero, Tintin Pajarillo Yabut, Tricia Guiua de Leon, Joanna de Ocampo Igao, Jill de Claro Escalona, Rhea Cardeno Ilagan, Ola Aumentado Manansala, Ines Lopez Matti, Ivy Villaruz Cuejilo, Pebbles Carlos Lacson, Katrina Alvendia-Balboa, Rosa Tan, Karla Barrera Hernandez, Sheila de Leon Cabuhat, Kate Villarruz, Maricel Joaquin Sanvictores, Mitch Reyes Avedillo, Fay Cruz, Lea Cordon Ruof, Marilen Cochon Doniego, Mia Tulao-Fernando, Jenny Calaguio Funk, Sochie Marquez Edwards, Tess Santos, Katrina Geronimo Datoc, Krissy Dim Jamora, April Chavez Palma, Jen Calma Sarmiento, Carlynn Limjoco San Gabriel, Miren Padilla Savard, Cotton Reyes Sevilla, Trina Labayen, Chu Bernabe Calleja, Diane de Leon Leoncio, Richelle Filipina, Armela Tarriela de Guzman, Isabel Pineda, Michelle Serrano, Kristine Singson Meehan, Joyce Crisologo, Sheila Hernandez Nazal, Cecille Sabido, Trixie Aguana Balmaceda, Nikki Yuson de Guzman, Nikki Bautista Gilladoga, Maripaz Megia Lobrin, Mayette Talento-Casanova, Carissa Suarez and Rica Cruz. Photo by Kevin Deriquito

Truly, the Assumption spirit lives on through the annual velada tradition.

This year’s much awaited show titled “Impact,” was hosted by the Silver jubilarians of 1991, a powerful hardworking and generous batch armed with sound values of faith, service and resiliency. They brought together on stage the biggest group of performers we had ever seen in velada history.

The memorable “Old Girls’ Day” began with a beautiful morning Mass celebrated by Father Xavier Olin, S.J., who reminded us through the gospel of St. Luke to persevere in faith and persist in prayer for one another. After a joyful lunch reunion amongst plaid-uniformed alumni families, we all proceeded to the Mother Rose Auditorium to enjoy the program.

Sister Ana Maria Melocoton, R.A. began with an opening prayer, which everyone welcomed in deep silence. “Father God, as we gather today to celebrate the Jubilees: 25, 30, 35, 40, 50, 55, 60, 65, 70, we come to thank you for guiding, loving, encouraging us, as only a Father can. The velada  symbolizes our togetherness, our friendships, our joys, also our struggles and pains, our coming home to the heart of each one. We left school bonded by our class motto: for the Silver, ‘My heart is ready O Lord;’ for Pearl, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord;’ for Jade, ‘Mary stood at the foot of the cross;’ for Ruby, ‘As long as I live, I hope;’ for Diamond, ‘To go against the easy way, to take the road less traveled, to take the road that leads to life;’ for Emerald, ‘To whom much is given, much is expected;’ for Gold, ‘All for You, O Lord!’; and for Blue Diamond, ‘Conquer yourself.’

“Tonight, we come in songs and dances but we truly come to celebrate all these moments of keeping our hearts ready for you. You know our efforts, our struggles to live the motto we have chosen. These are our guiding stars to you, Lord!”

The velada also allows the alumnae to give back to Assumption for all they have received. On this day, the jubilarians’ generous contributions were joyfully received by the Assumption Alumnae Association to benefit the Assumption mission schools and other worthy endeavors. The Assumption College Batch ’90 raised P2.6 million.

Congratulations to all the jubilarians and the hardworking choreographers and directors. Lovable Maribeth Bichara for the gorgeous Pearl, Ruby, Gold and Blue Diamond dances. Direk Freddie Santos directed the sparkling Diamonds. Batche Tan choreographed the performance of the Jade jubilarians; and Jo de Peralta for Silver and Emerald. Over-all director was Chito Miguel.

A total of nine batches celebrated this year’s velada. Here are the first five batches and the next four jewels will be featured in my next column.

The Silver jubilarians of 1991 left us with a challenge in their finale number. “If you had only a day to change someone’s life what would you do? Are you ready to make that Impact?”

(Would love to hear from you at miladayjewels@yahoo.com.)

(P.S. Please come to the Assumption Alumnae Association’s  annual bazaar  “A Touch Of Gold” at the Dusit Hotel Ballroom on Sunday, Nov. 13, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.)