Daniele De Patre, a Focolare Youth from Northern Italy, shares his experience in the Philippines, as he came and volunteered to work at the Focolare’s Pag-asa Social Center in Tagaytay. In line with the international Genfest held in Budapest, Hungary last August 31-September 1, 2012, here we publish how an Italian youth bridged cultural barriers by serving others.
After graduating from high school Daniele started to nurture a big dream. He wanted to spend his life helping others, especially those who are most in need. In 2009, he graduated in Physiotherapy and moved to Pisa to practice his profession. Working in hospitals and other medical clinics, he felt good sharing his knowledge and skills for the good of others. Operating in healthcare facilities, he was introduced to harsh environments, and it was in these situations of suffering and pain that he realized that people needed more support, comfort and care. This made him realize that outside his own world reality was completely different, as the poor and suffering were neglected, and had no hopes for improving their situation.
After two years, his dream of spending time serving in a remote and poor area became a reality. In fact, in January 2012 he moved to Tagaytay, a small city to the south of Manila in the Philippines. There he came in contact with a Social Center that tries to help the poorest people. He shares:”Pag-asa Social Center (Pag-asa means ‘hope’) welcomed me upon my arrival in the Philippines. I came on tiptoe into a completely new reality, away from my own culture. Here I saw a different situation of poverty and hardship.”
Pag-asa employs about 10 staff with many other people volunteering for this work. They spend their days bringing joy and hope to the poor in neighboring barangays. Daniele continues: “The first thing that changed my perspective happened when I got to know the poor. I felt part of a wonderful family. I then felt privileged, and, as a stranger and newcomer, in need of help myself. Here with my colleagues we built up a strong unity, all trying to cooperate and build bridges among us, witnessing to the beauty of a peaceful, clean, non-compromising environment, under the sun (literally). Their smiles, their availability and the desire to make me feel at home, inspired me to give my best and above all take to heart all their difficulties as if they were my own, so I tried to always be the first to share the skills I have learned in life.”
I learned that children who appear small, take in everything not only with their eyes, but also with their hearts and souls.
He had two main tasks: in the morning Daniele translated letters of children from English to Italian to their sponsors abroad, mostly Italian families, and in the afternoon, he offered physical therapy to people who needed them. Both jobs were quite new for him at first, but he had come to experience deep and new meanings behind them. While reading the letters of the children, he found himself more and more immersed in their world. He shares, “Although I did not know all their faces behind those letters, in their words I discovered all the joys, the difficulties or the hopes that they were living. I learned that children who appear small, take in everything not only with their eyes, but also with their hearts and souls. I realized that they have a special sensitivity and are happy in a simple way, for example, by just receiving a new pair of shoes or a colorful notebook! That’s how much the smile of a child is worth! For us Europeans, this way of appreciating things is getting lost, as we forget life’s essentials when we search for so many things in life. But here I really saw what is most important, the simplicity of their lives, in which anything that one receives is already a great gift and a cause for celebration!”
Then, by practicing his profession in the Philippines he found himself using and improving it. This was because his relationship with his clients was completely different. Before embarking on a therapy, he saw to it to build up a relationship or friendship, and a sense of solidarity and understanding with his patients. He shares: “It was wonderful to share in their most intimate thoughts, understanding how they felt and how they wanted to be helped. This happened to me especially with the parents of many children who came for treatment. I realized that they hid so many thoughts that disturbed them, and also uncertainties, and there was really a need to communicate with them. When they saw my willingness to listen, it seemed like their volcanoes were erupting and exploding as they poured out their feelings to me. In expressing themselves, they were already unburdened and this was a big help for them.”
Experiencing this environment, Daniele realized how much, before, he had lived superficially, in indifference and neglect of others. He shares: “It seemed then that the world revolved around me and my world, and those people that I had seen on TV news were so far away that I felt that I could not do anything about them. But now, living in the Philippines, I understood that I really could do so much. In fact, a lot! Just thinking about the sufferings of other people and their difficult situations will somehow change how we live our daily lives. It will even help us modify our habits, not wasting all our resources and wealth on trifles, but making good use of what we own. For here in the Philippines, although possessing so little, children and families rediscover hope and serenity in the midst of hardship. To see the poor with calmness and faith in God as they think of where to get their food for dinner, grateful for the opportunity to send their children to school and to see their eyes, deep with emotion, thanking you for a dress or something given to them, really filled my heart with joy!”
Certainly it is unlikely we’ll think of these things if we are far removed from such a situation. Daniele understood that these things were so distant from his culture, and that people from his region in Northern Italy might not even think about such things. He admits, “But if I stop for a moment and remember that everything that was given to me, having been born in a rich region, possessing a house, cars and the many amenities that everyone dreams of, and especially the opportunity to improve myself by studying and working, I realized that everything was given to me freely, without any merit of mine (well, of course, thanks to my parents and those who lived before me in my country) … But somehow, this makes me think and appreciate what I’ve received, as I have now a responsibility to share this gift with others. As the gospel says, ‘Freely we received, so we freely we give…’ “
He adds, “The fact that I was born in Italy is such a big gift. I have received a precious gift for which I am so thankful. I may have been born in Italy, but another brother was born in Africa and another in Brazil and still another in the Philippines. Their conditions are bound to be different from mine, as some will live poorly and in suffering without their having chosen it. To this reality, I can’t close my eyes and be selfish. I cannot plug up my ears and then pretend that this brother will manage without my help. I also realized that at times I myself may be in need of help. I cannot tie my hands and pretend that the rest of the world doesn’t exist and I don’t need the others. My brother, being such, needs me and I need him too. As I realized this, I felt my heart exploding in my chest. I wanted to run to give my contribution to the realization of their hopes and my hopes too. I want to offer a brick for the construction of a new world in which my brothers and I can eat the same way, have opportunities to study and teach, to dress and to play without having to beg, to have a roof and a bed on which to rest one’s head at night and dream together that, finally, a more just world is not just a far-fetched idea, but here, thanks to everyone’s contribution, it is slowly becoming a reality.”
- This story was also published in Citta Nuova (Italian Magazine).