I came from a culture that commits to a sense of giving—where a communal sentiment of sharing unites the neighbourhood. Whether it’s salt, vinegar, or a can of rice, it was as significant as surviving for another day. I still remember the impoverished days but happier moments; and mornings are regarded as opportunities to touch lives.

I grew up in a slum neighbourhood where mazes and row of houses are slanted and rushed overnight. It was where the stretch of river banks became a community of distant relatives and new friends. It was when a Filipino gesture called bayanihan mushroomed the place like children’s fairyland—eclectic, colourful, vibrant. At that time.

Behind our shanty was a river that flows a few kilometres to Hinulugang Taktak. The water always glistens and crisp with the morning’s rays.

The street used to be called “Del Baño”—a name derived from its old public bath built by the Spaniards in the late 1800s. Natural springs abound along the river. It was a place for giggling grandmothers for noontime showers. And by the river, they talk about gossips, while chewing betel leaves. It was a popular spot to wash clothes on weekends.

To my father, that piece of land was a sentimental choice. He grew up with all his mischievous and rogue years swimming across the river—competing with his own skills against the currents.

Our neighbourhood was a stigmatized part of a town. Most people think of slum residents who deviate from the morals, norms, and standards of public decency held up by the wider conventional community. The area was wanting of decency, yet my father refuted that the locals should not even be considered as socially disorganized. They may lack coherence that were found in more economically stable environments. And there may be 2 or 3 criminal instances in my 10 years when I lived there, but calculating the many quiet days and peaceful nights, it is convincing to state that my neighbours there were the best I have, so far.

We were compassionate with one another.

We said bad sermon to children when we caught them running naked on the street. We scrounged old clothes, and for some days, our old favourites to clothe them. We felt good when they fit and laughed when they ran away like rugby players, back to the playground.

It was a place where a child’s 5th birthday were attended by a populous children in the barangay. My neighbour Emmy would cook Arroz Caldo for 100 children, and we’d buy bags of pandesal. It was when spaghetti with meatballs seemed so special on New Year’s Eve.

We were there when every childhood was celebrated by playing in the rain; and hide-and-seek on nights under the full moon.

It was an awesome spectacle of innocence.

My sister, who was practicing midwifery, became a go-to person for neighbours who were sick. As such, in our neighbourhood, it became a norm for pregnant mothers to pay her in kind– chickens and backyard produce for my sister’s services. Visiting a medical doctor was a far-fetched idea for reasons that they did not have money.

My nanay was more generous; she would cook tinola or sinigang with overflowing soup stock and vegetables, and then send a big bowl to a sick neighbour, or to children who were left alone by their parents.

So, as it turned out, my mom did not become a good entrepreneur when she built a sari-sari store.

So was my sister.

Nanay adopted another child, Gadoy– the day he was born. I was 18 then, and with a family of 5, I thought of feeding another mouth would be too burdensome for my father. However, my father was so amused when my mother named the child after my father’s nickname, Gado. All is well after that.

There was no set of expectations when these gestures were made. Not even emotional expectations that those instances would have something in effect in the future.

But there is.

We were a family of a giver. I grew up with a happy bunch of friends and neighbours.

The most sublime task my mother taught me was to give thanks to God and share whatever I have with others. I was 4 years old when she taught me to kneel and say my prayer.

The struggling years taught us to be resilient and prayerful. Surviving decently would mean we needed to study hard and work harder. I was asked to finish my studies so I can help my sister continue her studies, and my sister would have the same expectations to do the same with my 3rd sibling.

The responsibility of the eldest was the most challenging. I knew that. If I failed, the cycle would start on my second sister. It would be disastrous. For our family to succeed, I needed to obey my parents and sacrifice whatever self-longing, self-indulgent material things I dream about having.

My family met challenges and tribulations along the way.

My high school years were either sponsored by the municipality or by Mrs. Martinez who gave me transportation money and volunteered me at the school cafeteria– for free lunch.  My university fees were all based on scholarship and monthly stipends from the school paper.

So from slum to Canada, what did I do to deserve a happy family life? What else can I dream of, if I am where I dreamt of being here, 30 or 35 years ago?

A childhood dream.

Contentment and peace. These are my barometers for success. Nothing grand. Nothing fancy.

What I am trying to explain is the reason why our lives are blessed.

There are thousands of people out there who are ‘fascinated yet livid’ on why we give monetary offerings to our Church. What point of comparison in their experiences can I show to prove that being inside the Church of Christ is the only way one can achieve hope, blessings, and peace even in this temporal life? This is the only Church where there is hope for salvation.

Nothing is in vain. Not when you serve the Lord.

Looking back, there was no deadweight loss for those ‘gifts’ that I gave, no regrets even a pinch, for the offerings I made to our beloved Church of Christ—for I have given them with all my heart, with all my faith–that this is how I praise our Lord God.

It is the only sincere, proper way of Thanksgiving I know of, one good way I can praise Him with all His good works.

…Over time, a buoyancy of the spirit of giving remains. I will continue to give and share for mine is a memory of love, laughter, divine guidance and blessings of peace.

It is still my primitive sense of giving. No receipt required.

Nothing is in vain. Not when you serve the Lord.###

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