The little heard Jesuit outreach program ERDA (Educational Research and Development Assistance) operates a school for indigents in San Andres, Manila City, which provides an Ateneo educational standard for the poor.
From Jesuit-run Xavier School, my nephew, Josemaria “Hossie” Esposo Claro, now teaches in ERDA. At some point, when he was still studying at the Ateneo University, Hossie considered a Jesuit vocation and we in the family cannot say with certainty if he has already abandoned that plan.
Hossie recently wrote a very meaningful article for the ERDA Newsletter where he also helps as its Associate Editor. Let me share with you that article, as follows:
By Josemaria Esposo Claro
“It took me seven months before I finally began to understand this mystery to which I have been called. Like any proud person coming from a privileged family, I was confident that I could do so much for my new students at ERDA Technical and Vocational High School. My confidence was rooted in my Jesuit education at the Ateneo de Manila, and my five-year teaching experience at Xavier School, one of the leading educational institutions in Metro Manila.
Alas, all my theories in education and modern approaches were practically rendered useless by the despondent situation of my students. I had been trained to ask my pupils deep and reflective questions, but how can this be appropriate to students who had not even mastered the basic competencies of reading and writing? How could my experience in using technology for education be applicable to a school with limited and almost outdated equipment? How could my desire to help my students’ dream of lofty things be relevant to their lives of misery and deprivation? I was fully confronted with the true face of poverty.
Far from being just a lack of money or opportunities, it’s also a lack of being loved, a lack of being encouraged to reach one’s full potential. The essence of poverty is the disinheritance of basic human dignity.
I waited in hope for God to give me a sign; some answers to my questions. Sure enough, it wasn’t too long before He did. It was approaching Christmas of last year when my epiphany came. I was sitting at my desk, waiting for my students to submit their work when I looked up and saw several green, plastic soft drink bottles. Irritated by the mess, I assumed that the bottles had simply been used for a project, and nobody had since disposed of them.
As it turned out, the bottles were an integral part of the class’ Christmas celebration. What was once an eyesore would now be bound together by masking tape and transformed into a cylindrical cone. Decorated with colored recycled paper, and red and green magazine cut-outs, small gifts and greeting cards were beneath it. It was the most beautiful Christmas tree I had seen in my life.
This unique spirit of Christmas was also evident at the Christmas party. It was undoubtedly the simplest party I had ever been to. Everyone had to make do with a small piece of fried chicken, spaghetti, and instant iced tea. Unlike the countless Christmas parties I’ve attended, however, I was touched by the scene that unfolded before me. My students did not mind the simple meal; they were all happily exchanging stories with one another. They also prepared parlor games, which they thoroughly lost themselves in with plenty of laughter. I was surrounded by heartfelt happiness. I think it was the only Christmas party where I was sure Jesus was present.
It was then that I realized God was giving me a glimpse of His infinite wisdom. I witnessed how God could create something beautiful out of nothing. It was a surrender to the truth that no one individual can solve the problem of poverty alone. The community known as ERDA Tech is a collaborative effort of different talents from the sponsors to the administrators and teachers working towards the same goal, that of making a brighter future possible for our students.
However, faced daily with the reality of suffering and injustice, we confidently root our faith and hope not just on our own hard work, but on a power that produces results far beyond our capabilities. As Archbishop Oscar Romero said in his prayer, “Our efforts may be incomplete, still it is a beginning, a step along the way, an opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.”
The Christmas party ended with the usual exchange of gifts. As a token of gratitude, my class gave me a simple but creative Christmas card full of thankful messages. I looked at the beautiful card made of an unknown hard material covered with construction paper. Curiously, I peeled off the decorative paper and discovered that the card was made out of a flap of plain, ordinary, used carton.
And that was how I discovered the true meaning of Christmas, of love and of the truth that out of old cardboard boxes and used bottles, there is a God that makes all things beautiful.” (End of article)
ERDA (website: www.erdafoundation.org) deserves our vigorous support. The success of ERDA and Hossie could bring our long-suffering masses into their Promised Land and transform our country from loser to winner.