(Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled the author’s last name as Abandan.)
It was serendipity, really. I was just lying on my couch flipping through the channels until I stumbled upon a Filipino documentary about a boy named Danilo. He was 13, only two years younger than me. His family lived in one of the most impoverished, rural parts of the country.
On some days, there was scarcely any food on the table, so he couldn’t eat breakfast or lunch. He hiked five miles to school each morning. He told the cameraman, and in a way, told me, that he would do that so he could have a better future for himself and his younger sisters. And that’s when I realized – I had everything he wanted.
And what was I doing with my life? I was wasting it by focusing on unnecessary things like buying the latest shoe styles or getting the newest iPhone.
“Meeting” Danilo was certainly serendipity. He helped me attain a profound purpose in life. I decided then that I wanted to help people like Danilo.
I made two goals for myself that day. My short-term goal was to sponsor a food charity in a rural part of the Philippines. My long-term goal is to become a pharmacist who can then provide free health care to children.
It is my greatest honor to tell you all today that I have achieved one of those goals last month. And no, I haven’t become a pharmacist – yet!
Although it’s been a dream of mine to host a children’s food charity since I was 15, the actual planning of the event didn’t start until last January. I had been conflicted as to when I would be hosting this event. And then I thought, what better way to celebrate my 18th birthday than to help children! And so, the planning commenced.
My parents and I decided on 50 children and subsequently bought fifty stuffed toys. My aunt suggested that we have McDonald’s host the party, as none of the children who were invited have ever eaten at McDonald’s before. Imagine, McDonald’s, a place known for its cheap $1 menu, is not something these children can afford.
McDonald’s might be a fast food joint to us, but to them, it was like a luxurious feast.
And so, last month, I went to a tiny island called Bohol. We had decided to host the party in an open field so that the children could run around and play.
I must admit, when the party officially started, it was a little awkward at first. I could only speak English, and they were too shy to talk to me.
However, as day went on and the games made everyone excited, more and more children came up to me. Some of their parents even gave me hugs and thanked me for all that I’ve done. But the party wasn’t over yet!
As a grand finale, I unveiled the stuffed toys that we had bought here. The look on those children’s faces made me want to cry. They were so deliriously happy, getting something that I’ve completely disregarded in the back of my closet.
And I guess, that’s when it hit me. I was so fortunate to be that person. The person who could give them a tiny glimmer of happiness in their otherwise difficult lives.
And so, I want to end with this, we are so privileged to be here today because those children will never experience what wonderful things we experience.
As I look back on my life-changing paradigm shift, I realize that it has and always will be such an honor to have been a part of their lives.
Lady Abangan, who attends University High School in Fresno, delivered this speech at the recent Academic Decathlon competition. She won a gold medal.