Challenged books in libraries

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on April 7, 2021

Dr. Seuss’ books are highlighted for Read Across America Day on March 2nd, which also coincides with the author’s birthday. His beloved books such as Cat in the Hat, Oh! The Places You’ll Go!, and Fox in Socks are read in millions of classrooms and bedrooms all over the world. This year, the late author made international headlines when Dr. Seuss Enterprises took proactive action and announced that they were discontinuing six of the titles for racist and insensitive imagery. The six titles are And To Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street, If I Ran the Zoo, McElligot’s Pool, On Beyond Zebra, Scrambled Eggs Super!, and The Cat’s Quizzer.

I do not remember reading these titles when I was a young student, so I decided to check out these books from our school library to read them myself. The illustrations in question, instantly recognizable in Dr. Seuss’ unique style, were reflections of the era they were written in. What was acceptable then has changed now. In today’s diverse reading landscape when the need to be sensitive to hot button issues is paramount, these images can be easily interpreted as disrespectful and, indeed, racist.

The announcement caused an immediate revival of interest in his books. The day after the announcement, USA Today reported that six of his titles took the Top 10 spots of the USA Today’s Bestseller List. While none of the current bestsellers are those that are planned to be discontinued, they emphasize the fact that the quickest way to whet students’ or public’s reading appetite is to place a title or an author on a censored or challenged book list. It is the allure of the forbidden. According to the American Library Association, eight of the 2019 Top 10 Most Challenged Books were questioned for LGBTQIA+ content. The two other challenged titles that round up the top 10 are The Handmaid’s Tale and the Harry Potter series, books that are considered pop culture phenomena and global multimedia blockbusters.

A third of the challenges to books were made by parents. The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that exposure to violence not only in books but in other forms of media contributes to aggression in children. Given this backdrop, what can parents do to ensure their children continue to read? How can we help nurture and develop habits of reading for learning, pleasure, and leisure? This task requires a fine balance. When Filipino students are at the bottom of PISA reading assessments, the need to read is more critical than ever. On one hand, parents will need to read with their children or monitor what they read. Engage them in thoughtful conversations on sensitive topics so that they can help shape their children’s mindset. Libraries will have books that may be considered offensive, but this does not mean that young children need to read them. This is where parental control comes in. Schools have approved lists of books for study to enable students to see multiple viewpoints and become critical thinkers. On the other hand, we need to let students read on topics of personal interest. Let them explore various genres of literature. It is one of the effective ways to develop a lifelong love of reading. Books engage students to safely discover different ways of thinking, travel to distant lands, help them learn from the past, and encourage them to create new ideas.

Lessons of history show that trends and preferences ebb and flow with the times. Will challenged books be once again acceptable? We will have to wait and see.

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Success in France: Cherry Dadula Darcourt

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on April 25, 2021

One successful young entrepreneur who knew what she wanted early in life is Cherry Dadula Darcourt. She is currently making waves with her Filipino foods in her adopted hometown of Lherm, south of France.

Cherry is successful in a discerning community that takes pride in its French cuisine and has stiff competition from Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. “My bestsellers are lumpia, mango float, and leche flan,” Cherry began. “They also love the sweet and tart combination of the pork adobo.”

“My earliest memory of cooking is when I was between four- and five-years old,” Cherry shared. She was a military brat, moving with the family to follow her father who was in the Philippine Army and stationed all over the Philippines.

Army families took care of each other in military bases. Her mother taught her how to cook and her aunts helped take care of her and her siblings. When she started going to school, they made kakanin like puto and ice candy to sell to her friends and classmates.

Cherry’s dad was assigned to Tacloban City for 11 years. She decided to pursue her passion in cooking and took up Culinary Arts and Service Technology at JE Mondejar Computer College, completing the program in three years.

While working in the food service industry, she was swept off her feet by Frenchman Guillaume while he was on vacation in the Philippines. They were married in France in 2015.

She quickly adjusted to married life, a new country, and a new language. She met some Filipinas in the community and bonded with them by inviting them to her home and cooking Filipino foods. Her skinless longganiza was an instant hit with her new friends who encouraged her to start a food business at home.

Cherry started Mayela’s Kitchen in 2016 with one product: the skinless longganiza. Her husband’s family gave her their full support and helped her pass the strict French standards to get the health and business permits in order to operate an online home business.

