Queenie Festival of Learning

The Heart of Helping

Festival of Learning (FOL) is the main highlight of every summer in ATD Fourth World. During the FOL, people who have the heart of helping or the passion for volunteerism gather and work together. Activities consist of storytelling and art workshops with the children from the communities. This year’s FOL was conducted in the six communities from the April 8 – May 6.

I have known ATD Fourth World and ATD Philippines since I was a toddler. My ” tita” (aunt), as I fondly call her, is a teacher and painter who always brought me to the FOL. Why? Her reason: for me to learn and engage with children from different social and economic backgrounds.  It was also to fulfill her role as an ATD volunteer and a facilitator while she “babysits” me – no kidding. With the help of my Tita Ruth “Neneng” Mores, I got more interested with the FOL. Her storytelling and artistic talents amazed me. I am grateful that I was able to learn some of her techniques. Basically, my FOL experience goes through like this: from a mere kid doing arts and crafts, I became a person who facilitates and teaches arts and crafts to the younger kids.

Growing up and attending the FOL is a part of my summer vacation. Some people often questioned me “Why do you spend time with people in poverty whom you totally don’t know?” They also commented that I am lucky to be born from a middle class family. However social status differences are no basis for being lucky. For me being lucky is the attainment of rare life lessons and experiences. I am lucky that I have met people living in poverty who opened my mind at an early age about their life struggles. Lastly, I learned how to give. I learned to understand things from a different life perspective.

In our modern and technically advanced world, we are always busy. Everything seems in a rush. We forget to look around in our surroundings because we have been busy focusing too much in our career, family, or school. But frankly doing volunteer work every summer for a student like me gives a sense of purpose to the country I was born.

I am also lucky that I was able to apply my knowledge as a Psychology Major Student. I did not had a hard time communicating to different people. Through FOL, I have met a lot of volunteers, facilitators, friends, and the people from the community who are like family to me.

During the FOL, I look forward meeting the children from the communities. I remembered the 7 year-old boy during one of the FOL workshops. Shy and reserved, he was the only child sitting away from the crowd; observing and having problems interacting with other children. Later I found out from his cousin that he does not really speak to people even to his relatives. He had difficulty interacting not only to with children but also with adults. The boy could not grip pencils and crayons and write properly his own name. He writes his name in a mirrored like pattern. In spite of these challenges, I did not give up. I focused more on him than any other children in his age group. Step by step, I taught him. He was able to follow my instructions and I constantly praised and encouraged him. Whenever he encountered a problem or committed a mistake during our session, I would smile and constantly tell him: “It’s okay. Don’t worry. We could try it again.” Support and encouragement is what he and every child needed.

The FOL contributes in developing the children’s knowledge, creativity and self-esteem. The FOL goal is to encourage each child to think and go beyond its capabilities. As a facilitator I was able to help these children dream BIG.

I hope the children would remember me the next time I will visit them. Through this FOL activity, I got a wider view about poverty and volunteerism. I also witnessed children’s experiences on anxiety, rejection, and humiliation in learning. It is important to help them in molding their future by building a good support system in their environment through their families, friends and community. With their love and care, these children will grow up with much self-esteem. I also observed that people from the poor communities smile and laugh a lot. They appreciate more little things that you offer them. In spite of the hardships, they are strong yet remain humble. In every FOL, effort and time were paid by children’s hugs, smiles, and laughter.

Poverty is a huge problem in the world. In my own way, I can help overcome it by taking part in activities like the FOL. We could do it even through our small actions. Every ONE of us could do something. No small actions would go to waste.

By Mary Quennie Pamela Salangsang, a former ATD Intern who has been attending the FOL as a child.