By Roselle De Guzman (SA – J)
Kythe Ateneo’s motto, I’ve just recently learned, is “For the Kids.” This, I think, perfectly reflects the vision and mission of the organization, which is to uplift the sprits of child cancer patients through volunteering and providing assistance, and also to spread awareness of their plights in order to bring up more support in helping these children. The minimum that I knew before being part of their event was that they were a Sector-Based Org that focused on cancer kids. I didn’t know the specifics of what they did, although I was not ignorant of this for long.
I got to the UP College of Science Ampitheater an hour too early, and I Am Hope: The Great Outdoors wasn’t much to look at yet. There was still a faint color of darkness in the sky and a chill in the air, and few members of Kythe that were already there as early as 6 in the morning were still setting up their booths and decors. I was tired when I got there; still, I wanted to make a good impression so I asked if I could help in setting up, but they refused, saying that “We don’t want our buddies to be tired, because you’ll be playing the whole day.” I found that to be a little bit excessive (I was pretty sure that my energy isn’t so limited that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with some kids wanting to play), but I didn’t protest. Instead, they let me meet some of the other volunteer Buddies that were also non-kythers like me; they were high schoolers, some of which weren’t even from Ateneo.
“I’m from Antipolo, my school is on a mountain,” Martha told me, amused at her own joke. “I just like volunteering.”
They gave us shirts to change into, emblazoned with ” The Great Outdoors”, which was a whole system in itself. The pastel blue shirts were for the Buddies, who are, kyther or non-kyther, the volunteers that are supposed to guide and ensure the safety of the kids throughout the event and make sure that they have the most fun as possible. The baby pink ones were for the “Kore” Team, who are the planners of the event and are there to make sure that things go smoothly. And, finally, the lime green ones were for the kyther volunteers, who served as the manpower for the Kore Team. After we changed into them, the gave us an orientation of how to interact with the kids and their families, which not only covered the basics like “Don’t give out your contact information.” and “Don’t give them money.”, but also included things like “Don’t give them advice because you don’t know what they’re going through.” and also “Don’t push them to join the activities, because they’re sick and they might not have the energy sometimes.” Which, to me, sounded like I’d have to be very careful with these kids or I was gonna hurt them easily.
After that, I met my partners, a fellow non-kyther named Gio, who was a first year in Ateneo, and a kyther named Dennis, who was friends with my older sister when she was still in college. I’m a shy person, so I’ve never been able to socialize with other people well. However, maybe it’s because it’s just the kind of people that are in this org, but they were so easy to be around, and we became friends immediately, bonding over who we found cute among the members and the volunteers. By then, the set ups were done, and, looking around the place, the first thing I thought was ‘cute’. Everything was in pastels, so it all look soft and sweet, with different booths for different kinds of activities, like sports, science, art, music, and even s’mores making. It reminded me of a kids’ party.
And then we met the kid that we were assigned to. A 7-year-old skinny little girl with a mask over her face and a bandana over her hair. Her tag said her name was Yumilka, but her mother called her Yumi. She was small, and shy, and she didn’t talk much, but that was fine. Gio and I weren’t experienced with kids, so we didn’t know how to engage her, but Dennis, a Kyther for 3 years now, got her to be comfortable enough with her that Yumi was letting her fix her hair for her within the next thirty minutes.
“Do you know what her disease is?” I heard Gio whisper to Dennis while she was running a brush through Yumi’s hair. I didn’t hear the answer Dennis gave, but I did hear her say that it was incurable. I stayed silent, and I thought to myself that Yumi looked too small and skinny and fragile that she wouldn’t survive the unbearable heat of the day. After the kids came in, a few programs and performances happened on stage, mostly made up of mascots dancing and some of the volunteers performing. Yumi wasn’t very into the performances, preferring to not watch them, and the other kids seem a bit bored of them as well. Then we played a few games as well, like a group game of rock, paper, scissors, except they replaced it with fire, bear, marshmallow to go with the theme of a camping trip that the event had. It had everyone, even the kids, boosted up, with one kid even yelling “Fire!” over and over again until he won. Yumi was smiling, but she stuck mostly to Dennis’ side instead of participating. Afterwards, the green members of Kythe handed out flags to the kids to decorate in whatever way they want. Surprisingly, Yumi sprung to her task, taking the paint that Dennis gave her and the stickers that I gave her and passionately turned the flags into an art of her own making, one being purple with her name on it because she loved purple, and another being blue with the words “I Am Hope” on it.
“Do you wanna keep the rest of the stickers?” I asked her, and she nodded, smiling at me for the first time.
The sun burned in the sky that morning, the sweltering heat of the summer burning us all who were beneath it, and the fresh smell of nature was barely noticeable over the sticky feeling of a hot and humid day, so most of the people in the event were sluggish, sweaty and dehydrated. But then then the Kore Team announced that the booths were open, and that’s when all the kids went crazy.
