The Most Beautiful Day Thus Far

Trip Start Jun 28, 2013
Trip End Aug 25, 2014

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Flag of Philippines  , Eastern Visayas,
Monday, August 26, 2013

Hello Everyone,
I write this blog two days after the official opening of the Cangumbang Center, which was held on Friday August, 23rd, yet my heart is still filled with joy and love for the community and every single person that helped make the center possible.

The day started out in two jeepneys packed full of my coworkers and supplies for the day. GoAbroad, the company I currently work for, decided to hold their annual volunteer day at my project site. So half of our office came in the morning and the other half in the afternoon.

We started with sanding of all the tables and benches (renewably made out of plywood and coco lumber used throughout our construction!). The sanding was completed quickly and slowly the furniture was painted a glowing white, followed by accents of bright orange. As all the dust was flying about and the paint fumes began to hang heavy in the air, others painted the walls and specifically the interior columns. 
As I sanded the benches and introduced some of the older children to my coworkers, as I looked up to see many children peering in the window from the tree they had climbed, as Jon-Jon snuck his way in the center again and again to attach himself to my hip, as I cleaned the wounds of one of the children while my concerned coworkers watched me, as I handed fruit loops to the anxious, curious children on the balcony, as I took some of the days visitors around the community with the children as our guides...I could feel in my heart again and again the ever-satisfying feeling that each one of those moments were meant for me. At times I may not have been fully confident that I could be enough to carry the center to completion, but with the help of so many people and the support of even more I was given each moment on Friday.

I can never thank my family and friends enough for believing in me, and for those who didn't believe in me because they too helped drive me to success. Overall, the entire project would not have happened without the passionate ways of Father German, the priest of Holy Angels Church, and the entire parish who independently raised over 20,000 dollars for the project. Overwhelmingly, the Cangumbang Project was successful because of the commitment, understanding, and love for the stories and needs of Cangumbang.

By 11 am, it seemed all the furniture was painted and even most of the walls. So I had some of my coworkers grab some snacks that were donated by a VFV volunteer, and they helped me pass them out to the children downstairs. It is so much easier to handle 50 hungry children when there are 30 adults to hand out the snacks. As usual there wasn't enough for everyone, but when I mixed up some juice the kids eagerly ran for bottles and glasses and had their thirst quenched over again.

The first group of GoAbroad staff headed back to the office while the small group of us staying for the whole day remained. I played with the kids, surveying what would be done in the afternoon, and took my only break for the day, preparing myself for the busy afternoon.

We spent most of the afternoon sanding benches for the ground floor of the center, and then painting them similarly to the second floor furniture. Afterwards I played a game with the kids, "Red Light, Green Light". The kids didn't exactly get the point of the game, and so many of them joined in that we had to do the game in rounds. Eventually I just gave up on finding a winner and told them I had a prize for everyone. As they lined up one after another, more gracefully than usual, and the line went on and on I thought it was the perfect time to share our little surprise with them. I had my friend Ian share with them that we had decided to give all the children the opportunity to put their handprints on the center in paint, there way of painting the center and showing all the hard work they put in to constructing the building. Although they all squealed in delight and their eyes lit up, they still looked to me for a tangible prize. ;) I caved and ran upstairs to grab some candy donations from a VFV volunteer and handed out close to a hundred pieces before I called it quits.

Together with my coworkers, we helped every child who wanted to put their mark on the center. It was a playful activity and I enjoyed seeing each handprint placed on the building. At the end I took my turn too, and I couldn't help but think back to day one of the construction. Friday was truly a surreal day.

After all the fun and games was over the preparations for the blessing took over and I was hurrying to get everything together. Just as the priest arrived, one of the staff members from the Mayor's office also arrived to inform me that the Mayor of Palo was coming but would be tardy. I quickly changed my shirt and brushed my hair before addressing both of them.

Next thing I knew we were gathered below the center, my co-workers, my boss and his colleagues, and nearly a hundred community members, all with candles in our hands. Before the blessing began my boss shared a few words with everyone, a few words that brought tears to my eyes because I could have never imagined the things he said a year ago. My boss Troy, who started VFV with an old friend back in the beginning, said that from this day forward I have made an unforgettable mark on the community and generations of children will be changed because of the center whether I am here or not. They will experience things they never would have, learn things they would have never known, and the community will inevitably be altered in to the future because of what I have done. When my boss opened the VFV center in Bliss years ago, he stood in the same position as me, he had no idea what the outcomes of his project would be. It was an incredibly overwhelming moment for me, one of many such moments on Friday.

