ADVOCACY MINDANOW: Do you know ‘Mader’ Ricky Reyes?

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews/10 Dec.) — I was Davao congressman in the late 1980’s when I first met Ricky Reyes who was already widely known as a trend setter in beauty and hair fashion in the Big City.

One day, with a group of hairstylists all the way from Manila, he landed in Davao and personally launched his “ISANG GUNTING ISANG SUKLAY” project which was a skills training program for the jobless and unskilled youth and some mothers in our barangays within my first congressional district. They were trained for free and at the end of the course, all the “graduates” also received starter kits consisting of scissors, combs, brushes etc. to start a livelihood that could earn them somehow some modest income for the family.

That was 25 years or so ago. Fast forward today.

A few days ago, my wife Beth and I were brought by Ricky to a place called ‘CHILD HAUS” in Quezon City. It was a big bungalow type 7-bedroom residential house that he converted into a half-way house for young, out-of-town and indigent cancer patients undergoing chemo or treatment in Manila hospitals.

There were about 23 children there at the time of our visit, mostly wearing isolation masks. They live there, free board and lodging and medical care including a “bantay” each for as long as their treatment needs them to be in Metro Manila. They have learning and play sessions in between treatments. Ricky is able to generate support from generous benefactors to sustain the expense of a full time staff of six, including doctors and volunteers attending to them. He brought with him 2 sacks of rice when we visited. I was touched when he whispered: “I told them you brought the rice.”

Ricky said during the period of 10 years, there were about 11,000 kids who passed those doors. Some of them passed away although quite at a remarkably low percentage. Others returned back to their homes cured. There were also a number who kept returning after their cancer recurred. They all came from outside Manila, kids whose treatments needed them to be in Manila and they had nowhere to go. I met some kids from Bicol, Pangasinan, even from the Visayas. A pretty young face on a wheel chair was a bit bloated partly covered by a hygienic mask — signs of steroid treatment. Another young boy, about 5 years old had a shiny head, ravaged by chemo and all. Ricky told me he could assist just in case I have similarly situated young kids from Mindanao.

One could see the passion of selfless service and the love that Ricky showered on the unfortunate young patients as he talked to them, touched them, hugged them. He was “mader” to all of them.

His face however turned sullen when he recalled how the CHILD HAUS and the children beneficiaries were ejected by the PCSO from a government facility that housed them when the Aquino administration took over from the Arroyo government in 2010. Ricky however declined to give me details. He merely said that the eviction resulted to more blessings from generous donors that made possible their transfer to its present site. He related how, during those trying times,(he shed pails of tears on public television, I was told) the family of tycoon Henry Sy Sr. of SM through his son, Businessman Hans Sy, told him that he could use a 7-bedroom bungalow that was available somewhere in the vicinity of Quezon City hall.

The residential house was promptly transformed into a dormitory. All vacant spaces were filled with double-deck beds. It has a spacious garage that now is a common function area, a medical clinic room, kitchen, etc. Now, kind souls come to the facility bringing sunshine and joy to the otherwise unfortunate victims of cancer. Beth counted about 9 or so of them sick with leukemia — and so young in age. While we were leaving, we met at the sidewalk a young couple bringing down from their van food and items into the house. Someone was celebrating a birthday in the couple’s family and what better celebration they could have than by bringing their “handa” and goodies and bringing cheers instead to the sick children.

I looked at the children’s eyes as they sang Christmas songs to us. I knew some of them would die soon. Others would have to go through painful treatment and healing procedures. Some were so young they could not even comprehend what was happening to them. Some mothers left their families in the provinces just to be with them — for sure agonizing with them. But then my thoughts consoled me thinking and believing that they are God’s chosen few who suffer so that others like us may be given the opportunity to share and be blessed.

“Mader Ricky Reyes” runs a regular TV program at 9 a.m. every Saturday at GMA TV NEWS CHANNEL where he tirelessly calls for those blessed to share their blessings.

No wonder he is also so blessed. (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).