Children’s laughter in our compound has given us joy for the past ten years. Sacred Heart Home (Tahanan ng Mahal na Puso ni Jesus - TMP), an early childhood development program of the St. Madeleine Sophie Foundation (SMSF) was begun ten years ago in a small town of Montalban, Philippines. An hour or so away from Manila, this was where our novitiate used to be. The Philippine District felt the need to provide a solid foundation for little children who did not have sufficient resources for a better future. This motivated SMSF to add a Montessori-inspired early childhood education program to the existing community-based youth formation program.
On August 24, 2014, in gratitude for the past ten years, we celebrated LIFE with all who has been a part of TMP – children, youth, parents, volunteers, benefactors, and staff. The day began with the blessing of the small factory of soy bean curd and milk and the motorbike used for delivering tofu and its products. This was followed by a children-friendly Mass celebrated with Fr. Danny Pilario CM. The homily was a dialogue with the children, who answered the question, “Who is Jesus is for you?”. The children sang in a very animated way. The recessional song, “Pananagutan,” which expresses each one’s responsibility towards others as children of God, summed up the experiences of SMSF for the past ten years.
The presentation, which followed after Mass, began with a choral recitation of a poem written by one of the youth members about “what SMSF has been for them.” This was followed by the rendition of the life of Madeleine Sophie, highlighting her relationship with children. 80 children and youth from 3-1/2 to 20 years of age participated in this creative presentation which included songs. The finale, “Yesterday’s Dream,” was sung with accompanying choreography by all of them. It was really touching to hear them sing the song, as we thought of Sophie’s vision and remembered the past ten years.
SMSF started in the 1970s as a scholarship program to support financially-challenged students in the Philippines. In 1991, in response to the pressing need for evangelical transformation of communities through educational programs, the foundation launched its community-based program, while continuing to support some scholars. Tahanan ng Mahal na Puso (TMP) began its first class with 12 children in 2004.
Through the years, other needs surfaced and called for a response. Children and their families had to be helped to stand on their own feet. A program of daily tutorial with feeding (that is, provision of nutritious food) also had to be set up for the TMP graduates who study in the public school. This is meant to help the children develop better study habits, avail of various educational experiences, and receive better nutrition. The community library with computers was opened in 2006 upon the completion of the SMSF Center, which was constructed through the help of JOMAS (Japan Overseas Missionary Activity Sponsorship) and the Mother House Solidarity Fund. Some of the English books were donated by Sacred Heart schools and friends from English speaking countries. Since TMP does not subscribe to the dole-out approach in helping others, parents have been very much involved in the life of TMP through regular formation sessions, monthly contribution, and services like cooking and cleaning. In 2007, SMSF started an income-generating program for women (Sampaguita program) in order for their families to have extra income. The finished products have been sold in the spirit of fair trade in Japan, France and Germany. The latest program which is part of the nutrition program was begun in 2013: the production of soy bean curd and soy milk to provide the children with low-cost, nutritious food. Hopefully, this will propagate the idea and practice of low-cost healthy diet in the local community, while at the same time providing income-generating activities for the parents.
One of the features of educational ministry in the Philippine District is networking and collaboration with other institutions. From the very beginning, SMSF has been collaborating with the Sacred Heart Schools and alumnae associations in Japan. This is done, not only through donations, but also through an annual visit to the Philippines by Japanese Sacred Heart high school students. This has enhanced mutual interaction and invited creative ways of involvement. Every year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, for example, the students from Obayashi Sacred Heart Middle School make instructional materials for TMP. Children of Tokyo and Obayashi Sacred Heart Elementary Schools use the school bags and the bible covers made by the women of the Sampaguita Program, who then earn some income. Some teachers from our Sacred Heart schools and alumnae, either as individuals and in groups, visit SMSF regularly and collaborate in educational activities and fund-raising. We are very happy to have this collaboration as it is a way to further Society's mission expressed through the education of the young in both the formal education and non-formal education spheres. This engenders a reciprocal relationship that contributes to the growth of both parties.
In addition, volunteers from Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Scotland, USA, France, and New Zealand have come to render service to TMP, either on a short-term or long-term basis. There has also been collaboration with other provinces of the Society of the Sacred Heart, as well as with other religious/missionary congregations. These longer-term volunteers from Japan, Germany and Switzerland have been with our children, most if not all of whom bear many challenges in life. The volunteers' love and care for our children have been very tangible, and these are much appreciated.
In the past ten years, TMP has had many life-giving experiences of love and solidarity. At the same time, however, there are hardships, such as those brought about by typhoon Ondoy in 2009 and the experiences of abuse in several families. In this experience of light and shadows, SMSF has been a Sacred Space of encounter, growth, friendship, healing and reconciliation for each person who has come to us. In this Sacred Space people encounter God of love through human hearts and realities that invite them to grow. In this Sacred Space, they develop friendships beyond borders, get healed, and experience reconciliation. Once persons leave this Sacred Space, we continue to be very much united with them in prayer, and our bond broadens as others come and take part in expressing solidarity.
A few years ago, one of the SMSF mothers was asked, “What is SMSF for you?” She answered, “SMSF is a bridge for the poor people to have a new hope in life. At SMSF, I don't feel that I'm just one of many; rather, I feel loved as a member of a family.”