Annia de Guzman & Trish Filart (SA21 – X)
We, the researchers, were able to observe Kythe-Ateneo’s even called I Am Hope (IAH). Kythe is a non-profit, non-stock organization. They focus on helping children with cancer or with other chronic illnesses who are confined in hospitals by making sure that the children would not miss out on the experiences that childhood would entail despite of their confinement. Ultimately, the organization aims to instill hope to these children. They work on achieving this goal by going to weekly visits and hosting events such as I Am Hope.
The I Am Hope event is the flagship of Kythe, an organization in Ateneo de Manila University. They hold this event annually, and normally it is held during the first semester of the school year; however, the organization wanted to make I Am Hope their culminating event for this year and so they held it during the second semester. One of the key informants of the researchers, Matthew Ang, who was part of the logistics team of the I Am Hope event explained the event further and what its purpose is. “We invite all the kids from our partner hospitals and we have a whole day planned out for them, so we have performers, booths, activities, food, and other stuff prepared. The event is really for the kids to enjoy because they’re always in the hospital and it can really affect the way they grow up and the way they enjoy their childhood,” said Matthew. In addition to that, he stated that as Kythers, it is their mission to give the kids a taste of the childhood they would not get otherwise and that is not only what I Am Hope is for, but the Kythe organization itself. However, for this event, the kids are not the only people that Kythe aims to reach out to but also their families. They also invited the parents to the event and provided activities such as zumba dancing and free-painting. This is so that they may also take a break from the worry and pressure that they have to go through given that their child is confined. Essentially, I Am Hope also aims to spread the advocacy and that is why I Am Hope is open to everyone in the Loyola Schools, not just Kythers.
The call time of the buddies was at 6:30 in the morning to set up the venue, but the actual event started at 9 am; that is when the kids started to come. The event was held at the UP amphitheater which was a wide circular field with a large tent at one end. There were activity booths across the tent surrounding the amphitheater and food booths at the sides. These booths provided different activities ranging from interactive sports to arts and crafts. Although the event formally started at 9, we arrived at the event around 12 noon. We were supposedly buddies; however we had an NSTP talk to attend to from 10 am to 12:00 noon and so we ended up observing, walking around, and playing with the kids of our friends, whom are buddies, from time to time.
When we arrived at the event, we first noticed how hot and sunny the weather was. We wondered if the kids were alright considering they were battling an illness which can easily weaken a person. However, despite the heat, we saw children with happy faces as we looked around. Some kids just wanted to sit down and talk with their ates or kuyas, some wanted to play soccer, some wanted to play frisbee, and some just wanted to roam around. We started participating as soon as we got to the venue so that we would be able to further immerse ourselves into the event. We played soccer with the kids under the intense heat.
Despite of their illness, we saw that some kids were still able to play as if they did not have any sickness at all. We heard one buddy ask a kid, “Uy, okay ka pa ba? Baka masyado kang mapagod ha” and the kid replied, “Hindi at okay pa ko minsan ko lang ‘to magagawa.” This made us think that events such as I Am Hope are something that children living in such circumstances eagerly anticipate since the activities that the event have are things that they are not able to experience given that they are staying in a hospital. As we were participating, we ran into our friends, Tiolo Alvarez and Aaliyah Monasterial, whom are buddies. We were able to play as well with their kids for some time. We interviewed Aaliyah and asked her various questions on being a buddy; we asked Aaliyah why she chose to be a buddy and how the experience was like for her. She answered “I was a buddy last year and I really enjoyed my time as a buddy, so I decided to make it a tradition that I’ll continue volunteering as a buddy until my last year in college.” She continued to speak about her experience with this year’s I Am Hope event. This year was a bit different for her since her buddy-partner did not show up; however she took advantage and savored the opportunity because she got to spend more time with her kid, TJ. At first TJ was shy and reluctant to spend time with Aaliyah for the first few hours of the event; he wanted to stay with his mother. However, after some time, TJ started to warm up to Aaliyah. They started to run around and tease each other. We saw how happy TJ was, along with the other kids playing in the field. Aaliyah also said that she really did not mind if TJ did not warm up to her as much as he did, what was important to her was that TJ was having a good and fun time since that day revolved around the happiness of the kids. According to Aaliyah, it was a very fun yet fulfilling experience for her. As we continued to walk around, we saw various interactions of the kids with their buddies; some were a bit shy at first while some were fast to be attached to their buddies.
