SANDY Alm nee Sandra Badon Tadeo is a small woman, standing just five feet and 146 pounds. An average Filipino beauty, she still stands out among the giants.

Why? Because Sandra's heart is as big as the ocean or as wide as the skies. She is here in New York with her doting and understanding husband Jack Alm. Son Vincent Adrian is also with her and now has started attending school in New York.

Soon her other two children who are still in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental in northern Mindanao, Philippines would join her, thus making them complete as a family.

With these outpouring of blessings there is enough reason for her to celebrate her birthday in style but instead, Sandra decided to celebrate with the less fortunate.

Sandy, as she is known among friends, turned 43 on May 26 and held a party with the youth as her guests. None of them is personally known to her.

‘Everybody's birthday’

I asked her if this was part of her bucket list and said: “I try to embrace life one day at a time, not expecting anything from it, just allowing myself to be amazed by life's surprises… I dance with the flow of life.” This 43-year-old woman celebrated her birthday with 50 youthful offenders at “Tahanan Ng Kabataan.” The party was held in her honor even without knowing any of the attendees aside from the fact that they are from the Tahanan, an institution run by the government.

Residents of “Tahanan” are below 18 years old who are given a chance to become good citizens of the country.

“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” Sandra told me but actually I knew it because it was seen on her Facebook timeline by her friends like me. She is excited about her pet project called “Everybody's Birthday” and she launched it at TNK in Barangay Lumbia, Cagayan de Oro City last May 26.

Local groups like the Dayeg Movement and Dire Husi joined the event held from 1 to 5 p.m. and local artists like Rhyan Casiño provided the entertainment for the kids, volunteers and staff.

“There were Christian bands playing Christian music, and parlor games for the children and food,” Sandra said. She said the party is a self-funded project. “By working extra hours, I raised $800 which I needed to make things happen like the food, prizes for the games, honorarium for the performing bands, T-shirts and printing, as well as mobility fund.” Sandra said.

“I am hoping for this project to be a regular annual event that will try to change the lives of these children one birthday at a time. I envision this project to be a continuing and sustainable movement to bring the simple joy of celebrating birthday for the children in especially difficult circumstances (CEDC) in Cagayan de Oro,” she said.

The children partook of food served by Tita Mimi's Catering who also supported the cause and donated 40 additional packed meals. Aside from Casiño, Kuya Fish Team and R Productions all offered their talents and skills for free to the event.

“I would not have made it possible without their untiring effort and unselfish support. Of course, my husband Jack is very much a part of this project,” Sandra said.

This was not the first time that Sandy did a project like this even before she left Cagayan de Oro.

Gratefulness

She already got involved with the feeding program of a mutual friend named Sally Catulong for the street children in St. Augustine Cathedral area.

“The project was born out of my gratefulness to God for being so kind and generous to me and my loved ones, and out of my strong desire to do something for the underprivileged children in Cagayan de Oro,” Sandra said.

Sandy was widowed at a young age and was left with the huge task of raising three children who then were only eight years old, five years old and one year old at the time of her husband Raffy Tadeo's death.

Raffy's parents and grandparents were neighbors of mine in Tagoloan town, Misamis Oriental. “Being widowed at 31, I've always inculcated among my children how blessed and loved they are even though their father is gone,” she said.

Despite her limited resources, she made sure that she would be able to share her blessings with the very poor in my community. Sandra handed out groceries to families living in shanties in her village of Indahag every New Year's Day as well as goodie bags to about 250 to 300 children at Christmas.

Humble beginnings

She would also be a mass reader at St. Augustine Cathedral located across City Hall where she used to work at the information office.

“After everything I went through in life, and reflecting on my 43 years on earth, I have nothing but praise and so much gratitude to God for the beautiful life I live,” Sandra said.

While saying that she isn't rich, Sandra said her wealth comes from all the love she has in her heart for her family and friends and people “of my own kind. The very poor and impoverished sector of the society,” she said.

“I had lived a life of extreme poverty where we would sleep through our hunger, go to school on an empty stomach, walk to and from school with badly worn out shoes, gather food from expired products thrown by warehouses and live in a slum area,” Sandra said.

She felt, breathed and lived poverty. “Back then I vowed to myself that someday, I will come out of it and give my parents and my family a chance to live a comfortable life,” Sandra said.

Sandra cited her humble beginnings as a voluntary child laborer sifting charcoal for export in huge warehouses in Puntod, to doing laundry for her teachers and working in cassava farms.

Overcoming poverty

Sandra obtained her Bachelors Art degree in Mass Communication at Pilgrim Chrisitan College as a city government scholar and it changed everything for her.

She worked in various jobs as reporter/news writer for Gold Star Daily, GMA-TV 12 (Newscope), Bombo Radyo, an editor in chief of the weekly Golden Chronicle and then information officer of the Cagayan de Oro City government.

Sandra also became a media consultant for the European Union-funded Women's Health and Safe Motherhood Project-Partnerships Component, a freelance writer for Women's Feature Service, Interact Media and the nongovernment organization Balay Mindanao.

Fellowships to Japan, Thailand and Malaysia soon followed. “I always take pride in the value of hard work and in giving my all in every job that I do. I have conquered poverty because I chose to,” Sandra said.

Now, Sandra wants to give back and inspire others to work hard to overcome poverty. “Overcoming poverty is a choice. There is a better life for every single one of us, as long as we work hard and put God always in the center of our lives” she added.

To those who wish to donate to Sandra's “Everybody's Birthday” project you can contact her at her email addresssandy0526@optonline.net.

Again, happy birthday Sandy Alm and may you have many more blessings to come.

(Susan Palmes-Dennis is a veteran journalist from Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental, Northern Mindanao in the Philippines who worked as a nanny and is now employed as teacher assistant in one of the school systems in the Carolinas.)