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9 Year Old Emma Stang Story

Hearts and Tomato Seedlings

By Marili Raymundo

Most kids who go to Gawad Kalinga fundraisers are there to listen to speeches and be inspired. Emma Montemayor Stang is there to give a speech and inspire.

In 2015 she raised and donated money to build one house in a GK village.

Quite an accomplishment for a nine-year-old.

“It took two years and many challenges along the way but she reached her goal,” says Emma’s mother Geline Stang.

At age three Emma started volunteering at an elderly care center entertaining residents by reading books and playing piano and guitar along with her brother and grandmother. By third grade she became a children’s choir member and an altar server at St. John the Baptist Church.

As fulfilling as it was, she wanted to do more than volunteer her time. She found inspiration from stories about children who raised money to help others.

In 2013 she started Planting Wishes, a project about helping others through growing and selling plants that nourish and provide lasting value.

She and her family sought the help of Tess Poling, a co-parishioner at St. John’s who was involved with various charities including Gawad Kalinga, and looked into possible beneficiaries of Planting Wishes.

“Emma has great compassion for others and demands a lot from herself. She chose GK because she wanted the first goal of Planting Wishes to be about helping a poor family in the Philippines,” says Tess.

Gawad Kalinga (GK) is a Philippine-based nation-building movement that aims to end poverty through community development and values-formation. Through sponsorship and fundraising GK enables people to build homes, empowers them through skill-building and addresses the problem that got them displaced.

Emma’s goal: to raise $3,800, the cost to build one house in a GK village in Gabuc, Capiz.

Gabuc is a fishing village that boasts a scenic coastline but it’s also a place that is straining to recover from a series of natural calamities. One of the hardest hit areas of Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, it is a community of resilient survivors with limited prospects, an area where they have to work twice as hard to merely survive let alone build a house for their family.

“I wanted to accomplish my goal as quickly as possible so a family without a home could have one right away,” says Emma who started selling heirloom tomato plants from seed on weekends and no-school days.

In addition to selling she did yardwork, recycled cans and plastic bottles, and participated in church bake sales, with the proceeds going toward funding of the GK house.

It has not been without sacrifices but she has a remarkable support system. “Emma has received support from family, friends, church, and classmates and their parents,” says Tess.

To get the tomato plants market-ready her parents Geline and Greg, grandmother Marelou, and brother Zachary helped her with seed selection, transplanting and caring for them, processing orders, packaging, and making deliveries.

“Each plant comes with a hand-decorated brown paper bag which includes organic fertilizer and the tomato plant description. Her teacher and some of her classmates also helped decorate the bags after Emma spoke in front of the class about Planting Wishes,” says Geline.

At age seven she spoke at a Gawad Kalinga Haiyan concert in 2014 about her goal. “Please buy your heirloom tomato plants from Planting Wishes, together we can build a house. Mabuhay kayong lahat, maraming salamat po,” she addressed the crowd in her gentle, lilting voice.

Over the next two years she gave speeches and presentations at local events and church functions, sold tomato plants, and received pledges and donations. Emma went to as many gatherings as possible, sought people out, and with her amiability and eloquence, won over a new audience of supporters each time.

Still, it was a new responsibility that Emma had to learn over time. During one of her yard sales she’d sold a total of three plants out of fifty-six, clearly way below her sales goal for the day.

“We were concerned that our tomato plants were not being sold as fast as we hoped and we had many more left,” she says.

Undeterred she rallied her team, regrouped, and got the word out. By the end of the day they’d sold the remaining plants and learned a very important lesson in marketing.

On April 16, 2015 Emma made her goal. She delivered a check for $3,800 to the area coordinator for GK Sacramento wrapping up nearly two years of learning and sacrifices.

The Orestes family of Gabuc will receive the new house – unit #16 – once construction is completed. In 2013 the family lost their home, belongings, and livelihood to typhoon Yolanda.

“It was my wish last Christmas to have a home and my prayer was answered. God sent Emma to us,” says Mrs. Orestes.

For the Orestes family the donation is life-changing. For Emma its meaning goes beyond the monetary value of the gift: it has inspired her to do more.

“Although I was initially hesitant, I realized that Planting Wishes is her project and we are only there to support and help make her vision a reality,” says her mother.

For the nine-year-old faith in God is paramount, and helping others a belief system that she continues to uphold. Upon reaching her first goal, she eagerly looks to the future.

“We have set new goals for next year,” she announces brightly on her Planting Wishes Facebook page.

On March 4-6, Emma Stang will probably be the youngest delegate at the GK HOPE Summit at the Radisson Hotel LA at USC.

Tess Poling, a longtime Gawad Kalinga advocate who has led several GK Build and practical community service and evangelization in places like Isabela, Batangas, Bicol, and Capiz, and who through the Divine Mercy, Adoration, and Filipino Apostolate Ministry, was instrumental in connecting Emma Stang with Gawad Kalinga, hopes to be at the Summit to cheer her on.

“When support for our projects get weak God sends someone like Emma to pick up my spirits and encourage me to continue my work with Gawad Kalinga,” says Tess.

We’ve heard stories about children running lemonade stands to support Make-A-Wish, kids washing cars to send care packages to the troops, students organizing food drives or planting trees to help the environment.

Emma Stang drew inspiration from these stories and brought to life a simple dream, saw it through to fruition without fanfare, and changed a family’s life forever.

Meet the new generation of heroes – compassionate, confident, hardworking, brilliant – doing their part to make the world better.

