Fr. Dave Concepcion and Adele Joaquin in Petra.
No chance encounters
PEOPLE - Joanne Rae M. Ramirez (The Philippine Star) - March 19, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part 2)

We have heard of the “Bantay Bata” Foundation, which not only trained the light on the reality of child abuse in the Philippines but also gave abused children a recourse: someone to turn to.

But did you now that there also exists in the Philippines a private advocate for the elderly, named “Bantay Matanda” Inc.? After all, aging loved ones are a reality we must face because like children, the elderly can be helpless, misunderstood, neglected and abused.

Bantay Matanda Inc. or BMI  was set up by musician and former tour guide Adele Joaquin, who realized while caring for her late mother Encarnacion, who was suffering from vascular dementia, that “so many families don’t know how to care for those suffering from it.”

BMI was incorporated with this mission and vision: “to help improve the quality of life of our elderly loved ones and their caregivers through an awareness program.”

Adele gave up her day job as a tour guide to become a full-time caregiver for her nanay for 16 years, until her mother died in 2013 at age 96. Her nanay’s forgetfulness was the first warning sign. She would, for example, leave the stove on. Then she started having mood swings and accused people of stealing from her. Adele finally sought help when her normally gentle mother almost hit her with a slab of wood! Adele, who sings, plays the flute and the piano, among others,  says now she wishes she had sought help for her mother’s condition much earlier than she actually did.

Adele Joaquin with her late mother Encarnacion.

Because of what she underwent, Adele saw the need to share her own knowledge and experience in caring for the elderly through Bantay Matanda and other venues like medical conferences, TV and radio programs. A graduate of Communication Arts at the University of Santo Tomas, Adele has served as vice president of the Alzheimer’s Disease Association of the Philippines. At present, she is the alternate sectoral representative for the elderly of the ABSNET (Area Based Standard Networks) Central Cluster under DSWD.

I met Adele during a recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land organized by Catholic Travel Inc. led by Fr. Dave Concepcion. She played the flute during a Mass in Cana for the renewal of vows of the 17 couples who were with us on the pilgrimage. Once, during a short lull after lunch in between our visits to holy sites, Adele played the piano and even sang.

I learned about her advocacy one night when we shared a table during dinner.

“At first, I decided to put up BMI to create awareness. Then I set up a support group for family caregivers to help ease their burden. So now, we do family counseling as well to guide them in giving the best care for their loved ones.

“And if time and resources permit, we do medical missions and outreach to the provinces. Lastly, I match caregivers looking for jobs with families who need them.”

Adele holds a regular forum for the elderly and their caregivers. On March 30, BMI will hold a recollection for seniors. (The hub of operations for the organization is at the Bantay Matanda Center located at 8 South A Street, Quezon City.)

Arlene Santamaria and classmate Norma Tinoco in Jerusalem.

 Last week, my cousin Cheryl Loleng Mangasarian visited her parents Pedieng and Nellie in their home in Puerto Princesa,  Palawan, and she had an expert check it to “senior-proof” it.

“After all, we childproof our homes, so it makes sense to ‘senior-proof’ it for our parents,” Cheryl said.

She wagged a finger at me and said seriously, “Longevity is in our blood, after all.” Indeed, it is a blessing to be able to comb gray hair! And even a bigger blessing if we are prepared for aging and caring for those blessed with long lives.

(For questions and inquiries, call 373-2262, 998-2548 and 0917-4167849 or e-mail info@bantaymatanda.org.)

*  *  *

Holy Family and Nativity paintings by Arlene Santamaria.

Another pilgrim who was like a drill sergeant (a sexy one, that is) every time our group of 49 had to be herded into the bus was Arlene Santamaria. One click from Arlene’s finger accompanied by a husky “Yala! Yala!” (which means “Let’s go” in Israel and which I thought at first was her parody for barkers shouting “Ayala! Ayala!” at jeepney stops) would see us pilgrims, including the seniors, making a beeline for the bus, the WC, the entrance of a church, wherever we had to assemble for that matter.

Arlene first joined a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with her St. Paul’s Quezon City classmate Aly Placino in 2010. Since then, she has been hooked — she brought her other classmates back to the Holy Land in 2011. One day, Catholic Travel asked her if she wanted to be a part-time tour escort during pilgrimages, and Arlene agreed. She has been to the Holy Land eight times, and “99.9 percent of the time, my prayers were answered.”

Arlene is a housewife. She and husband Louie Santamaria have been married for 38 years now and are already doting grandparents.

But barking “Yala! Yala!” during pilgrimages isn’t Arlene’s major talent. The lady is a painter! After being inspired by a group of children from AKAP who painted on glass bottles, Arlene decided to paint on plates she had at home. With acrylic as her medium, Arlene completed 40 plates with images of the Holy Family and the Nativity in her first year of painting alone. She paints in the living room of her home, then finishes each plate with a ceramic sealant.

Arlene had no intention of selling her works but friends who saw them, like her classmate and our fellow pilgrim Jane Tan, started buying them as Christmas presents. Thus, Arlene has painted close to 500 plates in the last three years. She donates part of the proceeds from the sale of the plates to the Adrian Manzano Foundation, whose beneficiaries are cancer patients.

The plates are vibrant and happy, and escorting pilgrims on a spiritual journey makes Arlene’s plate runneth over with blessings and new friends.

As Father Dave told me when I asked him what makes each pilgrimage, tiring for him as head of the group, worth it, he said, “It is fulfilling when we go to the Holy Land as pilgrims and go home as a family.”

(You may e-mail me at joanneraeramirez@yahoo.com.  Follow me on Instagram @joanneraeramirez.)

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