Named after her first-born daughter, Mayela’s Kitchen is growing steadily each year. She added more products to her menu such as chorizo, daing na bangus, gourmet tuyo, and gourmet bangus tinapa. Her customers come from all parts of Europe, and her products have even reached the United States. After the birth of her son, she expanded into catering for all occasions.

She attributes her success to the support of her family and the wise words of one of her culinary arts teachers in Mondejar College. According to Cherry, “Mrs. Lacaba was very supportive of her students and she gave one particular advice that I will never forget – cook with our hearts in order to get the flavors right.”

Her advice to Warays looking to go into the Filipino food business abroad: “Never compromise the quality of your food. Be authentic and use only Filipino ingredients even if they are more expensive to use.”

She uses only Philippine mangoes and graham crackers for one of her bestsellers. Her customers are loyal and places regular orders due to the consistency of her products and foods.

The next step for Cherry is to open her own restaurant soon. With her strong work ethic and her love of Filipino foods, we can expect her restaurant to reaffirm her success with the online food business.

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Success in The Netherlands: Minerva and May Ayuste

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on May 4, 2021

Food is the centerpiece of any Filipino gathering. Priceless memories are made sitting around the table, talking to friends and family while getting their fill of lechon, adobo, and pancit, among others. On a normal day, it is typical to start our day with a steaming cup of coffee and pan de sal freshly baked by the neighborhood bakery. It is no wonder that a 2018 CNN Philippines’ article listed food as the first thing that Filipinos miss the most while living overseas.

Minerva and May Ayuste cater to this nostalgia for Filipino foods and breads in their adopted city of Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Customers cannot get enough of the pan de regla, Spanish bread, pan de coco, and hopia. Their bestseller is the sampler Filipino Breads in a Box that includes cheese de sal, regular pan de sal, and kalihim.

One could say that Minerva and May Ayuste were born to baking. The twins hail from Tunga, Leyte where they were involved in the family business, Ayuste Bakery. They would wake up at 2:00 AM to help make and package coco bar, chicharon carabao, and cookies that they sold in Carigara at 7:00 AM before going to school at 8:00 AM. After school, they would quickly change clothes to wrap more breads until 11:00 PM. “Our teachers would ask Mother Violeta what we did at night because we were always asleep at school!” Minerva and May recalled with amusement.

Their experiences at the family bakery instilled in them the value of hard work. After completing her technical degree, Minerva pursued her dream of working in Europe in 2001, working as an au pair for a Dutch host family. A year later, her chemical engineer sister May was petitioned by the same family. After just three years, both sisters received their Dutch citizenship and have settled in Veendem and Amsterdam.

It was May who revived her interest in baking first by making wedding cakes as a hobby 18 years ago. Minerva followed with a cake for her daughter’s birthday. Her Filipino and Dutch friends liked her cake and she started building a loyal client base for all-occasion cakes.

The sisters decided to join forces and established Twin Bakery in Amsterdam ( Aside from their now famous breads, they offer the 90-Day Keto Challenge where the special diet is made fresh and delivered to customers. They also provide catering services for all occasions; they catered for 350 people at their latest event.

Even with their full schedules, they still have the time and energy to pursue their personal passions. Minerva is a dedicated runner and one of the founders of Pinoy Runners Global with 4,200 members. She also established Pinoy Runners PH with 3,200 runners and counting. She is completing the Abbot World Marathon Majors and finished Berlin, Chicago, London, and New York right before the pandemic happened. She ran the New York Marathon for charity and raised 6,500 euros. May was influenced to run and consider Minerva as her chief motivator.

What are the next steps for Twin Bakery and the twins? May answered, “we are now supplying restaurants in The Netherlands with red velvet cookies for their dessert menu, and Asian stores with Filipino breads and pastries. Our goal is to open a one-stop shop.” She added, “It’s funny how life went full circle. When we were growing up, we were helping our parents pack baked goods. Now it is our parents helping us here in Amsterdam pack the products for our customers.”

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Success in Jordan: Luciana Malbeso Obejas

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on May 20, 2021

When Luciana Obejas arrived in Jordan to begin her two-year contract as an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in 2004, she was unsure about what awaited her. “Working overseas is like a gamble. You don’t know what you will find in the country; you don’t know if you will have a good employer or if the work is actually what was advertised by the agency,” she began. “My only weapon was prayer. I always prayed the Rosary so that I can be guided by God. I believed it was His will for me to be here,” she continued. Her gamble paid off. She found success as a labor relations leader in the Middle East.