The priest said a few prayers, my coworker read some scripture, and the priest proceeded to bless the columns of the center. Then we all gathered upstairs for him to complete the ceremony. The building felt instantly at peace at the conclusion of the blessing. We decided to wait to cut the ribbon until the Mayor could join us, so we began our first dance performances in the center. Easily more than 100 people stood on the balcony, around the room, and sat on our newly painted benches. Before the children began I attempted to make my first speech for the day, but I could hardly squeeze out a few words without tearing up at the reality of the day. I shared with the crowd that these children are the reason this center was completed and that Friday was a celebration of them and all their hard work. They deserve the community center more than they know.

The first dance "The Cha-Cha" was performed by children ages 3 to 12, and it was a crowd pleaser. The little ones smiled from ear to ear and knew the dance surprisingly well. Some of the older girls did a dance together, and before they could finish the Mayor arrived. When the song was over we prepared to cut the ribbon.

Together the Mayor and I, each with a pair of scissors in hand, cut the ribbon of the center. Again it was an overwhelming, surreal moment. At that point I couldn't help but wish all my family and friends were there with me, and that each Holy Angels Parishioner could see the center officially opened. The Mayor made a short speech in Waray-Waray to the community, and concluded by having the children say "Thank you Ate Elsa", and at my cue they said the same to her "Thank you Mayor Matin". After chatting with Troy and myself, and posing for some photos she had to be on her way. So we continued with the dance performances, slowed slightly by some technical difficulties.

The children closed their performances by singing Today My Life Begins:

"I've been working hard so long

seems like pain has been my only friend

my fragile heart's been done so wrong

I wondered if I'd ever heal again

Ohh just like all the seasons never stay the same

All around me I can feel a change (Ohh)

I will break these chains that bind me, happiness will find me

leave the past behind me, today my life begins,

a whole new world is waiting It's mine for the taking,

I know I can make it, today my life begins

Yesterday has come and gone

and I've learned how to leave it where it is

and I see that I was wrong

for ever doubting I could win"

Again I felt myself tearing up, but effortlessly smiling as I watched them all gather around the microphone and belt out the song. Afterwards they all came running over to me. :)

We concluded the blessing with a massive meal served downstairs. The children were given pre-boxed meals and the adults were served plates of food. There was cake and the children's favorite soda. Many of the children ran up to me exclaiming "Ate Elsa Busog Na!" meaning I am full now. I love to hear them say that, and especially sharing the first community event at the center filled me from head to toe with love.

I couldn't have asked for a better day, a better community, a better support group back home or group of coworkers here. Volunteer for Visayans was started by Troy and Jason years ago, and it continues to power communities and support individuals every day. I am just thankful that I can say I have contributed to the expansion of VFV, and now through the generosity of Holy Angels and all our project donors, the center will continue to serve the needs of the Cangumbang Community for years to come.

I'm not sure this accomplishment will ever settle in my mind, for now it is entirely surreal. Even after spending the weekend reliving the day and the project as a whole, I am still overwhelmed where we are today. I am so grateful my life has brought me here. And I know there is much more hard work yet to come...

Building the Center is only the first step to Building the Community of Cangumbang....still my passion will not fade, my drive will not dissolve, and my love for the children of Cangumbang will flourish evermore.


Thanks again to each individual, group, and organization that helped us come this far, I am eternally thankful for the support you've given me.
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Mom on

Amazing, you make us all so proud! Wish I could see the children dancing anf hear the children's voices singing. Here's a link to the original artist if anyone would like to listen to the song.

Sharon Matkin on

Amazing Grace!!!! Elsa you have been such a servant...congratulations on all that has been built and on all the many lives that have been are a true leader for Christ!!! How awesome you could be there and how wonderful you are aware of His grace filling you with joy...enjoy it!!! Thank you for sharing with all of us!
God Bless
God Bless

Suzy on

Love. :)
I work at a Catholic school now too. I'll make sure to share info if they need an idea for a fundraiser!

Barbara Kasuboski on

Wonderful, Elsa! God bless you!

Roger on

I just have to smile.........thank you:)

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