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The youth are our future: The Noche Buena and Start Again Projects
By Featured Blogger Tina Santiago-Rodriguez Updated Monday March 24, 2014 - 3:22pm
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Earlier this year, I received an email from Katherine Bulan, a college student who read my posts about giving gifts that give life, in honor of the Typhoon Yolanda victims. She shared about The Noche Buena Project, something their group did to "bring the spirit of Christmas to the people who need them the most."

Katherine says she and her friends were able to distribute 1250 Noche Buena packages and more than a thousand toys to different areas in Visayas (Tacloban, Ormoc, Palo, Bantayan Islands, Sigma in Capiz, Antique and Aklan). 

She shares: "It was a great experience for us as we were mostly young people going around Visayas to do this and we felt how they appreciated not only the goods we gave but our company and love. It was as if we brought back the spirit of Christmas to that area." (You can view more pictures and updates on facebook.com/TheNocheBuenaProject.) 

According to Katherine, the same group, after seeing the devastation especially in Palo, came up with the Start Again Project, to help the victims rebuild their lives. They started with a school supplies drive for the people of Leyte and are also planning to build roofs for schools, hold medical missions, build a memorial for the dead, bring a system for drinking water, give out scholarships and have a feeding program.

I was able to ask Katherine -- or Kat, as she is known to friends and family -- a few questions about their worthy endeavor and I'm sharing portions of her email interview here, so that all of us can see that even the little bit we have and share can really make a difference:

Tina: Hi! Please introduce yourself and your group, and tell us a bit about the Noche Buena and Start Again Projects.

Kat: I am Katherine Bulan, and I am a college student. Along with other young people, we wanted to bring love to the areas where it is lacking.

Most of us came from the Youth for a United World, an international group scattered across five continents with different ethnicities, nationalities, religions, beliefs and cultures with only one goal: to bridge gaps in order to build a united world.

We strive in many ways to build universal brotherhood, to heal the divisions that exist within families, between generations and between different social groups. Others are private individuals who simply want to help.

The Noche Buena Project started out as a post in my Facebook page asking for donations for Noche Buena packages for just 100 families in one community here in Manila. With that just single post, we were able to reach our initial goal.

After seeing the destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas, we felt that these people who had lost everything needed to feel the spirit of Christmas, despite what they went through. We were surprised that the original recipients of the Noche Buena packages in Manila voluntarily gave up their share for the survivors of the typhoon.

All in all, we were able to give 1250 Noche Buena packages a few days before Christmas in seven different areas in Visayas. Each package contained ingredients for pasta, fruit salad and Christmas ham for a family. They were surprised to see the contents as they were used to receiving sardines and noodles after the typhoon. Others even did not know what to do with the ham as it was the first time for them to actually have it for Christmas. We also conducted Christmas parties for the kids, gave them toys as gifts and conducted debriefing sessions

After what we saw in the Visayas, the devastation and destruction, and the hope of the people despite what they went through, we wanted to do something more to help them rebuild their lives. Thus, the Start Again Project was born.

Tina: Why did you choose to come up with these projects?

Kat: As young people, we cannot simply watch on the sidelines and see our brothers and sisters in the Visayas suffer, while we stay behind our computers and smart phones, immersing ourselves in social media all day. We as young people can do something concrete, and give back to the community.

Thus, we made use of our technological and social media expertise to gather donations and encourage other people to help with our advocacies. And we received much more donations than what we expected, even getting responses from people outside of the country who wanted to see their donations being put to good use. 

Tina: What life lessons did you learn from doing this kind of service to the community?

Kat: First, we learned that nothing is impossible if it is done out of love. We had an experience wherein the original allotment of Noche Buena packages for San Joaquin in Palo, Leyte was just 300. But upon talking to the parish priest and barangay captain, we found out that there were 600 families there who badly needs these packages.

Even though we did not have the money yet for the extra 300 packs, we said our yes that we will give for all the 600 families. A few days after, we received several donations covering the full amount needed. And good thing we did this too, as we saw the massive death and suffering in this community, which led to the Start Again Project.

Something that I learned from the survivors we have talked to and encountered, is how to be selfless and giving even when they themselves are having a difficult time. We heard stories of people who were the first to help out with the rescue efforts for their community even if many of their family members passed away.

We saw firsthand how the children were very excited to eat pancit and receive gifts and toys, but making sure that the younger children get their share too. We saw how people showed us where help is needed the most, even if they themselves are not in a comfortable situation. We saw how they were the ones cleaning the debris left by the typhoon and helping one another to rebuild what they have lost.

Tina: Regarding the Start Again Project, what do you hope to achieve? And how can people help you and your group realize these achievements?

The Start Again Project has seven goals, some immediate needs, others, more long-term:

1) ROOF FOR SCHOOLS; to provide roofs and ceilings to the classrooms destroyed by typhoon Yolanda

2) SCHOOL SUPPLIES DRIVE; to collect and distribute sets of school supplies for students

3) YOLANDA MEMORIAL; to build a memorial for the hundreds buried in mass graves who were victims of the typhoon

4) POTABLE WATER SYSTEMS; to bring potable water systems to typhoon-struck areas to provide drinkable water

5) HIGHER EDUCATION PROGRAMS; to give scholarships to deserving youth for higher education

6) SOUP KITCHEN; to conduct feeding programs especially for children and youth

7) MEDICAL MISSION; to provide medical care and assistance to the survivors of Typhoon Yolanda

We are doing these in different communities in Palo, Leyte, depending on the needs of that area. By accomplishing this, we hope we can help them rebuild their lives and start again. Even with much loss and destruction, we saw the great hope of the survivors, believing that they will be able to carry on with their lives. We want to give them a little push in order to make this happen. 

We are gathering donations for any of these projects in terms of donations in cash, in kind or sponsorships. Please visit our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/TheStartAgainProject or email us at startagainproject@gmail.com if you want to help or partner with us in these efforts. And please share our posters as well so that we can reach more people. 

Tina: Lastly, do you have any words of encouragement or inspiration to share with our readers?

Kat: As the youth, we have the opportunity to move for something greater than what is just in front of us. Let us not be carried away by what the world dictates us to be, but be instruments of change and love. Do not be afraid to be different, because by being different can we only accomplish amazing things. 

Chiara Lubich, the foundress of the Youth for a United World, once said, "Aim high young people, we have only one life, there won't be another, it's worth it to spend it well."

*******

Well said, Kat! She and her friends are truly setting a great example for us all -- and because of young people like them, we can truly say that the future of our country lies in our youth! 

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