Fast forward 16 years later, Luciana can now look back with satisfaction at the impact of her advocacy on improving the lives and working conditions of thousands of OFWs in the capital city of Amman and the rest of Jordan. As a Political Science graduate of Divine Word University of Tacloban and Bachelor of Laws at the Dr. Vicente Orestes Romualdez Educational Foundation (DVOREF) College of Law, she educated fellow OFWs on their rights both as individuals and as workers of the Kafalah system or through sponsorship.

She witnessed many of them abused, silenced, or imprisoned. She saw them running away, as their employers are filing suit against them for theft. OFWs are getting deported. To protect them, she advised them not to run away but to report immediately to the Philippine Embassy in Amman or the Polo/Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA). Through her campaign, she helped unite Filipinos, improved workplace rights, and organized a community to celebrate Filipino traditions and festivals.

A chance meeting with an OWWA employee after Mass led her to organize the church-based Female Association Community Excellence (FACE) in 2006. She organized workshops and helped Filipinos to connect with the Philippine Embassy and invited them to become members of Social Security System (SSS), Pag-IBIG, and get a Philippine ID. Filipino workers then only had one hour free time to be able to go to church.

In 2008, she became a founding member and was elected secretary of the Federation of Filipino Organization (FIL-ORG), an umbrella of 18 different organizations. She served in this capacity until 2012 when the group splintered into two organizations. She separated in 2013 and organized the Federation of Filipino Associations (FEFAA) and became its president.

Her goal to uplift the OFW conditions by educating them and improving their work opportunities led to FEFAA establishing the caregiver training program under her leadership. Luciana personally negotiated with the Specialty Hospital Training Center in Amman to offer the program at a low cost to Filipino domestic workers. The Caregiver program was an instant success. As the volunteer program coordinator, she oversees the six-month training and the 40 hours on the job training. Students attend every Friday afternoon during their day off. She recently graduated her sixth batch of caregivers that included Indonesians, Kenyans, and Jordanians. FEFAA also organizes sports events every Friday such as volleyball, basketball, and bowling that anywhere between 100-300 Filipinos would usually participate in.

During the lockdown period at the onset of the global pandemic, many migrant workers lost their sources of income and had little to no access to essentials such as food and medicine. As soon as the government eased their lockdown restrictions, they distributed approximately 650 relief goods to the affected workers. They also helped OFWs infected with COVID-19 by distributing food and medicine and reminding them to isolate themselves for the protection and welfare of the other OFWs they shared their apartments with. She was a front liner of the Philippine Embassy in distributing 3,000 relief goods and a signatory to attest 2,500 qualified OFWs out of 5,000 applicants for the DOLE-AKAP Financial Assistance Program.

Luciana honed her leadership skills at a young age. She was the barangay secretary of Sto. Nino in Tanauan, Leyte; president of Sto. Nino Women’s Club, and public relations officer of Tanauan Women’s Club. She juggled her civic responsibilities with work duties at Pepsi-Cola Bottlers in Tanauan and ballroom dance instructor—her work on the side—at the Don Tipo Function Hall of JE Mondejar Computer College in Tacloban City.

Several organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) in the Middle East took notice of Luciana’s strength as a community leader. She was elected regional treasurer of MEANFID Middle East and African Network of Filipino Diaspora on February 2016 in Dubai; a delegate to the 13th AWID International Forum in Bahia, Brazil on September 2016; a delegate to the International Training Center under the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Turins, Italy in 2017; a panelist during the International Labor Day, representing migrant workers, hosted by ILO Beirut in June 2019, and currently the president of MEANFID Jordan chapter. Luciana provided testimony in support of the Philippine Senate bill on the creation of the Department of Overseas Filipino authored by Senator Bong Go.

Luciana is also very artistic. She choreographed the FEFAA presentation in 2016 and Pintados Festival in 2018 during the Paskong Pinoy sa Jordan aired on The Filipino Channel. She designed the gown made of plastic bottles that won the grand prize of the Obra Basura competition.

She was recently nominated by the Philippine Embassy in Amman for the prestigious Presidential Awards for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas held in Malacanang in recognition for her work with Filipino migrant workers. She plans to continue her community leadership and hopes that her actions have a lasting, positive impact on the society at large. According to her, “helping others increases my overall life satisfaction and helps me feel good about myself knowing I helped others.”

