How to be a superhero
Stories portray that some superheroes are born while others are made. One thing all superheroes have in common though: they have extraordinary powers and talents that manifest during times of need.
I’m a huge fan of fantasy and fiction, but superheroes exist in our world too. In fact, I’ve met real-life superheroes. They weren’t born with powers or bitten by spiders, and unlike Bruce Wayne, they don’t have billions to spend — they simply stepped into the role. How did these people do it?
In 2012 when I was part of Kabataan News Network, UNICEF tasked us to make a documentary on the state of the children. I met Kuya Butch Nerja who works for ChildHope Asia-Philippines. He is a street educator for out-of-school youth in the Binondo and Quiapo areas. During his free time, he goes from coffee shop to coffee shop in search of pastry and bread.
“By the end of the day, these shops throw away the leftover doughnuts. So I ask if I can have them and they give it to me willingly,” he told me during the interview.
After gathering the leftovers, he distributes them to the kids he teaches. Most, if not all, have never seen the inside of these cafés.
One of my co-reporters for the story, Joseph Cataan, was inspired by Kuya Butch’s generosity. He gathered a few friends and created Little Deeds for Little Kids (LDLK), a non-profit organization that holds parties for children in shelters.
“Through each story that I have shot and written, I have seen the sad plight of millions of kids nationwide, so I asked myself, ‘What can I do for them given what I have?’” said Cataan.
“I thought, ‘why not a single day of joy for them?’”
Last December, LDLK participated in a Christmas party for displaced Yolanda survivors staying at the Fabella Center in Mandaluyong. The party was coordinated with the help of my own mother, Tina Manipis. Instead of celebrating her 50th birthday in a fancy restaurant, she focused her energies to organizing a party for children instead.
She said that she decided to do this because it might help the survivors recuperate from their trauma.
“It was Christmas and they were expecting to have a Christmas party. Having a celebration will let them feel grounded again,” she told me.
You don’t even need to be a grown-up to help others. I realized that when my younger brother Nicko told me that some of his friends from high school are building libraries.
A friend he met through his school’s interaction program is Arizza Ann Sahi-Nocum, then a student at the Philippine Science High School and now an engineering student at the University of the Philippines, Diliman.
Nocum is the administrator of the Kristiyano-Islam Peace Library, which was set up by her father Armand Nocum and her mother Annora. The differences in religion between her parents — her father a Roman Catholic and her mother a Muslim — was a big factor in establishing the peace library in rebel hotspots in Mindanao. The Nocum family started this endeavor in 2001 and has since built seven libraries all over the country.
Another friend of my brother has also established several reading rooms. Anne Mimille Guzman, a marketing and humanities student at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and her family have set up House of Treasures, a support group inside the cancer ward of one of the country’s biggest public hospitals.
Guzman and her family visit the hospital weekly and through House of Treasures, give art therapy/workshops, storytelling sessions, and feeding programs every Thursday and Friday when the children wait for their chemotherapy sessions.
A graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts, Guzman published a children’s book and used her earnings to fund programs in the Cancer Institute of the Philippines of the Philippine General Hospital.
“We recognize the power of art and words to provide a safe haven for the children in the cancer ward,” said Guzman.
“We wanted to give them a place where they can forget about their sickness even for a moment and just live out their childhood.”
Aside from imparting knowledge through books, another way of reaching out to people is through writing. One of my mentors is Ana Santos, now a columnist for Rappler and regular speaker at health conferences. She established her own website, SexandSensibilities.com, to change the way sex is talked about in the Philippines.
Santos said that for a country so conservative, there is a certain ubiquity of sex marked by motel ads in streets. Most of the articles written about sex are either titillating or very clinical and scary, especially those about sexually transmitted infections.
“There needed to be a middle ground on the topic; one that is reflective of the need for proper, nonjudgmental information about sex that will help us make informed decisions about healthy relationships and birth control,” Santos said.
“This is sex for the real, average Filipina who is looking for info on navigating relationships and planning her life. I always say we look at sexual health as two separate words when it is in fact just one word.”
Through the articles in her website, Santos hopes to convey the message that reproductive health is a right and that empowerment can be obtained through information about sexual health and choices.
I met Kip Oebanda during a speaking engagement and we’ve been friends since. A debate coach and fan of international films, Oebanda has traveled the world since he was 13 to speak about human trafficking and human rights.
His parents founded the Visayan Forum Foundation Inc., an organization that has been rescuing potential victims of human trafficking since 1991. Oebanda became the group’s spokesperson in international conferences, delivering his message in front of different audiences. Just some of the places where he made his speech include the Skoll World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship in Oxford University and at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva and New York.
“Most of my talks are about my work in human trafficking. I hope that it will encourage them to speak about the issue, report suspected cases and be vigilant,” said Oebanda.
My friends from Mulat Pinoy are doing a similar deed: for several years now, one of their projects has been to go around different schools in the country, including Siliman University and Northwestern University, to teach high school and college students about population and development issues.
Dante Gagelonia, editorial coordinator of Mulat Pinoy, said that while topics of interest differ for each place they visit, the students remain participative.
“During Mulat Pinoy’s seminars and forums, participants are usually enthusiastic and happy to have the opportunity to air their questions. There aren’t a lot of venues where young people can openly ask about potentially sensitive topics,” said Gagelonia.
“Mulat Pinoy would like to impart two core ideas to young people: making responsible life choices, and the value of informed choice.”
I’m sure that other people also know friends or acquaintances who are doing selfless acts. They all deserve recognition for their efforts in helping the world in the ways they know how.
While some people are off to help others in need, some are doing the same thing by helping themselves. In my work as a journalist and volunteer for different groups, I’ve met people who have survived abuse and trauma.
To say that their stories of endurance and resilience are inspiring is an understatement.
Just several days before New Year’s eve of 2014, my friends from the Heritage Conservation Society-Youth, headed by Clara Buenconsejo and her mother Malou, organized an Intramuros and Manila walking tour for the students of UP Tacloban who are currently staying in Diliman.
We were briefed before the tour not to ask probing questions to the students, especially if it’s about their experiences during the typhoon.
My fellow volunteers and I were cautious during the tour and we were pleasantly surprised to find the students cheerful. Some of them even joked about the tremendous amount of food they ate during Christmas, most of which were donations by UP alumni.
As the day ended by Manila bay, one of the students asked to stop so she could view the sunset.
“The sea is so near the beautiful buildings in your city,” she told us in Filipino.
Looking at the families and couples who surrounded us, she proceeded to tell us that she was overwhelmed with the population of Manila.
“It’s true that there are so many people here. If Yolanda had hit Manila, more people would have died,” she said.
“That’s why it’s a good thing it happened to us instead of here. Less people have died and fewer buildings have been destroyed.”
A strong and understanding heart, after all, is the first thing a superhero needs.