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Hunger Ends Where Caring Begins

One  year after Haiyan, the children of Alang-Alang hope to feel like ‘normal’ kids again: smiling, carefree, unafraid. With Kusina ng Kalinga, we try to bring back the normalcy of their lives and the brightness of their futures.

Teacher, vegetarian na kami,” one kid told Ms. Eden.

The day’s lunch meal was miki con sayote – Shanghai noodles with chayotes in chicken soup. Everyday for the past three months, the kids of Alang-Alang Central School in Leyte get their daily helpings of rice, meat, and vegetables. Packed in colorful lunchboxes, their meals are delivered to their classrooms warm, appetizing, and prepared with love.

“Anong paborito niyong niluluto sa kusina?” I asked.

They each told me their favorite dish but it seems that the camote and tokwa (sweet potato and tofu) in cream of chicken is the runaway hit among them. As I walked through the school grounds during lunch break, I got a lot of “Hi, ate!” from random kids. I answer back with a wave or a high five. If not for the hammering noise from the construction nearby, the stack of debris on one side of the campus and tent classrooms on the other, I would have thought that nothing happened here. The kids were smiling, being their usual energetic selves — running about, their giggles and chuckles fill the air.

According to Teacher Eden Ramos, it took some time for things to regain this sort of normalcy. There was a time when half the kids weren’t coming to class. At the start of the school year, absenteeism was high.

“After the typhoon, marami na talagang hindi pumapasok kasi wala talagang hanapbuhay. Yun talaga na obserbahan namin. Hindi talaga sila pumapasok kasi anong kakainin nila pag pumapasok sila? Wala naman silang pagkain kasi wala namang hanapbuhay. Pumapasok lang sila paminsan-minsan — mga once a week, twice a week.” – Teacher Eden

Having two kids attending the school herself, she shares that it’s been a great help to her and other parents that they didn’t have to worry about what their children will eat for lunch. As families try to recover financially, their children’s meals in school give them some breathing room.

Since August, lunch for the entire school population of 1,600 kids is served by Kusina Ng Kalinga (Care Kitchen). Kusina ng Kalinga  sits in one of the classrooms converted into a heavy duty kitchen. It starts bustling at 3am – preparing huge cauldrons for boiling rice; a lot of peeling, slicing, and dicing of vegetables; marinating the meat; scooping and packing food into these nice little lunchboxes. Everything has to be done like clockwork to make sure everything is prepared by lunchtime.

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It may sound like an assembly line, but the reality is, this kusina is probably the warmest place in school – and it’s not because of all the food that’s being cooked. Kusina ng Kalinga’s warmth springs from the love poured in by the people doing the cooking. It is a labor of love from the volunteers and mothers who run it.

I met volunteers Anj, Jochz, Jack, Rizel, Ate Myra and Ate Angie – I call them the kitchen staples whose dedication provide the lifeline of the operations. I also had the privilege of meeting Nanay Nelita, Nanay Lenlen, and Ate Aisa. Their kids attend Alang-Alang Central school, and while they are only required to volunteer on specified schedules, they come to the kitchen almost everyday.

 

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Nanay Nelita in particular has to walk an hour from her house to the school, along with her three kids. She helps more than the usual because the kitchen is important to her, and she wants it to continue. But I’m sensing that she’s enjoying it too.

“Naging kaibigan ko na din sila dito,” (They have already become my friends), she says.

A caring community is a natural outcome of people working together. Just as kids chatter in their classrooms, the nanays and volunteers do the same in this kitchen. They even broke into a song when one good 80’s power ballad was played on the radio. I wonder if they ever got reprimanded by the teacher next door for being a bit too noisy.

This bustling hub doesn’t go unnoticed by the kids. At any given time, kids loiter outside the kitchen, saying hi to their ates and kuyas, dropping by to give them a hug, or just being curious to see what’s cooking for lunch.

I was outside chatting with a few of them – Shaina, Jackie, May Joy, Bianca, and Nicole. About nothing in particular, just child stuff. Later on they called me and handed me a letter with stickers on it.

“Ate, pwede pakibigay kay Mommy Jochz?” (Ate, can you please hand this to Mommy Jochz?)

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Jochz tells me she gets these love letters everyday. No need to ask her what inspires her to do this work.

“Ate, wag kayong aalis ha?” (Ate, please don’t leave.)

And just like that you realize how our presence means a lot to these kids. Earlier that day, the kids were in assembly for the Monday morning flag ceremony. They sang the national anthem with fervor, and recited the lines of Panunumpa sa watawat ng Pilipinas.

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“Ako ay Pilipino,

Buong katapatang nanunumpa sa watawat ng Pilipinas,

At sa bansang kanyang sinasagisag,

Na may dangal, katarungan, at kalayaan,

Na pinakikilos ng sambayanang Maka-Diyos,

Maka-kalikasan, Maka-tao, at Makabansa.”

t’s been ages since I’ve been to one of these. I remember having to line up by height; the teacher’s command – arms forward, raise!; us perspiring and squinting under the sun. I remember worrying about kid stuff, but never about the future. Maybe because mine was never threatened by a catastrophe, or by poverty.

Looking at the kids, I wonder how they see theirs. I wish they see it bright. But if not, I wish they have hope.

More than the meals, if there’s anything that Kusina ng Kalinga aspires to give the children, it is this. As food fills their stomachs, their souls are fed with hope. In due time, they will be able to fully recover. The future remains bright for them.

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Texas 7th Annual Hope Ball

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error: Gawad Kalinga USA