A Decade of Laughter and Smiles

By: Rosemond Joyce E. Ruiz

“Salamat at pinasaya mo ako.”
(“Thank you for making me happy.”)

Those were the parting words of Onat, a 12-year old boy, during the culmination of our Summer Camp. It was a bittersweet goodbye; he gave me a warm hug before leaving with tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. Aptly given the “Always Happy Award” during the camp, his endearing smile and happy disposition never failed to cheer people around him. He laughed at simple things, ran around barefoot on the ground, climbed trees with gusto, sang at the top of his voiceand danced like there was no tomorrow. He was a testament of children’s resilience and a welcome reminder of what it means to live in the moment, to take it slow, settle down and enjoy life.

Being part of Sunflower Children’s Center this past ten years provided me with an invaluable experience that will resonate for the rest of my life. What started as an impulsive decision to volunteer transformed into a life-long mission and advocacy that molded the person I am today.

It is not all rainbows and sunshine though, working with children, while indeed fulfilling can be exhausting. It is grueling reading about their history of abuse, listening to their stories of pain and despair, and watching them play out their deepest fears;to sit with them inside the playroom as they expel their anger and paint or draw away their hurt and disappointment. Butit is equally uplifting to hear about their dreams and aspirations, when they talk about friends, and gush about their crushes;to see their beautiful smiles as they share their wonderful memories. In these moments, when they joke and tease with me, when they laugh and jump out of joy, I am reminded that there is hope and beauty despite their terrible stories. Sometimes, all it takes is one smile to bring light to an otherwise dark day.

An interesting perk of being a child therapist is interacting with children and teenagers with different backgrounds and personalities, from adorable toddlers to mature and opinionated teenagers. I’ve been called ate, tita, auntie, teacher and even nanay and mommy. During sessions, I played various roles: parent, teacher, friend, sibling, enemy, superhero, police officer, pirate, robber and many others, depending on the request (and mood) of the child. Once, I even rehearsed with a teenager on how to ask a girl for prom and practiced the waltz with him.I have faced supportive parents and struggled with difficult ones, accepted their gratitude and sometimes received their wrath.

During summers, I would spend two glorious weeks playing with children. With my fellow Tropang Sunflower, I ate, sang, danced, grilled hotdogs, flew kites, and slept in tents with them. We picked flowers, collected tamarinds, watched the sunset, and pestered Fr. Mark’s rabbits and fishes. I witnessed their unguarded moods in the morning and saw their somber demeanors at night. In the end, I watched them leave with a joyful smile while I carry back home memories of their smiles and laughter.

There had been people commending us for making a difference in the lives of children. The truth is, it is the children who make a difference in our lives. In Sunflower, it is our fervent hope that children will grow to follow the rays of the sun and become the best persons that they can be. Along the way, I slowly became the best person that I can be.