When I was in grade school, trying on a new pair of shoes before the school year starts, was part of a ritual that included a search for a magnetic pencil case with secret chambers for erasers that smell like chewing gum, My mother always bought me shoes from Greggâ€™s. Having this pair was like being inoculated against any foreseeable mishaps to the feet â€“ it was invincible, with leather thick and sturdy, and heels that can weather the toughest pavements or the roughest roads.
Not all Filipino children are fortunate enough to savor this pre-school year ritual. My own father once wrote that he had to borrow a pair of shoes to be able to march to his graduation and speak before his batch as school valedictorian. Too small for his feet, the borrowed shoes hurt, but not having them to wear would have bruised his soul more. I have stored this anecdote in my memory file along with so many others to remind myself of the many sacrifices he made just so we, his children, could afford a new pair of shoes when the times called for it.
This fond memory has led me to where I am, writing this column, emerging from out of my shell to join organizations with constructive goals such as One Voice and Ang Bagong Pinoy. Ang Bagong Pinoy is a global forum and movement of Filipinos who wish to help the country by promoting good citizenship. It goes by the tenets of lawyer-writer Alexander Lacson as contained in his book, â€œ12 Little Things to Help Our Countryâ€ It was with the good people of Ang Bagong Pinoy (www.angbagongpinoy.org) that I decided to test my ideas on Shoes. The encouraging response from my fellow ABP members sealed my mission. Today, â€œShoesâ€ is no longer a yearning, but a reality.
â€œShoesâ€ is the name of an initiative I have taken as president of the Blas F. Ople Policy Center and Training Institute and member of the ABP. Itâ€™s concept is really simply and immediately doable. I requested our school superintendents in Hagonoy, Bulacan to identify at least thirty school children up to first year high school who are: (1) studious; (2) well-behaved; and (3) too poor to be able to own a decent pair of shoes. These are mostly children of fishermen, market vendors, and solo parents saddled with more debts and expenses that they could manage. The gift of a new pair of shoes to these schoolchildren is the gift of hope and compassion.
A new pair of shoes for young and calloused feet from complete strangers tells these children that they are not alone in lifeâ€™s journey. It tells them that if they study hard, follow the rules, and earn their teachersâ€™ and parentsâ€™ respect, they would be able to go far, breaking through the wall of poverty and despair. Black, shiny, new shoes to wear to school, when one is poor and largely forgotten about by society, are worth more than a heap of the latest computer games and gadgets to well-off children. With every skip, step, and hop, the child takes comfort in knowing that someone out there, in the vast universe where he and his family have gone by undetected, disconnected â€“ that someone or some group noticed his or her worn-out slippers, or unshod feet and cared enough to give new shoes.
We started this initiative in my hometown of Hagonoy, Bulacan as my own humble way of honoring my fatherâ€™s memory and roots. However, some of those who have come to know about â€œShoesâ€ have expressed a desire to help with a gift of a new pair to our selected beneficiaries. Why not allow for used, secondhand shoes? The schoolchildren that we deal with are confronted with many more years of hand-me-downs, from neighbors and rich relatives and social workers and civic groups. A new pair, however, wrapped gaily in a box with a bow and card bearing the donorâ€™s name, is a gifted moment, miracle minutes of joy and amazement. There is magic with new shoes, not old ones.
By the time this column comes out, my blog would have a list of intended beneficiaries, submitted to the Ople Institute by school superintendents in poor, rural communities.
The Ople Institute is interested in tying up with shoe manufacturers with golden hearts who can supply us with good, sturdy, and school shoes for these children. I am heartened that my first few donors are overseas Filipino workers based in Hong Kong, Singapore and Saudi Arabia. Let me once again thank the members and officers of Ang Bagong Pinoy for giving me a cyber forum to discuss â€œShoesâ€ and elicit their response and suggestions on how this initiative can take off.