A Work of Heart by the Sunflower Team

This developmental camp was a project initiated by the SLU-Sunflower Children’s Center (SLU-SFW), a Baguio-based institution that promotes the welfare of children in need of special attention and that advocates children’s rights. In helping to establish the center, Fr. Geraldo Costa, CICM, the director of SLU-SFW, was inspired by his experiences as he lived with the Senden Home children for some time. The same inspiration gave inestimable strength to the camp facilitators, aptly named the Sunflower Team, as plans for the summer activity gradually and beautifully unfolded.

The Sunflower Team was a mix of guidance counselors, therapists, and psychometricians who worked together to give wholehearted service to the children of Senden Home. During the many meetings before the camp, the members of the team expressed their apprehension about the tasks.

 

They knew that these were children of special situations and few of them have ever dealt with children like them. However, their desire to serve prevailed and so they prepared themselves for the three weeks of service. They had no idea that in three-week activity they would be irrevocably changed.

 

The team first met the Senden Home children when they visited the Residential and Training Center in Binangonan, Rizal.Here, the case studies that were previously reviewed by the staff became alive with the smiles on the children’s faces.More importantly, the children represented much more than mere reports and stories on paper. In that brief but promising encounter, the Sunflower team certainly looked forward to getting to know the children better.

Four days were spent for the psychological tests. These were given to have a better understanding of the children and to arrive at the most appropriate ways to help them.

It was at this time when traces of the children’s past were visible. Some of the children candidly shared their pasts while others grew increasingly uncomfortable for they had to unearth the long-buried memories and experiences. Some strongly longed for the past while others reviled it with equal intensity. With these interactions came revelations of how resilient and precious the children were, but there were still more to come.

The Sunflower team was witness to the cruelty and miracle of life. In the counseling sessions and group dynamics activities, the children revealed sadness and strife no child of their age deserved to experience. The team felt blessed for the trust that the children showed by sharing their past. It was a general sentiment that the children were far older than their age. Most had grown up too fast and missed out on the childhood that they rightfully deserved. With this came the realization that the children were awe inspiring with their indomitable spirits. Despite all the things that they went through, they still had the courage to live life to the fullest.

The children tread increasingly closer to the team’s hearts and they were unhesitatingly welcomed. The team became surrogate parents, sisters, and brothers. It was an opportunity for the children to feel some of the love that they have missed out on and it was also a chance for the team to spread the abundant love that they had to share.

In the three weeks that were spent with the children, a lot of life’s most essential and simplest lessons were learned and relearned - that things are really not the way that they look; that the biggest potentials come in small packages, that the family is the root of everything, from joy to misery and everything in between, that a simple gesture, a kind word, can make a world of difference, that there is a little bit of us in every child that we meet; and of course, the greatest lesson of all, love.

In the end, the children presented us with challenges. With the stories of their lives, they challenged us to be stronger in spirit and to remain steadfast in the face of adversity. They dared use to experience joy and happiness in the simple things in life. But the greatest challenge of all was to be able to accept the harsh reality that their lives represented and still be able to say that life is still worth living.

In the beginning, our mission was to help them but they have given us back so much more. They gave us a renewed meaning and love for our helping profession. For some of us, they gave the realization that our work goes beyond teaching theories and concepts but extends to sharing wisdom and experience. For others, the opportunity breathed life into the technical intricacies of the profession and see our school learnings beautifully woven into practice. And for all, it intensified the desire to improve to be able to serve better.

The summer camp left an indelible mark on both the team and the children and the ripples created by this wonderful experience will be felt for a very long time.