My mom once told me that at 15 years old, girls should often be reminded how beautiful they are. In Cathlene’s case, she is often told that she is strong. Thin to the bone, she wears a bonnet to hide her shedding hair and sits on a wheel chair to support her small frame. She is among the young cancer patients in the Philippine General Hospital, one of the biggest public hospitals in the Philippines. During mornings, the hallway is full of patients seated on the floor. They are sometimes asked to bring their own cotton balls because there aren’t enough to go around. Some come from distant provinces, but since there are often no rooms available they are forced to spend their night elsewhere. In the summer heat, a putrid smell wafts through the clamped waiting areas.
Resides there is a small reading corner called the House of Treasures. More than the storybooks we bring out of their shelves every Thursday and Friday afternoons, it is a house that contains the stories of the patients, their families, and even their doctors. As a family ministry, House of Treasures is comprised of Mommy Annie, Daddy Emil, my older sister, Yeyel and I. When asked about what we do, the simplest answer would be is that it is a celebration of life.
Growing up with the House of Treasures, I’ve spent my childhood giving regular therapeutic activities (such as art therapy, storytelling sessions, and creative performances) to the children as they wait for their chemotherapy session. Through generous donors and partners in service, we have been able to expand our service by providing a pallative care unit and a chemotherapy building, as well as initiate the rehabilitation of the prayer room of the institute.
Now on its 11th year, friends often ask us the question, “Why?”
Unlike planting trees or cleaning rivers, the advocacy of celebrating human life seems unquantifiable. What is the point of dressing children up as superheroes and princesses? Why go through the trouble of painting and reading with the sick?
When we are made more aware of how fleeting our physical bodies are, what is immeasurable within us is suddenly put to the test. In the House of Treasures, these kids put a whole new meaning to their right to life by looking forward to opportunities to live out their childhood.
Having recently started working as a WYA Intern for the Asia Pacific region, I am overjoyed by how I have found friends who see that the most intangible dimension of man is often the most overlooked. It is a fascinating experience to watch people drawn together like magnets: convening under different advocacies but claiming it within a common roof that is human dignity. May it be in leadership, education, or even culture, everyone has a role to play in nurturing what is humane within their communities.
With this kind of energy, I am thankful because I feel like this is not only an internship but also a symbolic revolution from my generation to love. It is through this that I have confirmed with WYA that measure may be important, but the essential question would always be your “why.”
Written by Anne Mimille Guzman, current intern at the WYA Asia Pacific office.
*House of Treasures is an accredited psychosocial support group for the young cancer patients of Cancer Institute in one of the biggest public hospitals in Metro Manila, Philippines. If you wish to be one of their partners in service, you may reach them through their Facebook page.