Caring for Children

To my shame and embarrassment, I was clueless about this advocacy.

I didn't realize that that there are almost 200 youth advocates for children under the aegis of Youth for Safety (Y4S), one of the major programs of Philippine Children’s Ministries Network (PCMN), also a registered NGO.

Y4S has the vision to free Filipino children from sexual abuse and exploitation through youth advocates.

Impossible dream? 

No. These Y4S youth advocates are being equipped by PCMN to be effective in various areas through training—writing is one of the skills they need "to be able to lead, advocate and communicate." 

Ensconced in a safe and peaceful world of writing, I had some kind of blinders for raw and edgy programs.

But one day, after uploading to FB my photos in a recent creative writing workshop, I received a cryptic message from someone I had not met. Fe, national director of PCMN, wrote, “I wish you could conduct your creative writing workshop for PCMN youth.”

I got curious and later found out that the PCMN youth (Y4S), volunteers from various evangelical churches, are trained peer mentors and advocates against child sexual abuse.

This cut right through my middle. My impression of millennials made a u-turn. A “no” was not an option.

The workshop was then scheduled by Garicel, Y4S’s program coordinator. Simultaneously, I informed Hiyas, my publisher of children's books, and they sent over copies of different titles to be given away to each of the attendees.

On D-day, I was blessed to have worked with 20 young men and women—ages 16 to 24—from various parts of the country, in one room, for one whole day.        

It was a spirited session, from opening to closing. As I watched the youth passionately write and share their magnum opus, I prayed that more millennials be stirred to care for disadvantaged children in whatever manner or form.  

The day was long, but so was the fun. The immense joy hauled in by grace bunked in my heart long after the day was over.


Bully versus Bully

As scheduled, this 3rd book in the Happy Home series was launched at the Manila International Book Fair on September 16, a Friday.

However, the school that was to attend the launching cancelled. Due to the recent spate of killings brought about by the drug war waged by our newly elected president, the school authorities felt unsafe bringing a horde of small schoolchildren to a crowded place.

But as they say in showbiz, “The show must go on.” Trouper that they were, the four people who staged a radio rendition of the story performed as though they had a full-house sports arena for an audience.

I had visions of a very quiet launching with just me and Leo Kempis Ang, the illustrator of the series, chatting the one and a half hours away.  

Undaunted and untiring, OMF Lit’s staff got busy inviting people through the microphone and holding up copies of the book like playing cards in all the busy aisles. 

Then, without warning, grace swooped in.

Adults—some with their kids—dropped by, bought copies of the book, and had them signed by Leo and me. The stream of people who came kept us wonderfully busy all morning!

The photos below tell only half the story of the happy launching of Hiyas' Bully versus Bully.      
We raise our hands up to praise the Lord.


Twin Blessings

Back story: The title of my latest book (a children’s devotional-cum-novelette) was chosen from about 20 others. The original title was Double Delight, but my editor said it sounded like an ice-cream flavor. So I sent her a few more alternatives, and voila, Twin Blessings!

Many of the stories were rewritten while my husband and I were in the US for a vacation. There I had been able to watch and interact closely with my grandson, Adrian, from whom I borrowed many of Dom’s (the twin sister who grew up in the US) traits and antics. It is a blessing that Adrian is the same age as the twins, so the writing seemed easier and infinitely more delightful.

The gist of the story had been frozen in my hard drive for years. But it thawed last year when it suddenly popped out of my head while chatting with the Editorial Manager of Church Strengthening Ministry (CSM) at the 40th Manila International Book Fair (MIBF). 

Her name, Joy, was what I felt when she said . . . ooops, sorry, I could only recall how I felt, not the words of Joy, but it was a green light or a need for another devotional.

That led to CSM's approval of the story (treated like a devoseries).

But as I always do before finalizing a story for kids—to make sure the intent is clear—I conducted a Focus Group Discussion among advocates for children. From them I got new insights and questions I could never have asked myself. That showed my way to writing, and finally to the book’s launching at the CSM’s Grand Unveiling of Resources at the 41st MIBF last week.
This was followed two days later by an on-site launch at the CSM booths with a children’s party that included a puppet show, face painting, games, and giving away of loot bags to the children who joined the fun.
All told, the title Twin Blessings makes me feel as though grace surged like a flash flood twice.

First, at the Book Fair last year when the story had a chance to be defrosted, which then made me write, write, write (an activity I love best, bar none).

Second, at the Book Fair again one year later, when—now a book—Twin Blessings landed in  readers' hands. 

May every kid (or adult) who reads every devotion in Twin Blessings be doubly blessed by the richness of the Lord’s Word, packaged in slices of life, sewn together into one story that celebrates God-given relationships.


Happy Hour for Happy Home

Since the year 2000, when my first book (The Boy Who Had Five Lolas) was published, about this time of the year I hold my breath waiting for the Happy Hour. In marketing, this is the limited period of time when bars or other social venues offer drinks at a discount with free hors d'oeuvres. It turns into a night of revelry. 

My own Happy Hour—and I mean happy, minus the drinks and hors d'oeuvres —is when a new book is launched, usually during the Manila International Book Fair held every September. 