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Success in the USA: Kim Cordeta Hudec

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on June 6, 2021

Kim Cordeta Hudec has achieved a rare kind of success in the glamorous and competitive world of pageantry in the United States of America. She is the only beauty queen to date to win three major titles in one year: Miss LA Pride, Miss Queen USA, and Miss Queen Universe in 2014. Watching her competition videos, it was easy to see how her stage presence, intelligence, and beauty captivated the judges and audiences to become the ideal in the international transgender community. success did not come easy. In a 2016 interview for This is Life with Lisa Ling, Kim admitted that she always dreamed to be a beauty queen for as far as she can remember. Born as Mark Eric Cordeta, Kim struggled with internal conflict and meeting the expectations of her conservative family. “In Tacloban, I wasn’t really that open. My grandfather was a general, my uncle was a priest,” she shared.

Her mother would take her to Tismo Mart where Kim chose Care Bears and stationery as her reward for earning top honors at school. “I was always like this even at six years old. They knew I was different and they always called my attention. I felt like I was scolded,” she continued. “My mom knew already and tolerated it.” Still, the expectations built a formidable impression in her young mind that she did not want her family to be embarrassed. She resolved to make them proud by doing well at school and in whatever she did in life.

She also began to live a double life. “I was pretending at school. Our neighbors knew I was different but at school they knew me as a normal person.” She was an academic achiever and a popular figure in school politics. She gained lots of friends, but she mostly hung out with females. “They would always ask me if I am gay, but I never admitted,” Kim recalled. She was active in barangay politics as the SK chairman of PHHC mountainside.

At 16, Kim was the youngest ballroom dance instructor at Leyte Park Hotel. With her mom’s blessing as the hotel manager, she maintained a grueling schedule by working every night from 7 p.m. – 2 a.m. and being at school by 7 a.m. The pay was great that she was tempted to stop studying Nursing and switching to Computer Science to have a more stable school schedule and earn more money.

Her mom stopped her. According to Kim, “My mom said no. Finish Nursing first and then I can dance as much as I want.” Kim listened to her mom and graduated as one of two awardees for academic excellence. The mothers of her fellow graduates were her ballroom dancing clients. They were surprised that she was studying all this time while working.

She began to be more comfortable with herself while in college surrounded by her friends, but it was still different with her family. “I was formal and I did not joke around with my family. I hung out with my friends but would hide when I saw my mother’s and uncle’s friends.” In retrospect, Kim was ashamed that she was associating with these kinds of friends without realizing that this was who she was.

Kim moved to the US in 2001 where she took and passed the nursing board exams. She also met new friends and came to a self-realization. People were open about things. She finally felt free and started transitioning in 2003. “At first, I did not know how it worked here. All I knew was that deep inside me, this was me.” Colleagues at the hospital began noticing her transition process. and made rude comments like “Oh, ano ang ipinagawa mo? Bakit ang ganda mo?”

She started feeling harassed with all the insensitive questions until finally her manager advised her to inform the management formally of the process she was going through. The hospital supported her, and gender sensitivity training is now an annual requirement for employees.

Throughout the whole process, her parents gave her their full support. Her father was concerned about her safety. According to Kim, “My mother said, naku, I knew even then. You don’t even have to explain. You have a good heart. You are helpful and stable. What else? You just have to be strong. People might not accept you.”

Yet she did find acceptance, and love. She met Czech-born Marco Hudec and they were married in 2013. Marco is a fitness model, personal trainer, and competitive body builder. He also reignited Kim’s childhood dream to be a beauty queen. She was invited to join Miss LA Pride but she was unsure about herself. Hollywood makeup artist and beauty queen maker Tuesday Drew took Kim under her wings, doing her hair and makeup and taking charge of the gowns.

Kim competed in 2014 and could not believe she won on her first try beating Latinas, Asians, and other white competitors. Other beauty pageant organizers came knocking on her door, inviting her to join other beauty pageants. Marco and her friends encouraged her to join Miss Queen USA, a bigger stage with more contestants and seasoned pageant participants coming from different states. She triumphed again.

