October 3, 2022
Two generations of beneficiaries
By Joy Rojas
If the Oquendos have overcome life’s many challenges, it’s because they face them together as a family. No one is too young, too old, or too indisposed to contribute what he or she can to solving a problem, and with each obstacle crossed, the family becomes more united.
Asking for help has also seen them through tough times, and the Oquendos are grateful to a long list of benefactors who have come to their rescue through the years. Among them is the Tzu Chi Foundation, whose timely assistance has not only saved the life of one family member, it’s given hope for a better future to another.
The Oquendos first came across Tzu Chi more than 10 years ago, when they found their tricycle driver father Gene unresponsive as they tried to wake him up for lunch. Upon checking on him, a nurse who lived next door told them to rush him to the hospital. There, he was diagnosed with a stroke from a ruptured blood vessel in his brain.
The Oquendo siblings scrambled to find an affordable hospital for their father. At a government hospital, Gene was confined for over two months, from October 19 to December 26.
Doctors recommended surgery but gave the family no guarantees, even as Gene regained consciousness from a two-week coma. “They said he might come out a vegetable,” says daughter Janice, 40. “People were asking me, ‘When’s the wake? Didn’t your father pass away?’ I said, ‘No! Why are you killing people who are still alive? I’m going to fight for my father.”
Gene fought, too. At the hospital, he squeezed his daughter’s hand when she asked him if he wanted to get better. “We all love and took care of him, and he had the will to live,” she says.
Also instrumental to Gene’s recovery was Tzu Chi Foundation, which provided the expensive aneurysm clip needed for his operation.
“My brother and sister learned about Tzu Chi through the family members of other patients in the hospital,” says Janice. “It was an answered prayer for us.”
Discharged and sent home the day after Christmas, Gene was all skin and bones. Now 65, he is able to walk again, though the stroke has left him with limited movement on his right side and a poor memory.
That he survived his life-threatening condition is all that matters to his family. Janice, who made a promise to look after her father when he recovered, continues to keep her word. “We all used to come and go and he would wait for us till late at night. Now he’s the first person we look for as soon as we get home. Our house may be small, but we eat all our meals together,” she says.
“We don’t have money or material possessions; our parents are our wealth. We’re so lucky that we still have them both with us.”
For Janice’s 43-year-old sister Jocelyn Arreza, family is a blessing too, even if three of her five children were born with health challenges. Prince, 7, has Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), as does 11-year-old Timothy, who was also diagnosed with focal epilepsy, making him prone to seizures. At 26, Jasper is smaller than his much younger brothers. He lacks a right thumb, has blotches all over his skin, and is hard of hearing. They’re signs of Fanconi anemia, a rare genetic disorder.
That’s a lot to bear for Jocelyn, whose husband left her in 2014. Yet this solo parent is unfazed and has the patience to line up for hours to claim financial aid and free medicines from government agencies, parishes, and charity organizations. Unable to work fulltime so she can watch over her kids, she accepts orders for hand-sewn cloth facemasks, flowers made with colorful acrylic, and keychains using crystal beads. The crafts are her sources of income; they’re also a way to bond with her kids, who help her assemble them, and even sell them to neighbors and passersby.
“If I give up, what’s going to happen to my children?” she says. “I just remind myself, if I’m having a hard time, there are more people with greater struggles than me.”
When the pandemic struck, Jocelyn came upon a familiar name. Through a sibling, she found out that the Tzu Chi Foundation was giving out scholarships to poor but deserving students. She sent in requirements, and just when she thought she didn’t stand a chance, the good news came through a phone call: her application for her 9-year-old daughter Princess was approved.
The privilege comes with allowances, regular distributions of 20-kg rice and groceries, and other perks. Jocelyn’s favorite is the Humanity classes, “because the lessons they teach are applicable to all,” she says. “I’ve shared the teachings with my friends. Thank you very much, Tzu Chi, for helping not just us but so many families.”
For Janice, the simple words “tzu” and “chi” have come to mean more than compassion and relief. “First Tzu Chi saved our father, now it’s providing education to my niece,” she says. “Tzu Chi is life.”