The publisher usually offers my just-born baby at a discount and gives freebies such as a bookmark or a notebook. And there’s a revelry of joy and excitement that mounts to its highest peak in my heart.

Tomorrow, one more Happy Hour is coming up! It will be held at the Book Fair. This time it’s for the 3rd book in the Happy Home series: Bully versus Bully. I hope the kids for whom it was written will emulate and take to heart the values in it.

Please come and join me as I celebrate the grace that inundates every book launching, indeed a happy hour. 


A Celebrity in the Clan

There aren't too many celebrities in this world. That's why we lionize them. They are a select breed of people who have done something extraordinary that merits applause and fame.

We have a celebrity in the clan!

There, I was waiting to say that at the proper time and proper place. What better time and place than my blogsite, where I fear no censure. In short, I can brag to my heart's content.

The current Christine in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera is Ali Ewoldt, a niece. She's the daughter of a first cousin and therefore a close blood relative.
So what?

Phantom of the Opera is the longest-running Broadway musical and many actresses have been cast in that role over the years.

Oh, but Ali is different. In those 25 years that the show has been running, Ali is the first woman of color chosen for the lead role!

Ali, therefore, has broken barriers, paving the way for women of all colors and backgrounds to be given the opportunity on The Great White Way.

Because of this historic feat in a groundbreaking role, Ali has been written about by many writers all over the US and the Philippines. I consider it grace to be able to write about her, too.  

She comes from a family blessed with an ear for music. Allow me now to namedrop. Her grandma (my aunt) loved to sing and used to perform with her sisters (one of them was my mom) on stage. Her eldest aunt (my BFF) had a voice that won in all the singing contests in our youth; she is a Broadway habituĂ© and used to take then little Ali to watch musicals. I believe she was Ali’s harshest critic, too.

I don’t know much about her dad’s side of the family since Ali was born and grew up in the US, but I am sure she has their genes as well.

Although she has a Psychology degree from Yale, cum laude, Ali chose the volatile path to the stage—from audition to audition—where she is always cast in plum roles. There she shines, like the neon lights on her billboards, and shines even more brightly in Phantom of the Opera.

Can an aunt be prouder?   

Photo credit: Matthew Murphy   


Lovers of Literature

In one big room (usually the ballroom of Manila Peninsula Hotel), every first week of September, lovers of literature get together for the Palanca Awards Night. I am privileged to be among them again this year—as one of the 57 judges. 

This is the night when excellence is celebrated.

The winners are identified and feted, with their loved ones and judges in all categories, plus special guests—famed literary enthusiasts and published authors—in the audience to applaud them and take their photos to record the moment. 

Now on its 66th year, the Palanca Awards is the longest running literary contest organized by the Carlos Palanca Foundation Inc. This year, there were 986 entries in 20 categories—among which were 51 winners, 24 of whom were first-time awardees.

A friend of mine who never misses a Palanca Night calls it a family reunion. In a way it is. It brings together people who belong to different demographics, but with common psychographics (meaning: same mindset), a term we invented in advertising, and in whose veins flows the same passion for the printed word.

Although it is a family reunion, I don’t know many of them personally (especially the famous ones)—neither do they know me—but I have read their books, and therefore, they are kindred spirits.

In this age of selfie, I still haven’t learned to take one, so I pass up opportunities to have photos with those whom I admire like F. Sionil Jose, Krip Yuson, Butch Dalisay, Tony Mabesa, National Artist Virgilio Almario, etc. Philippine literature wouldn’t be without them. 

My photos are limited (taken by third son JR, who had to be cajoled to take them), but they represent the grace that permeated the soft air.      

I take the chance to talk to the winner in the category which I judged with two others. He is a high school teacher and this is the first time he joined the Palanca.

“Beginner’s luck,” he grins.

Literature has nothing to do with luck, I want to reply, it is a gift from the Master writer Himself, but his wife wants a quick selfie and so the conversation turns to smiles and endless “Congratulations!”

Ah, literature!   


No Hiding Place

With practically everyone in the world wired to technology, there is no information, name, person, book, idea, disease, item, foreign word, slang—you name it—that you can’t google anymore. Everything is out there somewhere. And someone, somehow, can find it.

If you have ever written a comment or posted your photo on the Net, at any point in the future, they can be traced to you.

Is there a place to hide?

The word “incognito” is in danger of becoming extinct. 

I know of many friends who have lost track of each other many years ago, but through the Net, have found each other again.

Try googling your name . . .

Scary, isn’t it?

Before the digital revolution, only God knew where to find us.  

In the Bible, we are introduced to the first hiding in the first book. Immediately after eating the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God. But with the Lord, there is no hiding place.

“Can anyone hide from me in a secret place? Am I not everywhere in all the heavens and earth?" says the LORD. (Jeremiah 23:24 NLT)

"Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable." (Hebrews 4:13) 

Indeed, He sees everything, including what’s in the secret place of our heart. 

And yet, in this troubled world, when there is no safe place to hide, the God from whom we can’t hide, is the same God who can hide us from assaults, sieges, and such.

“For he will conceal me there when troubles come; he will hide me in his sanctuary. He will place me out of reach on a high rock.” Psalm 27:5

There is a hiding place. It is ensconced in grace.