FROM the stomach to the heart, the lowly lugaw (porridge) can go a long way to make the deprived feel loved and wanted.
For 16 years now on Christmas day itself, the Sarmiento family has been opening their home in Cainta to the less fortunate residents of the Valley Golf area to treat them to a simple fare of arroz caldo with hard-boiled egg – garnished with fried garlic and minced spring onions to boot – and juice for breakfast. After meal, the children dip their hands into a huge bowl of candies, chocolates, chips and nuts for them to take home. Everyone goes home filled and happy.
The best part of this charity endeavor, according to Henry and Susie Sarmiento, is sitting down with their guests to listen to their sob stories, counsel and evangelize them, and eventually establish a relationship with them. Shown love and acceptance, the Sarmientos’ wards have grown from 50 in 2000 to 150 this year, including the young and the old. Given particular attention is a 21-year-old mother with four children.
“It gladdens us to see that the same families come back to see us each year with their new children or grandchildren in tow,” Henry, 60, Huawei Philippines Inc. Project Director, mused. “It’s our way of giving back and sharing our blessings. Seeing these less fortunate families happy gives us sheer joy.”
Susie, an excellent cook herself (and businesswoman on the side), prepares the arroz caldo, filling a gigantic caldron to overflowing, early morning on Christmas day (though the meat ingredients have been pre-cooked the night before). Everything’s ready by 7:30 a.m. when their “special guests” would arrive in droves.
“It has become a family tradition that we cannot forgo. Even when I had my last chemotherapy on December 23 last year, kinabukasan nagluto pa rin ako,” Susie, 54, a breast cancer survivor, shared.
“Tuloy-tuloy pa rin ito kahit puyat kami sa family reunion (Henry’s side) the night before and we still have another family reunion, my side naman, at lunch time when our ‘special guests’ have gone home.”
From donating two sacks of rice to Tahanang Walang Hagdan for two Christmases since the couple married in 1983, to distributing sandwiches to street children on their way to the annual family reunion in a sister’s house in Marikina two Christmases after, to giving away cup cakes, apples, and juices with loot bags right in their home starting in 1989, the Sarmientos’ effort to reach out to the poor evolved to the current lugaw Christmas treat.
Susie pointed out that serving lugaw, more than any other food, gives them the opportunity to chat and bond with their special guests while they wait for the porridge to cool before dining. Dining, of course, provides another opportunity to reach out to their hearts.
“One Christmas season, we left for the US for our daughter Margaret’s wedding. It broke our heart to learn that our friends came to the house on Christmas day and went home disappointed and empty-handed. We vowed not to break the tradition. This year we will be leaving for Bali, Indonesia but all has been prepared for our friends’ lugaw party.
My sister-in-law together with our long-time helper will take care of it,” Susie said.
“Mas masarap at mas mabuting tumulong sa mga taong walang kakayahang suklian ang nagawa mong kabutihan sa kanila, with nothing to give you in return.”
The Sarmientos’ generosity flows from a heart grateful for God’s graciousness upon them through the years. Lifted from the ash heap himself, the poor will forever hold a special place in Henry’s hearts.
“Pinanggalingan ko ’yun e,” Henry shared. “As a child, my family belonged to the poorest of the poor. Ang bahay namin sa Pasig, 3 x 3 meters lang at kayang buhatin ng ilang tao para ilipat. Kaming lahat nandoon. Pag magpapasko, natatakot kami tuwing may nagkakaro-ling kasi wala kaming maibibigay… hindi namin alam, nagkakaroling sila para bigyan kami ng regalo dahil nga sa kahirapan namin.
“Product ako ng broken home. I grew up na walang kinikilalang father… nung makita ko ang father ko, nasa ataol na siya at 14 years old na ako. Pito kaming lahat. As a 12-year-old, para makatulong sa mother ko na nanahi ng basahan at damit, nagtitinda ng sari-sari sa palengke para itaguyod kami, naglinis ako ng sasakyan, nag-barker ako, nagtinda ng ice cream, nagbalot ng chicharon para makatulong sa kanya.
“Namulat ako sa kahirapan kaya pag nakakatulong ako sa mga taong katulad nung mga pumupunta sa amin tuwing Pasko, masaya sa puso ko. Nakita ko kung paano binago ni Lord ang buhay namin kaya ibinabalik lang namin ang mga blessings N’ya. (TESSA A. CASTILLO)