Filipinos' priceless question and selfless action

Filipinos' priceless question and selfless action
Pope Francis greets the crowd after celebrating mass at a park in Manila on January 18, 2015.

Two females, a 12-year-old and a 27-year-old, have become two dramatic characters who will be remembered by their fellow Filipinos for many years. One is Glyzelle Iris Palomar, a former street child, and the other is Kristel Mae Padasas, the volunteer worker killed when scaffolding blown by gusts of wind brought by Tropical Storm Amang fell on her after the Papal Mass at the Tacloban airport on Saturday.

Glyzelle and another street child, Jun Chura, 14, related their harrowing experiences while trying to survive in the streets of Metro Manila before Pope Francis and a crowd of 30,000 at the University of Santo Tomas (UST) on Sunday morning. The two had been rescued by Tulay ng Kabataan (TNK) Foundation, a church-run shelter for street children.

"Why does God allow children to suffer?" Glyzelle asked plaintively - to which the Pope had no answer. She broke down in tears and was unable to finish her story. I choke up in tears every time that scene is shown on television, as I'm sure a lot of other Filipinos also do.

That scene dramatically showed to millions of viewers the pitiful plight of homeless children trying to survive in the streets. Glyzelle and Jun were lucky to have been rescued by TNK, but there are still thousands of street children out there who live on handouts and scraps of food scavenged from garbage, sleep on sidewalks, and eventually become victims of drugs and crime.

Glyzelle's question could very well be asked of President Benigno Aquino's administration: "Why is the government allowing children to suffer?" Why, indeed?

May this heartbreaking episode prod the government, the Church and civic organisations to exert more efforts to rescue street children. TNK cannot do it alone. We need more kind-hearted organisations like it. The Department of Social Welfare and Development should try harder and put more resources into a "Save the Street Children" campaign. The youth, after all, are the future of the nation. If they are neglected, they will fall into a life of crime and drugs, and their like would be the adults of our nation in the future.

It is bad enough that many of our current leaders are already in a life of crime and corruption. Let us not add more to their ranks. Let us turn all our street children into other Glyzelle Palomars and Jun Churas. The effort and expense would be worth it.

The death of Kristel is also heartbreaking. She was a volunteer of the nongovernmental organisation Catholic Relief Services (CRS), which helped in the preparations for the Mass.

Kristel was supposed to go to her home province for the Sinulog Festival, but she postponed her homecoming and went to Tacloban to help for the Pope's visit. She travelled 128km from Salcedo, Eastern Samar, where she worked as a CRS volunteer, to Tacloban. She waited for a whole day with hundreds of thousands of other pilgrims, with little sleep amid the rain, to wait for the Pope.

Soon after Pope Francis concluded the Mass and the faithful were leaving the airport, a scaffolding supporting loudspeakers fell and crushed her to death.

I'd like to think that Kristel went straight to heaven after that.

The first thing the Pope did at the UST gathering of the youth on Sunday morning was to ask them to pray for the soul of Kristel.

Although not wealthy herself, Kristel always wanted to help the poor. She resigned as a supervisor of a call centre and volunteered to work for the CRS. Her work in Tacloban and Smokey Mountain in Tondo are just some of the charity activities she had done. She was an only child. Her mother is a domestic helper in Hong Kong.

Kristel's pictures show her as a pretty, happy young woman. She was always smiling in the photographs.

CRS information officer Jennifer Hardy said Kristel's friends remember her as "someone who loved to laugh and who was always ready

to assist outside her normal duties. She found great joy in being able to contribute to the recovery effort (in Samar and Leyte) by working directly with communities and families".

Such unselfishness and concern for those who are suffering should be emulated by our people. The government and the Church should hold Kristel up as a shining example, and should help her family. Perhaps a "Kristel Volunteer Organisation" to help those who are suffering should be established in her memory.


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