With two wins in a row, it was inevitable that she was invited to join Miss Queen Universe, the most prestigious transgender beauty pageant in the United States. My mentor Tuesday said, “this is it!” Kim and Tuesday worked closely together to prepare for the pageant. “The Latinas were very intimidating. They really made the effort in the competitions.” Little did they know that her edge was in the critical question and answer portion. Kim won as Miss Queen Universe in 2014, claiming three titles and achieving grand slam status. When she won her third title, transgender beauty queens from around the world reached out and she was able to establish her network of connections and charity programs.

“I owe this to Tuesday. She was my mentor and she shared her expert guidance. I respected her decisions,” Kim said humbly. Marco also played a big part in her success. “He believed in me more than I believed in myself. He is my number one fan.” She was the USA representative to Miss International Queen 2016 in Thailand. She was an early favorite and her journey documented by no less than Lisa Ling for her CNN show. Miss Thailand won, but she was happy she gained so many friends and learned many valuable experiences.

Kim is finally comfortable in her own skin and has no more anxiety or stress. She continues to focus on her work as a registered nurse while exploring acting opportunities in Hollywood. She has not forgotten about the struggles she went through and aims to give back and support young people. She and Marco organize fundraisers and sponsor feeding programs for underprivileged children in Leyte and Samar.

She shared an important piece of advice for young people who are still trying to discover their true selves. “Self-discovery should be experienced without time constraints. Learn and let nature take its course. Enjoy the journey as it leads to one’s truth and happiness.”

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Success in Guam: Lino “Bong” Radam

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on June 15, 2021

The starting gates open and anywhere between 22-30 big bikes immediately shoot out to tackle jumps, hills, and berms. Each rider’s focus is absolute in order to deal with rough terrain that can get rutted in the middle of a race, and skill comes into play to avoid getting roosted by competition.

Welcome to the world of Yamaha brand ambassador and professional motocross rider Lino “Bong” Radam, the only Filipino participating in the ongoing 2021 Monster Energy Guam Motocross Championship.

Motocross racing is considered as one of the most physically demanding sports in the world. Danger is a constant when traveling at a high speed executing whoops and jumps, but it is this unpredictability that makes the sport so attractive. For Bong, he loves the feeling of being in control suspended in midair. With over 100 races completed and counting, he already knows what works for him in every competition: experience, continuous training, and confidence.

Bong’s interest in motocross racing began in high school. “I was the quiet person just reading and drawing,” he began. He saw sports legends Jovy Saulog and Glen Aguilar in a motocross race in Tacloban City and was immediately hooked. He watched races any chance he got and dreamed of racing one day.

He got his chance when he moved to Guam to work for his aunt and run the warehouse operations of the Levi’s brand. One of the Levi’s distributors also owned the Yamaha shop on the American territory. When RPM Yamaha found out that Bong was looking for a bike, they gave him a Yamaha 2000 YZ125CC. Bong became a member of the Guam International Racing Motorcycle Association and started racing in 1997.

Bong moved to San Francisco to become the distribution manager for one of the biggest furniture companies in the US. He also started a family and had a daughter who is now 21 years old. He continued racing and finished second overall at the famous OTHG race series in 2010, drawing attention to the Filipino talent in the series. He accepted invitations to several other races in the US, his skill and showmanship further cementing his reputation on the dirt track.

But just like the uneven landscape in motocross racing, Bong’s life also had its ups and downs. He broke his wrist in a training session in 2014. Bong recalled, “that’s when I slowed down. I got separated and went through divorce. It was a hard time.” He wanted to go back to racing but it was not the right time. He turned his attention to family and his hometown. “The idea of giving back to Tacloban has always been on my mind. My father became sick and asked me to manage our property in La Paz.” Bong returned to Tacloban City to help his mother who dealt with cancer until she passed away.

Bong’s motocross success reached the local media. “They wanted to interview me and see me race.” He organized a race in Dulag to promote the sport. He was invited to become the brand ambassador of Vino de Coco and promoted the local wine during competitions in Bulacan, Manila, and Iloilo. He recalled a dilemma when he was invited to race in Manila but his bike was still in Iloilo. The organizers solved the problem by letting him use the bike of actor Sam Milby so he can compete.

Bong competed in the inaugural race when motocross racing was added as an Olympic sport in the Philippines in 2014. He returned to professional racing when he moved back to Guam in 2019. He also regained his role as the Yamaha brand ambassador with RPM Yamaha providing him the 2021 YZ 450F for the racing season.

