New Year’s wish
Nanay Juanita was a vision of a confident woman, who memorized the lyrics of the song “Paper Roses” by heart.
She held the microphone with her right hand while she used her left hand to encourage her “audience” to sing and sway to the music.
Nanay Juanita then performed a Spanish song, recited a poem and shared a proverb to the delight of her fellow elders and staff of the Ramon Durano Foundation Home for the Aged in Barangay Guinsay, Danao City.
“Everyone here is my friend. We share our stories to each other. We can be sad living here but I chose to be happy. That is what the New Year is about … looking forward to a better future,” the 76-year-old said in fluent Mandarin Chinese.
Nanay Juanita joined 23 other elderly in the compound, which is known to locals as the “foundation.”
The compound is a two-hectare property built in 1973 by Ramon Mercado Durano Sr., the patriarch of the Durano clan. It houses a Catholic Church and tableau of busts and statues of several saints, popes and biblical events.
Most of the “residents” were brought to the facility by their family members, who provide them with caretakers. Their daily provisions of food and toiletries are shouldered by the foundation.
Melendrina Ceniza, 63, started as a nursing aide of the foundation in 1995, after 16 years of serving as a hospital nursing aide in a different institution.
“I learned to accept that people come and go. I am used to people dying … we will all go down that road. What I am not used to is the crying. I always shed a tear for every life that leaves here,” she told Cebu Daily News.
That is why it is their goal to make them feel special while they are still in this world.
On December 29, 38 employees of J Centre Mall visited the foundation bringing with them bundles of surprises including four wheelchairs, blankets, pillows and toiletries.
Members of the Uy family, who owns the mall, joined the celebration, which was highlighted by a program hosted by marketing assistant Lorjerist Llanto.
Llanto said that giving time, effort and material donations to the elderly a few days before the New Year is an apt start for the Centre of Light, the mall’s corporate social responsibility program.
“We want to give them hope in a world of tragedies and accidents. These are people who are often forgotten. Very few people visit them. It is ironic that we do not pay attention to them often when all of us will grow old eventually,” said Llanto.
The program kicked off with Zumba Sentao, which can be performed while sitting down, and was led by instructor Jenner Keith Maquiling. “This is my third time here. I joined other groups who came here. In the last two sessions, they complained that they cannot join the dancing because we were standing. Many of them cannot stand so I thought of a way to make them participate without physically straining them,” said Maquiling.
Maquiling, who works for Gold’s Gym, J Centre Mall’s tenant, said Zumba Sentao classes are offered for clients 60 years and above and those with back problems.
“I have a heart for the elderly because I grew up with my grandparents because my parents worked abroad. I understand their tantrums,” said Maquiling.
J Centre Mall employees also staged a bingo game. Other volunteers assisted the lolos and lolas in marking their numbers.
By lunch time, everyone shared a buffet lunch consisting of lechon, sweet and sour pork, fish fillet in tausi sauce, lemon chicken, beef lasagna, beef asado and vegetable salad.
Brothers Junnie and Larry, who are both blind, said they enjoyed the activity and hoped that more people would come visit them.
“Maayo naman lang makadungog mig tukar ba kay di baya mi kakita. Makadungog mig mangatawa, malipay pud intawon mi bisan di mi kakita,” said Junnie.
(We like it when we hear music. We are happy when we hear people laugh even if we cannot see anything.)
Llanto said J Centre Mall will continue to assist the foundation in meeting the needs of the senior persons in their care.
They are extending the call to raise awareness about the needs of the elderly to their tenants and other groups and individuals who are willing to help out.
“We want to function as a part of a bigger community, which has a heart for helping those who are abandoned and neglected. Let us be symbols of light and hope and bring happiness to these people,” he said.
The J Centre Mall staff is mostly composed of young persons between the ages of 21 and 35.
Llanto said they are blessed to have bosses like the Uy family, who gives them the free hand to craft socially-responsible projects.
J Centre Mall is a partner of Cebu Daily News and Basadours in the yearlong Story Hours literacy project, which brings together children from public and private schools to one afternoon of storytelling, story writing and art making.
Nanay Juanita’s story
For Nanay Juanita, who said she was a teacher in her previous life, her heart is always happy after people visit them.
Based on the records from the foundation, Nanay Juanita was brought to their care on Dec. 13, 2011 by her daughter.
She was then 70 years old and was a resident of Talisay City, Cebu.
She speaks fluent Mandarin Chinese, Hokkien, English and Cebuano.
It is not clear why she was brought to their care but it seemed like Nanay Juanita’s disposition improved within a few months after she joined the other elderly.
“For the New Year, I wish that more people will visit me including my daughter and grandchildren. It is nice when you are remembered. It makes us happy. That is the only thing old people wish for,” said Nanay Juanita.