Due to the heat, we decided to take a break from playing and to walk around the venue to observe. As we were roaming around the venue with our ice creams in hand, one booth caught our attention. The booth was called “Camp Rock” and here we observed the kids being serenaded by college students from a UP organization. As they were singing we looked at the reaction of the little girl who was being serenaded by the boys. She had a shy smile on her face, looking a little bit kilig. After their song was done we moved to another booth called “Art Attack”. This booth was manned by the students from the organization UP Flyers, which is a sister organization of Kythe. One of our key informants named Gabbie Caburnay was able to explain to us what activities they had in store for the kids. She said that in this booth, kids would be able to make small paper tents made out of popsicle sticks, coloring materials, and paper.
Not only did we pay attention to the children during our observation, but also to the Kythers as well. We noticed that all the Kythers were active; roaming around, catering to parents, playing with children, dancing around. All of them had a smile on their face and looked genuinely happy to be helping the children and the families out despite having to brave the heat and going through the hassle of organizing a huge event. We also saw that they were very accommodating to the buddies who were non-Kythers and also to us who were just outsiders. Here we saw their generosity and kindness.
Food and drink concessionaires were present to give out free food. By the time we were observing, we were already hungry and tired from all the playing and running around. However, as outsiders we first felt shy to get some food, but one of the Kythe members, Rianna Bengzon, who is also the marketing head of the event, told us that we were free to get as much food and drinks that we want since they were consumable. The programs head, Coleen Illescas, also told us that we were free to observe and make use of what they have offered as well.
While we were lining up for food, we could overhear the conversation of a buddy and his kid. We saw the kid’s name tag and it said that his name was James. James was wearing a big smile on his face, even though it was obvious that he was tired since he was breathing a bit heavily. He had a lanky body which was quite noticeable under the big shirt he was wearing. His buddy was fanning him. They were behind us in line for the juice stall. By this time, it was already instilled in us that the kids are the number one priority in this event. Which is why we made them go ahead to get their beverages ahead of us.
While walking and looking around, watching the kids play, we felt a bit sad because we genuinely wanted to be buddies as well. Through our participation and observation, we were able to see the impact that buddies had on the children and the new friendships that they have developed. We wished we were able to interact with the children as much as we would be able to if we were buddies, but despite of this, we were still able to appreciate the short moments we got to meet the children and played with them. As we were observing, we were able to get a chance to share and talk about the insights that we gained after participating. The smiles that we shared together with the kids as we were playing were a manifestation of us feeling like kids again. We realized that even though this event was mainly for the kids, it was also a chance for us college students to put aside our worries for a while so that we could be able to participate and engage well in the event. This in turn made us think that the event was for the buddies and also the student organizers.
Towards the end of our stay in the event, we decided to sit by the amphitheater to do some further observations. In this area, most of the children were resting with their buddies and some would have their parents or guardians closely staying near them. The hosts who were at the amphitheater were consistently engaging the tired, but happy crowd. By this time, they were hyping the crowd for the arrival of their celebrity guest, the child star Mutya Orquia. Personally, we both did not know who the celebrity is but the excitement that we saw in some of the children’s faces made us realize that she is a big deal to them. We also saw some parents and guardians sitting down and having a bit of small talk with each other. From this point of the venue, we had a good view of the whole event. At one point, we were able to observe from afar the field wherein the children and their buddies play. While at another point were able to observe the children and their buddies lying across the picnic cloths put around the amphitheater itself. At this spot, we were able to synthesize all the learnings we were able to gain from participating and also observing.
The very last activity that took place was the graduation and picture taking of the children. This occurred from 3:00 in the afternoon to around 4:00. The graduation served as a sort of reward for the children for being able to survive and fight through the whole day despite the heat and despite their illness. The picture taking captures the day and all the memories within it for the families, the children, and the volunteers to keep always. This part of the event really emphasized the instillation of hope into the lives of these children because it shows them that they can still enjoy life and be normal even through the hardship of having such an illness. This part was bittersweet because the day of fun for the children and families has come to an end, but it was successful in spreading the advocacy of Kythe and in giving the children and their families a happy experience in contrast with their daily lives in the hospital.
Looking at all the activities present in the event, one could say that these things are normal things that any child would be able to experience. However, we realized that the circumstance that these children are in put them at a disadvantage since they are not able to do these things as much as normal kids could do. These simple activities are things that they would eagerly wait for and seeing the satisfied smiles on their faces is proof that these simple activities are something that they would cherish dearly. Through simple sharing and togetherness, the families, children, student organizers and volunteers were able to uphold the advocacy of Kythe and spread hope.