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Kurit Aki, Christmas and Boboy

For the religious, Christmas is aki (Bicol word for child), the birth of the child Jesus. For personal reasons, Christmas is also Boboy, our youngest brother, who met a tragic, nay a violent death on Christmas 33 years ago today. Unknown to many at Mariners, where he served as the first vice president for academic affairs, this young bachelor at 31, a naval architect and marine engineer by profession, cultivated a yearly Christmas gift-giving tradition to street children in Metro Manila, where he founded and led his maritime training center until his untimely demise.

His death merged with those of young, innocent lives lost to families who joined in the militant crusade against senseless violence and the country’s slow grind of justice for victims of heinous crimes. Safety and security at home and in the streets for our young men and women became an all-encompassing advocacy for all.

So, every December 20, Alay Kay Boboy becomes a fixed school calendar special event commemorating his passing and philanthropy. Hundreds of children from poor communities gather in a get-together that the schools’ extension offices organize for Christmas festivity. The life-changing event has since added profound meaning and purpose to the gift-giving season.

But it did not stop there. Alay kay Boboy’s activities soon evolved into a more transformative program for children when volunteers from the Tabang Bikol Movement organized in the aftermath of disastrous typhoons in 2016 included mental health and the need for psychosocial interventions as part of its critical activities in disaster response as one of the organizers of TBM, mental health care should be an essential component in addressing the displacement of families or individuals in distress. Children among family members are the most vulnerable and affected.

In 2017, Kurit Aki was born. With TBM volunteers from Mariner’s offices and networks, whose expertise includes DRRM, the creative art workshops soon became a welcome regular feature of the yearly Alay kay Boboy commemoration.

As a flashback: Maricel, Lujille, and Merben were eight or nine years old when they first joined Kurit Aki, a creative arts workshop in painting that the Tabang Bikol Movement organized in 2017 as a psychosocial intervention for children in distress after a series of typhoons hit Camarines Sur. Organizers, many of whom came from Mariners, timed it during the last months of the year to culminate on December 20. The following year, they showcased their works of art in a week-long Exhibit co-sponsored with the SM Mall in Naga City and other partners led by Mariners, the Department of Education Region V, the Archdiocese of Caceres, the City of Naga, and the Metro Naga Chamber of Commerce. Most of the kids were children of Ilaw ng Kababaihan members, which TBM also organized among disaster survivors in Canaman, Camarines Sur. Disaster survivors suffer from anxiety, depression, and lingering stress.

Five years later, at 14 or 15, they now belong to Bugkos Kabataan, a community-based youth organization in Canaman, which drew inspiration from their meaningful Kurit Aki collective art workshops, games, and storytelling sessions and now engaged in other youth-oriented activities including social entrepreneurship. Their primary goal is to help raise awareness about their role in the community and society for change and development. I saw how these children have grown and developed into responsible youth leaders in their organizations. Like art itself, the erstwhile children bloomed positively into their creations.

Collective art for resilience and self-expression

The young neophyte artists, armed with pencils, charcoal, paintbrush, palettes, and colors in acrylic and watercolors on canvas, which artist volunteers from TBM and their sponsors help mold to create exciting works of art. Once, I brought a group of inspired children artists to the Kalayag compound to paint on used corrugated iron, transforming the joint-painted iron into a beautiful mural of a big ship afloat on a sea wave as a security fence around the compound.

It is interesting to note that in Kurit Aki workshops, TBM volunteers, parents, and neighbors join in. One school official, Doc Nila, inspired others to paint on flat rocks, which was more than an enjoyable recreation. They can contribute to tourism as a creative social enterprise.

During the Pandemic, TBM and the Department of Education Region V co-organized two regional webinars by Zoom on Mental Health and Psychosocial Support or MHPSS in 2020 and Home Empowerment: Preparing the Homes for Conducive Learning in 2021 with thousands - of students, superintendents, parents-students- virtually participating from all provincial/districts. The former Dep-Ed Secretary Ling Briones and RD Gibert Sadsad spoke about addressing mental health in all possible ways, including using creative modular learnings.

Last December 20, Eric Lucena, with student volunteers, led the Mariners Extension services offices in organizing the Kurit Aki 2023, this time with Kurit Aki “graduates” as part of the new mentors to the new ones, working in tandem with professional artists Fidel, Jebo, Gatpandan, and the Sipocot youth artists. More than a hundred aki came, many in doubt about themselves, but all left in high spirits—the panel of volunteer judges: Prof Bobby, former Judge Junet, Engr. Dan and VPA Armie, who chose the outstanding from the many artworks, can only agree. The positive impact is immeasurable; as a parent triumphantly chatted, “Salamat maray ta si aki ko napakita na ang iyang talent!”


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