Bong maintained the strict discipline required for the sport even while he was on hiatus, so it was easy to regain the fitness. As a single man, he rarely hangs out with friends or spends late nights. He neither smokes nor drinks. This is not to say that he has no other hobbies or interests. He is a Sikaran black belter and a talented illustrator. He is also the lead singer for the alternative band Merge Left that performs at Hard Rock and other clubs in Guam.

The growing popularity of the sport encouraged Bong to share what he learned and do his part in providing opportunities for interested hobbyists and future pros. He plans to develop a motocross facility on his family’s property in La Paz. “I want it to be a place where races and practices can be held,” he explained.

After all, his plan is in line with the most important pieces of advice he can give to young people: “Train and learn motocross with patience. Find a good motocross facility and hire a riding coach. Wearing proper gear is very important.” Very wise words from an accomplished rider and a proud Waray.

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Starting a hobby during the pandemic

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on July 1, 2021

We can look at lockdowns and quarantines either positively or negatively. As an optimist, I look at these times as opportunities to rest and be safe as we ride out one of the most unsettling periods in modern history. On the other hand, it is difficult to ignore the impact of the global pandemic on our daily lives. It is the cause of unemployment, business downsizing or shutdowns, and a general uncertainty for the future. Family members, especially those living and working overseas, are unable to travel to the Philippines to be with their loved ones. Events, while still happening, are organized with modifications and limitations.

We cannot go against local and international laws restricting movement, but we can continue to stay connected and productive within the limited confines of our places. With the help of the internet, people are busy with online businesses as their way to replace lost income. Students are working on the requirements for their continuing education. Others keep in touch with family and friends through various social media platforms and apps.

We also need to think about hobbies for our mental health and select self-care activities to help us our brains stay productive and cope with the physical, social, and emotional isolation. In her Bizwomen article, Anne Stych listed reading (61%), followed by baking or cooking (36%), gardening (30%), meditation (29%) and writing (26%) as the most popular hobbies Americans started during the pandemic.

In the Philippines, CNN Philippines reported that collecting items like toys have surged in popularity among Filipinos. All these activities do not necessarily need the internet to get started too.

Coloring books are also becoming popular and have even been listed in bestseller lists. We all remember coloring at school as one of the more pleasurable learning tasks in the classroom. While the educational purpose was to develop our gross and fine motor skills, we also discovered the visual effect and beauty of color combinations.

We figured out how much pressure to put on crayons to deliver the perfect hue for our drawings and to stay within the lines. It kept us occupied and safe while parents continued with household chores or do other things. It is no wonder then that restaurants have coloring sheets and crayons available for young patrons.

Coloring for adults is a healthy hobby with similar benefits that reading, baking or gardening provides us. According to Cleveland Clinic, there are three reasons why coloring is good for us. It is meditative, relaxing, and pleasurable. Coloring relaxes the amygdala in our brain, quieting our minds and soothing our anxieties. It trains our brains to focus and be engaged in the present.

While this used to be a solitary activity, coloring is also fast becoming a social activity. People are meeting online and in person to color together and chat at the same time.The beauty of coloring is that we don’t have to be talented artists to enjoy this hobby.

With a coloring book and a set of colored pencils, we can easily have hours of peace and mindfulness anytime of the day. With everything the world is going through right now, we need hobbies like coloring to bring comfort and normalcy to our daily lives.

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Success in Belgium: Theresa Gloria

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on July 16, 2021

The super typhoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) was one of the most devastating typhoons ever recorded when it ravaged Leyte and Samar in 2013. According to the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), 6,300 people were killed, 1,062 were missing, and 28,688 were injured. Tacloban City was reduced almost to a rubble, the survivors unable to access basic services. The images shown on international news reports activated relief efforts by local, national, and international organizations. The tragedy also spurred people and groups to band together and organize donations to their extended families and hometowns.

Theresa Gloria was then living in The Netherlands and was one of those individuals horrified to see fellow Warays screaming for help on television news reports. She was so moved by what she saw that she started crying. Her son heard her crying and came out of his room to comfort her. “It’s okay mama. It’s going to be okay,” Theresa can still vividly recall what her son said to her that moment. Her son went back to his bedroom and came back with his coin savings. “Here mama, you can give this to the children, to the people of the Philippines.” She was touched by her son’s generous gesture and it gave her the idea to post a shout-out on Facebook asking for relief goods. To her surprise, her post went viral.