Even Yumi, small, skinny Yumi, who barely said a word and seemed so shy, excitedly got up from where she was sitting and enthusiastically went to all the booths that were available. The next thing I knew, she was running for the sports booth and was pretty much ready for whatever game they wanted to do. Dennis went after her, unsurprised at the burst of energy that the kid we were assigned to suddenly gained. She told us that they’re always like that, and that they usually need time to warm up. Soon, Yumi was running from one end of the field to the other, eager to try every single activity that she could get her hands on. She seemed to enjoy the sports tent very much, laughing as a coach taught her to get a ball from one goalpost to the other, as well as the arts and crafts booths, making tents out of popsicle sticks and being mesmerised over the dream catcher that she made with a volunteer’s help, although she seemed disappointed at the bubble booth because she couldn’t make the giant bubbles that the volunteers were able to do. What seemed to be her favourite, though, were the food booths, especially the cookie decorating area, where she came back more than once to ice cookies purple, even inviting Dennis and I to make cookies her, although Gio preferred to hold an umbrella over her instead. Everyone else in the booths accommodated her so well, making sure that she’s having fun and giving her all the attention that they could give. To them, their main goal was to make Yumi feel special, and her smile made it seem like she wasn’t anything less.
By the afternoon of the event, the sun managed to cool down enough that we didn’t feel burdened by walking under it anymore, but the Kore team called everyone back to the main stage, officially closing the booths again. Yumi wasn’t very heart broken about it; she had a new pair of purple shades, a bag full of new toys and goodies, and Dennis holding for her a paper cup full of s’mores and purple iced cookies, She was satisfied with her loot by then. Gio, Dennis and I, however, were relieved of the idea that we could finally sit down and take a break, as Yumi was non-stop from morning to afternoon. Although she was the one with a sickness, she seemed to have more energy than any of us could ever hope for. Back in the main stage, the volunteers in green started handing out Jollibee burger Yums for merienda, which were satisfying enough in itself. Suddenly, a surprise celebrity guest arrived to the event, a little girl named Mutya Orquia, who came to convince us all to watch her on-going show, Goin’ Bulilit. She seemed charming, in a blue dress and pearls with her face caked in white powder, and the kids were excited to see her, even Yumi, although I didn’t know who she was at first. She left as quickly as she came, staying only to be able to take pictures with the kids, Yumi immediately ran up to her for a photo, which her mother took for her, before Muty Orquia was back in her car and off again.
More performances took place, two of which were Atenean talents invited by the org to perform in their event. These performances were more for the volunteers this time, as the songs they performed were popular songs known by our generation, as was evident by the enthusiasm and the singing along that the volunteers were doing. At this point, all four of us in the group were tired, Yumi deciding to go through her stack of sweets, while Gio amused himself with flicking my ear and my nose (because it’s only in a Kythe event that you meet someone you become comfortable enough to let them touch our ear), and Dennis taking this time to bring out her phone. At this point I asked Dennis how she knew my sister.
“She was my IC (I’m not sure what that meant) when she was still in Kythe. I was a first year and she was part of the Board. She’s teaching now, isn’t she?” Dennis replied to me. My sister, Michelle De Guzman, underwent a program called Teach for the Philippines after she graduate, which entails her being a public school teacher for two years in Pasong Tamo Elementary School. Her two years, however, are over, and she’s applied now to become part of Sen. Bam Aquino’s staff.
I told Dennis this, and she laughed. “That’s so Michelle!” She said, but I remembered the motto of the org that they told us at the reorientation, “For the Kids!” and I couldn’t help but think that no, that was so Kythe.
Then the program almost came to a close. The Kore team handed out these medals to the Buddies in order to give to our kids. “Congratulations on graduating from camp!” They told the kids as they lead them to the front of the stage. The Kore Team handed me the medal to give to Yumi, and, though it was only made of plastic, I could imagine what this kind of trinket could do for someone like Yumi, who suffers daily, but still manage to have energy for a whole day of just fun. Putting it around her neck, I couldn’t help but be so proud of this child that chooses hope everyday.
Dennis hugged Yumi tight and told her congratulations, and so Gio, Dennis and I all said goodbye to this skinny little 7-year-old girl that loved purple. I turned to Dennis and asked her, “This is an annual thing, right?”
“Yeah,” She answered me. “The I Am Hope Program happens every year; this is my third, actually. Just a day every year that the kids and their families can take a break and be happy and have fun.”
I think of these people, these kythers that are so easy to be with, planning a whole-day event for these kids that would mean exhausting themselves in order to give them a day or reprieve, to give them hope. I think of the way that I want to be part of that, part of the culture that brings people to live their lives for the kids, and I ask her, “Can I join again next year?”
She smiles at me, the same welcoming smile that she’s had all day, “We’d love to have you again!”