Asela Arago, currently handles the management of grants and funds, livelihood programs, and social media contacts of Bukas Palad (BP) in Manila. She had been invited to help in BP because of her work experience in management. At a certain point, BP urgently needed to comply to a greater degree with government requirements for its development, and overcome the legal impediments it faced. They were exposed to a kind of decision-making where relationship with the brother was given more importance.
They were able to overcome many challenges, but the fruits of loving and dialogue did not stop there because their difficulties in sustaining BP financially were also addressed. Asela shares, “BP today is involved in taking the steps to strengthen the following programs:
- Bukas Palad Learning Center is a program catering to children, ages 2.3 to 4.
- Primary Health Care Program safeguards the health of the whole family of beneficiaries.
- Volunteer doctors with different specializations come weekly to offer their services to the community for free.
- Nutritional Program is the daily feeding program provided by the social center. The goal is to educate parents in becoming responsible.
- School of Life Program refers both human and spiritual formation, which focuses on the out-of-school youth and interested adult members of the community.
- Livelihood Programs aim to help in the economy of the families in different ways.
Internship/Community Service Programs of some universities are held in BP.
- Educational Support – the financial support for Support-at-a-Distance Program (SAAD) from local and international benefactors and friends of the Focolare Movement aid its more than one thousand beneficiaries in the primary and secondary education, until they succeed in obtaining a college diploma or certificate of completion from vocational training courses. The objective is to transform the relationship between BP and its beneficiaries and involve their respective families, where every member becomes a partner and a collaborator, and not just a recipient of the program.”
Here is an experience of a family beneficiary of the SAAD program from BP-Davao:
“Edgar and I started our life together in Davao City. Edgar worked as a carpenter and construction worker, while I stayed home to take care of our 9 children. Edgar’s meager earnings could hardly meet the needs of our growing family. Our neighbor then introduced us to BP. Our makeshift house was right next to the first BP structure, which doubled as a day care center.
“Life was hard for us. But the people from BP helped us get through.
The place where we lived was often flooded, and because of poor sanitation, our children easily got sick. Sometime in 2004, I was hospitalized together with three of our children. Edgar had to support the family so he couldn’t stay in the hospital or remain at home to take care of the other young children. People from BP took turns helping us: a volunteer even brought my child to her home while I recuperated. At one point in our lives, Edgar left the family, and I became emotionally and mentally distressed. My children were also separated from me. I almost went out of my mind. But God was good. Edgar finally came back. We gathered all our children together, had our union blessed, and we promised to stay together.
“I was asked: Is BP relevant to your life? Did it give you meaning? My answer is definitely, Yes! BP helped Edgar and myself in raising our family. BP was involved in the education of our children. Edisa, who is now 24 years old was a SAAD recipient from kindergarten until she completed her Bachelor’s degree. Another daughter Kimberly (Grade 11) is also a SAAD recipient. BP was always there when my family got sick, and through BP Housing, it provided us a place where our family could live decently.
“Most important of all, BP, together with Chiara Lubich, taught us the value of love and of putting it into practice. Today as I think back twenty years ago to when I first met BP, I wondered how I had the strength to face and carry the seemingly unending burdens that life brings: It was because God was walking with me. He was always with me through the loving presence of BP. It was His Love and His presence in our lives that made us overcome life’s difficulties.
“BP is family to me, so as an active part of it, I happily committed myself for some years now to be the guardian of kids belonging to the BP Football Team. It entails extra work and sacrifice on my part, but this is how I want to give back to BP all the love that I received and continue to receive from them.
“It was amazing to experience how BP gives hope and changes the lives of people around us and in the community. You can imagine our joy witnessing the daily miracles that come from living the phrase of the Gospel, ‘Whatever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me.’ ”
Following is the experience of one whose family is very much involved in Bukas Palad.
“My husband and I have a very special love for BP all these years and we always found ways and means to do something for BP. Every week, we helped in the feeding of malnourished young children and also assisted students with their school allowances – in fact one of them has graduated from college and is now a school teacher.
“Now although already 90 years old and a widow, I still have a special place in my heart for BP and in my own little way, I do whatever I can to help. I frequently go over things I have at home to see what I can share, opening up my closets to look for things I don’t need or use. Then I also bundle my old newspapers to sell as an extra income for BP.
“Now that we have a BP store, I am even more excited to search for what I can give so we can generate income. I find many things around the house, the Christmas and birthday gifts I get which I do not need – and my children also donate the gift items they receive and which they don’t need.
“My family is aware of, and involved in BP. One daughter is a former teacher and she gave away her collection of pre-school books and educational toys for the BP school. Another daughter continuously collects things from her neighbors so she can send them to BP.
It is amazing how, no matter how often we go through our closets and things, there is always something more that we can give away. BP has become a part of our lives as a family and it has taught us how to live the communion of goods with those less fortunate.”
Asela continues, “The experiences of Sarah Agdao and Tita Celdran illustrate lifestyles of those who practice the Economy of Communion. Personally, it is overwhelming to behold the design of God in the continuous outpouring of Providence in different ways. In our recent experience, an international organization was impressed about the help we continuously provide to the community through the nutrition and health programs.
After supporting BP’s previous year feeding program, they again approved our proposal to sustain a new one-year project for these programs. Indeed, it was a great joy for us last Christmas, when the Executive Board of Directors from New Zealand and the Vice President of Operations from China, personally came to visit us and offered their gifts to about 100 children beneficiaries.
In moving forward, we are collaborating with one of the best medical hospitals for more support for the medical needs of our beneficiaries, and with state universities and private schools for tutorial services for the children, and for internship/community services to be immersed in the BP programs. Complying with government requirements, improving our services to the community, and meeting the increasing day-to-day needs are the many challenges we constantly face.
We are confident and assured that God’s design for BP will be fulfilled, as we all belong to one big family. BP continues to be a place which bridges the gap between the rich and the poor in society, and a way to contribute to building a united world.”