Days after the enhanced community quarantine took effect, a guard at the Harris Memorial College was approached by an adult man and four teen-aged boys. The man lived on top of the mountain behind the fence of the Harris campus.
On regular days, it is normally parents, students, and guests who would come by; and at the height of the lockdown, guards were not to expect anyone to show up at the gates of the school, more so strangers.
Paid to secure Harris’s premises, the security staff naturally would think of safety, and without hesitation, said “no” to the five men and told them to go away. Of course, the guard was simply doing his job, and as in the case of security men and women in same capacity, he had the reason to be suspicious and make proper judgment.
So the men, led by Romer Agapito, had no choice but to leave, looking subdued, even distraught.
Photo shows Agapito (left seated) pealing some cassava for his family
Someone in the campus overheard the conversation and saw them leave. His heart melted. It was a pitiful sight. That was March 19.
Affected by what he witnessed, Estelito Binuya, Jr., chaplain of the school, shared the incident with his wife, and for a few days, the couple was sharing their burden to others. How can these confined Harris servants help the people around the school?
Two faculty members came up with a suggestion—why not extend assistance to front-liners, who at that time were already desperate for all sorts of help, from PPE’s, masks, gloves, and housing, to name a few?
However, after prayers and much thought, it was clear something needed to be done, recalled Dr. Cristina N. Manabat, Harris president.
So instead of the health workers, poor residents near and around the school became the target of what would become as the Harris Bayanihan.
What did the five men want in the first place?
Hungry and locked in the community without food, the men had to find ways in order to survive and spotted the kamoteng-kahoy (cassava) which had been planted by previous security staff. They begged the guard if they could harvest some of the starchy root crops which could be eaten after boiling or made into suman, a sweet delicacy of grated cassava mixed with sugar wrapped in banana leaves and then boiled in water.
The guard declined. And this is what broke hearts among the Harris townhouse residents where the Binuyas, Dr. Manabat and other faculty members live.
By March 23, the Harris townhouse residents had a meeting to talk about possible ways to help the poor families around the school, and how to raise funds for this purpose. Two ideas came up, and were approved: 1) solicit personal donations from Harris employees, and 2) use the 2020 budget for rest and recreation of full time employees.
In an instant, a group chat was created by Mary Jane Andes, and flooded with messages not only for support but for appeals to give up the summer break’s R&R funds. The response was overwhelming, and upon the approval of the Board of Trustees, the president gave the green light to utilize a total of P137,300.00 for the relief efforts.
Soon Dr. Sally Ward, Director for Student Affairs and Services (SAS) of Harris, started coordinating with her contacts to secure the purchase of 25 sacks of rice, canned goods, and other supplies to provide food packs to the poorest of the poor in Pinesville and Melendres Creekside, all in the municipality of Taytay.
The poor Harris neighbors were declined to harvest kamoteng-kahoy, enough to make them survive until perhaps help could come from the barangay. However, they received more, this time from caring Harrisians who were willing to sacrifice and also give out of their own pockets. More importantly, instead of just 5 men benefitting, 185 households received food packs from the bayanihan project. Other beneficiaries include the families of six guards, 5 maintenance personnel and two drivers of Harris, as well as food supply for guards during the lockdown period.
The school’s transfer from its former Manila site to its current location in Dolores, Taytay happened for a reason—so that when such times like this, Harris would be like the Hebrew queen Esther who would intervene for her own people. And that exactly what Harrisian women and men did, intervening in prayers plus timely actions, a case of faith at work.
Another recipient of food packs
Aside from providing excellent education toward Christlikeness, God knew that one day these poor men would come knocking our doors. In short, Harris was sent here.
“They (referring to the five men), too, are part of us, not just our parents and school children, and as a Christian school, it is part of our calling to respond to those in need, whether part of our academic community or not,” said Dr. Manabat.