Friday, January 1, 2016

Faces at an Orphanage

Another year has passed, and still I look back at the brief two-hour visit at an orphanage as one of the most memorable and defining experiences of the previous year...    

Deep inside San Juan, behind the imposing walls surrounding the expansive property, is White Cross. And to this day, the many faces of White Cross still  linger, images that still stir up deep emotions of both joy and sadness, and a child-like hope that things can only get better.

Inaugurated in 1938, the classic lines of the art deco-inspired architectural style resembles a large white cross, a sanctuary and temporary shelter for children. Designed by Pablo Antonio, National Artist for Architecture, the immaculate white structure stands as a beacon of hope, with its sharp lines softened by detailed and intricate bas-relief of children at play created by Italian sculptor Francesco Monti. Surrounded by lush gardens, one gets the impression of being far away from it all, an oasis of peace of calm, right in the middle of a busy metro.

A dear friend decided to celebrate her birthday with the orphans of White Cross early last year, turning out to be one of the more meaningful experiences yet. As my friend laid out the food on the table, along with gifts and assorted toys, the sound of tiny footsteps slowly coming down the steps could be heard, getting louder every second, as the first batch of kids appeared.

Shy, timid, almost defensive, the seemingly invisible wall is shattered by a gentle smile as a simple toy is given, showing that sometimes the simplest things can mean so much.

It takes quite some time for the others to warm up, and one can sense that somehow their young eyes says it all. Who knows what their young eyes have seen, perhaps the pain of being alone and abandoned keeping them guarded, cautious, even distrustful. Trust has to be earned patiently, and with time.

In time, more smiles appear, and the kids are once again, kids.

The kids slowly open up, allowing us inside their world. A burger and fries never tasted better, surrounded by these kids now overflowing with smiles. 

The sound of playful laughter now fill the open area of White Cross, with a fist bump sent from across the hall. That's one cool kid, right there.

And for a moment, everything in this hectic world seemed to be just fine.

As my friend passed out gifts to the orphans of White Cross, the pure joy painted in their faces just lit up the hall...

...and these faces still remain imprinted in my mind long after that weekend afternoon early last year. "We have assumed an undertaking which is indeed superior to our strength. We were brave because to a great extent we were ignorant to the magnitude of our undertaking. But this is the work of God. We may not succeed, but White Cross cannot fail," words from the founder, Mrs. Victoria Lopez de Araneta, during the formal inauguration in 1938. Today, these words live on in every child taken care of, every baby being fed, and poor families given hope at White Cross. And no, White Cross has not failed. Not by a long shot. All it takes is a brief visit and see the little faces up close, and with time, their shy smiles warm you, lingering long after your visit.

White Cross is located at 276 Santolan Road, San Juan, Metro Manila or call 724-2145 for inquiries and more information.

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