Sunday, October 28, 2007

Helping the Schoolchildren


There are 131 schoolchildren in the first grade at the Conrado Barrios Elementary School in Baybay, Roxas City. There are only 3 sections so each teacher is in charge of 43 students. It was raining heavily the day I dropped by the school so a few students didn't show up. The Principal, Miss Carandang, has instituted a reward program for students who have the best attendance.

In December last year, my family and I distributed school supplies to 20 of the first graders who had the most need for assistance. We also donated books to their library. This year we saved enough money to give all the first graders the tools they need and could not afford to buy.

The children were all excited as we distributed crayons, pencils, pens, sharpeners, pad paper. Some children were extending their hand to get the supplies before their turn, probably because they wanted to ensure they got their school supply. Each child smiled and said "Thank you". One child was brought by his teacher to me while I was giving supplies in another classroom because somehow he was left out during the distribution in his classroom. He was near tears.

It was a special day to see the children happy. Now I know that they will be able to write and draw and color with the school supplies we gave them.

Next schoolyear, (starts in June in the Philippines), I hope to include the second graders in the distribution of school supplies. I will also work with the teachers during the reading hour to motivate the children to read and use the meager resources of their library.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Is Beauty White Skin Deep?

After three months of watching Philippine television, it was difficult not to miss the numerous ads on skin whitening. I’ve been aware of these in the past but it seems that all the famous cosmetic brands are now embracing this national obsession to be fair skinned.

"When it comes to whitening, I trust only one name", proclaims a young, fair skinned model. Her ad is just one of many that claims their cream or lotion has “Power whitening”, “Whiter skin that stays”, “Star white skin", and "White radiance intensive whitening cream, closer to perfect fairness". A popular soap star who promotes a whitening cream reminds viewers that the "batok" (back of the neck) and the "siko" (elbow) must also be white.

According to some of these ads, papaya and calamansi (of the lime family) are ingredients that help skin turn white and stay white. Even armpits have to be white. It is no longer enough that you use deodorant to get rid of the “baboy” (pig) in your underarms. Women specifically, must show white armpits in case they raise their arms in public. Otherwise, they’ll stand to lose their boyfriend or bevy of admirers.

One ad I remember from a few years back was of a young bride-to-be who was worried her skin was not white enough to wear a white wedding dress. In Western countries, Caucasian women love to sunbathe to get that healthy tan before donning that white dress. White skin in a white gown projects a ghostly image while tanned skin glows with a white outfit.

It’s obvious that there is a stigma attached to brown or dark skin in the Philippines. As they discussed in a popular morning TV show recently, young men prefer women with white skin. The beautiful and ‘kayumanggi” actress, Angel Aquino, defended the brown skinned woman who she says grows on men the more they observe her. Another point made by a white skinned panelist of the same show is that when a brown skinned woman sweats, she is more dirty looking than a fair skinned woman who perspires as profusely. Really?!!!

Growing up healthy and brown in the Philippines, I was always the object of teasing by classmates who called me “batok” meaning burnt in Ilonggo. I’ve also heard people say that I’m “beautiful but too dark” and I’m “bright but brown”. I’m never just beautiful or just bright. People always qualify their remarks by saying “maitim siya” (she's black). I guess I should accept the complements with grace and serenity.

There’s no doubt that opposites attract and many Filipinas with dark skin buy these products that promise whiter skin. They can’t be blamed because in a society where white skin is emulated, even the poor people do what they can to have white skin. My maid bought body powder she saw advertised on TV and applied this to her face so she could look white without realizing how funny she looked.

A young woman I spoke to at the beauty parlor told me she uses these whitening creams regularly or goes to a skin whitening clinic. She was not aware how susceptible her newly peeled and thinned skin is to the sun's harmful rays and skin cancer. And it's pretty hard to avoid the harsh sun in these islands where the sun shines nearly everyday.

Is beauty really white skin deep only?

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Not under the Tuscan Sun

My new home is not in the glamorous region of Tuscany nor in Peter Mayle's neighborhood in Provence. But it is across from the beach where I can walk every afternoon when it's low tide and scan the horizon for islands close by. What's more, I can wear my pareo all day long and walk the length of my driveway if I don't wish to go outside my gate. What a perfect hideaway though my good friends are always inviting me to some lunch or dinner in one of many restaurants that line the beachfront.

My skin is now a deep chocolate brown after spending three months tending to my garden. My friends have given me so many different kinds of flowers, cactus and trees which I've planted along with my little helper. In two months I've watched how fast the papaya and plumeria trees have grown. I love the roses in hues of pinks, reds and oranges. I've recently been given a white rose bush. And the bougainvillea are flourishing as are the orchids and gumamela.


I feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction to see all that I've planted and I can't wait to see my mango and avocado trees bear fruit. I'm sure my banana tree will soon deliver a different kind of banana, not of the Chiquita variety, but the short and sweet ones I ate as a child growing up in these parts. We've already tasted the tomatoes from the garden and drank fresh "buko" juice from the coconut trees. What a blessing to enjoy the best of both worlds.

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Photos by Rosario Charie Albar

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Yes! A Pre-Flight Massage

I no longer dread waiting for hours for my flight after checking in at Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport. I’m more worried that if I don’t check in early I’ll miss the chance of a good massage. Moreover, I’m preoccupied with the type of massage I’ll get: a one hour full body rubdown, a foot, back or scalp massage, or foot reflexology. The charge for a 20 minute back rub is $7.00 and my masseuse really worked hard on my aching back and shoulders and surprised me with a scalp massage to remove the fog in my head. She was also solicitous enough to ask me if her massage technique was hurting me. But I was already half asleep. Before finishing she asked me to sit down so she could stretch my back muscles and arms. What a clincher that was! True to the description given on their leaflet, the massage helped ease my anxieties. When we were done, I found I wanted more. But I had to board my flight to Tokyo.

With a little bit more time, I could have had a full body massage for P1,000.00 or roughly $22.00 per hour. The thirty minute costs half that. I’m especially intrigued with the foot massage because it is supposed to help stimulate blood circulation which is exactly what a traveler needs on those long flights while trapped in narrow seats and even narrower legroom.

What's next? I hope they’ll consider a foot spa, a manicure and a pedicure. So when I arrive at my next destination, I will look polished and relaxed.