DAVAO CITY -- Kindergarten pupil Jewel Saripada, 5, clutched on her cellophane plastic-packed pair of sneakers, her first ever, as the rest of the 220 pupils of the Datu Lompipi Elementary School in upland Barangay Marilog queued for their own shoes, also the first for many of the barefoot pupils.
Jewel’s pink shoes fitted her dainty feet, sending a smile on her fair-skinned face, as she looked around for her mother.
Inside the tent-shaded front yard of the school, Princess Ashley Bayaan, 11, and Sara Jane Jana, 13, waited their turn to be called to claim their sneakers, their hands gingerly arranging the trinklets and other parts of their tribal costume before they would also perform a tribal dance among the Ubo-Manobos.
The distribution was by grade level, beginning with the kindergarten pupils.
Marilog district is inhabited by the Ubo-Manobos and the Ata-Matigsalugs although many non-tribal settlers, or the Visayan-speaking settlers, have also carved out their presence along the highways and some of the interiors of the place to farm.
December 7 was actually the school’s happy day, as two Japanese business groups mounted a gift-giving advocacy, called Happy Shoes, to the pupils of this school in Sitio Lower Kibalang.
The children – from kindergarten to Grade 7 – were the handpicked recipients of the Happy Shoes campaign mounted by online site, japino.com and Aichi Television in the Aichi Preifecture of Japan.
This season, the groups decided on the shoes and called it Happy Shoes, “because we want to make children in this part of the city really happy”, Toshi Ueda, executive director of advocacy group Rise Asia.
Pinoys in Japan
Thea Filipinos working in the Aichi area helped a lot in the gathering of the shoes for the Marilog schoolchildren, while the Japanese telecommunications provider, AU, and the SBI Remit put up collection boxes in their offices in Japan to collect the shoes.
“Filipinos in Japan, and even the Japanese public said it was good that there is this campaign. Rather than throw their shoes which are still in good condition, they would rather donate them to charity,” said Milton Muranaga, president of the online communication company called MCOM. His company hosted the japino.com website.
A close friend, Minaru Kato, an executive of Aichi TV Planning, also came along to assist the gift-giving.
“These are the shoes that Japan is happy to share with you all today. And we hope these would also do a great help to you,” he told the pupils.
The Aichi prefecture alone has five million Filipino residents, many of them working in the Toyota manufacturing plant and in other business establishments and factories.
The Happy Shoes campaign is being mounted by Japanese and Filipinos in Japan in Aichi and in the three neighboring prefectures of Mie, Gifu and Shizuoka, Ueda said. The four prefectures are located in central Honshu, Japan’s main island.
Ueda said the Happy Shoes campaign came up during the First Philippine Fiesta for Filipinos in Tokai, Japan in July this year. After launching it during the event, the collection soon followed.
“Many Filipinos there are resident of Davao, and they really helped a lot,” he added.
Ueda, himself, already went around Davao City, and visited Marilog in 2014 to find beneficiary communities of the corporate social responsibility programs of Japanese corporations. He was also assisted by the Integrated Primary Health Care, an outreach program of the Davao Medical School Foundation.
A lot of help
Former Barangay Captain Leonilo Suyco said the gift-giving would be a big help to the community. “We really welcome all nongovernment organizations and groups helping our people here,” he said. His wife is currently the barangay captain.
Donations like the shoes were important for the communities where children go barefoot to school or around the community especially during the regular rainy days of the second half of the year.
Besides, he said, shoes were also difficult to own among the tribal families, who he said earn an average annual income of only as much as P7,000.
The residents subsist on tilling vegetables and grain crops, but the crude and small production from their lands could barely provide even the basic household needs.
Datu Ongkao Lompipi said his fellow tribal residents continued to survive on their own daily struggle to earn something.
“What we also need here is water and medicines,” he said.
While many school children showed happiness at receiving the shoes, a number of them would give the bigger-sized shoes to their father or mother.
“At least I have some Christmas gift for my mother,” Bayaan said.
School head, Yolanda dela Cruz, said the school has its heart full of gratitude to the Japanese donation. “Thank you for making our children happy and for making this Christmas meaningful for them”.
The school has prepared native delicacies to fete the Japanese visitors as the tribal costume-clad pupils perform at the uncemented front yard.
The children also cheered their Japanese visitors who requested them to shout “Happy Shoes”.
Across the wooded part of the school were a throng of school children who put on their shoes and shared stories among themselves.
Some of the additional shoes from Japan were raffled off through parlor games, including the portion where they have to carry Datu Ongkao Lompipi, a game won by his nephew.
Ueda told dela Cruz later that they may return to the school next year to hand school bags.