Donations came pouring in from The Netherlands, Luxembourg, Belgium, and Germany. One company donated 5,000 carton boxes. Her home was soon filled with donation boxes that friends offered her the use of their warehouse. A team of more than 300 volunteers surrounded her out of which a dozen leaders worked to sort and pack clothing, food, water, soap, medicines, toys and shoes to ensure the success of the operation. Theresa provided leadership and coordination with this great team while at the same time negotiating with road, sea, and air transport companies. She was grateful for the team’s assistance as well as the donors and volunteers. She was interviewed by Dutch television and radio stations. Theresa’s post resulted in four 20-foot containers hauled for free by TNT and shipped by a Dutch shipping company to the Philippines.

The relief drive was extremely successful but it somehow took a toll on her. It consumed so much of her time and money that she missed her home mortgage for three months. Looking back, Theresa does not regret any of the actions she made knowing that she was able to help her kababayans in their time of need. She knows the importance of support to weather the literal and figurative storms and typhoons in people’s lives.

Theresa was born in Palo, Leyte and finished high school at St. Mary’s Academy. Her mom died shortly after her graduation. Her dad brought her to live with her aunt who was married to an American, living in Angeles City, Pampanga. Her older sister helped her get her first job at the hospital in Clark Air Base. She paid for her college studies with the money she earned. She then transferred to work at the American Legion Post 123. She met a Dutch restaurateur who would become her husband shortly thereafter. Mount Pinatubo blew and closed the two American bases, affecting the local economies depending on the American dollar. Her husband’s restaurant business suffered and they made the decision to go home to Arnhem in The Netherlands in 1992.

Theresa wanted to send money home to her family, a deeply ingrained Filipino tradition of grown children financially supporting parents and family members. She took this as a challenge to work and be independent in her adopted country. She enrolled in the Dutch language course and registered with an interim agency to be considered for job opportunities leading to a contract. She immediately found work, starting as a dishwasher at a company restaurant due to the language barrier. With her work ethic and perseverance, she rose to become the manager of the company restaurant of ABN AMRO’s regional office in Arnhem. She became a Dutch citizen within three years. She took a leave of absence when she became pregnant and decided not to come back to care for her son. She needed to make money even while at home so she bravely ventured into the balikbayan box business even without experience. She was successful at her business venture but looked for a better opportunity.

At this time, her marriage showed signs of difficulties. Her husband was mostly absent due to work and they became estranged over time. The decision to divorce was inevitable and the separation period affected her deeply. Theresa bravely faced her new future by keeping herself busy. Her natural flair for business propelled the success of her next venture, a day care center. She also found happiness again with a new life partner. They decided to move over the border to Genk, Belgium. Her partner asked her to lend a helping hand with the building’s restaurant that needed upgrading. She took responsibility for the turnaround and then managed the company restaurant over several years. She then began to plan her next move carefully.

Understanding the need to diversify as the key to sustained success, she established her own company Easy Care. Easy Care’s Helping Hand division aims to connect kababayans and other Europeans with clients mostly from within the domestic market segment needing house cleaning, babysitting, housekeeping, and gardening services. This allowed for a broad range of services in and outside the house to be delivered through automatic bookings and payments through her website. She currently has more than 500 workers on her database for her test market Luxembourg. She is planning to initiate a social media campaign to attract more workers across all of Europe to apply and become members of the Easy Care European community. She also plans to expand her field of operation to include nurses and caregivers.

She is inspired by the challenges to build a sustainable and responsible business model that has a twin focus: Help hardworking kababayans to find an opportunity to earn extra money, AND to assist those who want to develop their capabilities by providing educational and coaching opportunities to achieve their goals. “It has to be win-win. It is important that I add a social responsibility component to my business initiative. It is the justification for our reason to exist,” she explained.

Theresa has no plans to stop. Her motto is a quote of Maya Angelou, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” She shared, “there are so many things I still want to do. I am into public speaking. I want to lead people and help people. Let’s see where life takes me.”

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True grit

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on August 6, 2021

The whole country is celebrating the success of weightlifter Hidilyn Diaz who made Philippine history by winning the country’s first ever gold at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. I had goosebumps watching the video clip of her third lift attempt that clinched her victory.

Her incredible accomplishment at the Tokyo Olympics was the result of all the hardships and sacrifices she made in order to achieve her lifelong dream. It was not an easy road to sports immortality for Ms. Diaz. Yes, she had the talent that won her the silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics but she had something more than ability that won her the gold medal this time around. She conquered her humble beginnings and gave her family a better life while staying committed to the rigorous training schedule, came home empty handed in two previous Olympic participations, dealt with the lack of funding for training and the red tagging, and disproved the doubts of people around her. She could have finished her Olympic career with the silver medal but she continued to stay, hungry for more. She has the true grit of a champion.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Beauty queen Pia Wurtzbach also exhibited grit when she joined Binibining Pilipinas twice before finally bagging the top title on her third try and made history as the third Miss Universe of the country. Grit is what makes us focus on the small and big goals in our lives despite setbacks and life events. It is using the power of defeat and barriers to be better and become stronger. Do you want to find out if you have grit? Take psychologist Angela Duckworth’s free Grit Scale test online to determine what’s your score against American adults in a recent study. Can we teach grit in our students or learn it ourselves? Yes, we can and we should.

Dr. Duckworth’s studies showed that grit matters more to a student’s success than ability, intelligence, and grades. She found that grit is a stable predictor of adult success. She discovered that spelling bee champions were not smarter than the other competitors, but they worked harder and longer. Some children are instinctively grittier but educators can design the learning environment so that all students develop grit through perseverance, work ethic, and a growth mindset. Dr. Jennifer Bashant conducted a study on how to develop grit in our students and referenced a 2014 study where schools explicitly taught grit and growth mindset through teacher modeling, use of a common terminology, and the acknowledgment that students are in control of their character development. Students were also given opportunities to question authority and engage in social issues in the community.

As adults, we can take on a new challenge or make a new goal and adjust strategies when faced with problems but never the goal. Find a mentor who can give advice, or a person who inspires you with his or her success. It is never too late to develop grit. Hidilyn Diaz and Pia Wurtzbach showed us we can achieve our dreams if we put our minds and hearts to it.

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Are we taller yet?

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on August 24, 2021

The Miss Universe Philippines fever is heating up with the announcement of the top 50 delegates last Sunday. The MUP organization itself made the news when it removed the height requirement for its candidates this year. In a similar move, President Duterte signed Republic Act 11549 last May, lowering the height minimum requirements for applicants of the Philippine National Police, Bureau of Fire Protection, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology, and Bureau of Corrections.

The change in height requirements brings hope to shorter though equally beautiful and talented aspirants of the most prestigious beauty pageant in the country, and opens the door wider to a bigger pool of candidates for careers in law enforcement. It does provoke the question: have we become shorter?

Results of the study A Century of Trends in Adult Human Height compared the heights of 18-year olds between 1896 and 1996. The average heights of Filipino males increased by two inches to 5ft 3in and Filipino females by one inch to 4ft 9in.

In 2019, INSIDER examined the height data from the medical database of a project run by Imperial College London. The database showed growth with our men averaging 5ft 4.25in and our women 4ft 10.89in. While Filipinos averaged a three-inch growth over a period of 123 years, we rank fifth in the INSIDER’S list of the countries with the shortest people in the world behind Guatemala, Madagascar, Laos, and Timor-Leste. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the Netherlands recorded almost eight inches of height improvement over a period of 200 years, with the top countries averaging four inches of growth over a century.

According to Dr. Eirini Marouli, lecturer in Computational Biology at Queen Mary University of London, a person’s height is determined by genes, but different environments and lifestyle improvements also play important roles. Diet choice is a lifestyle improvement that can make an impact on how tall our children can be. Roser, Appel, and Ritchie’s study updated in 2019 on Human Height found that high consumption of milk has been linked to the tallness of Dutch people. Grasgruber’s earlier research in 2014 also showed that the consumption of animal-based protein such as egg, milk, and beef in high-income countries is the clearest predictor of male height.

As educators, we can help promote the importance of high-quality animal protein as part of our students’ lifelong learning process. Schools and community partners can offer continuing health education for parents as an outreach program while respecting religious-based food choices. Politicians, government officials, and organizations can organize feeding programs to barangays that provide milk and other protein-based food. While we cannot change the genes we were born with, we can certainly change the food we eat in order to grow tall and improve well-being of future generations.

Incidentally, we have two of the top 50 delegates in the search for Miss Universe Philippines 2021. Best of luck to Nepheline Dacuno of Tacloban City and Mystymyles Jude Zaragosa of Leyte Province as they continue their journey in this pageant.

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