'Shoebox' aims to bring out a soldier's smile.
Members of Sigma Alpha (SA) sorority based in the University of the Philippines in Los Banos (UPLB) intend to honor and give recognition to their longtime partners-the Army soldiers-for their service to the nation and the people even in the midst of criticisms against men in uniform over lumad (indigenous peoples) killings in Mindanao.
We think it's time that we have to also look at the welfare of our soldiers, says Terry de Jesus, a UPLB-SA alumna and one of the original proponents of the project. The idea is showing them that we don't have to look far . We wanted them to feel our appreciation for the heroism and unconditional support when they are needed wherever they are.
Project Shoebox was started three years ago by the sorority, in partnership with the Philippine Army, in Camp Nakar in Lucena City. Its name was derived from solicited shoeboxes filled with basic school supplies and personal care items and distributed among poor students in remote areas of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
On Nov. 4, SA members launched Project Shoebox: Bayanihan para sa mga Bayani ng Bayan (PS Bayanihan) in Los Banos, Laguna.
De Jesus brushed aside criticisms against the Armed Forces of the Philippines for allegedly organizing paramilitary groups which were reportedly behind the killings of lumad leaders and human rights abuses in indigenous communities in September.
Though no one from among the donors have brought up the issues against their intended beneficiaries, she said the group was ready with our answer that in organizations anywhere and everywhere, there would always be imperfections and flaws, strengths and weaknesses, and maybe because we do not give our military its due attention.
That is why we thought of turning our attention to them. Everyone needs to do their share in making a change, she added.
So far, the project has benefited 219,000 students in 693 public schools nationwide, De Jesus said.
Its volunteers had also brought boxfuls of donations to students who survived Supertyphoon Yolanda (international name: Haiyan) and Agta children in the Sierra Madre mountain ranges.
In 2012, soldiers and sorority members lifted the Christmas spirit of more than 5,000 poor families through the Noche Buena Mo, Nasa Shoebox Ko, distributing boxes full of traditional holiday goods, such as spaghetti and ham.
Two years later, they repurposed the humanitarian mission and filled up shoeboxes with emergency kits given to communities in disaster-prone areas in northern Quezon.
Big businesses, such as National Bookstore and SM malls, supported the project. The cargo firm 2GO Express volunteered to transport the shoeboxes to the places of beneficiaries.
The project was conceptualized by Col. Thomas Sedano Jr., then commander of the Army's 4th Light Armor Battalion based in Camp Nakar, in partnership with SA members after the sorority found that it had collected enough school supplies to donate to poor children but did not have the means to give these out.
Sedano, now deputy head of the Army's civil military operations based in Fort Bonifacio, thought of the PS concept from a charity event he had seen while in the United States for his military schooling in 2007.
For PS Bayanihan, the proponents aim to fill the boxes with personal care and clothing items, reading materials and other stuff that the soldiers may need while on field assignments in Mindanao, especially those assigned to Sulu and Basilan. These could also be personal notes of appreciation to motivate them while they are far from their families.
Lt. Gen. Eduardo Ano, Army commander, expressed gratitude to the sorority for giving extra attention to the men in the field. He invited other sectors to support the project.
In the spirit of Bayanihan, our simple act of kindness and generosity will surely ripple in magnitude, awakening heroism within ourselves and inspiring others to become heroes that our country need, Ano said in a statement.
De Jesus said donations would be turned over to their Army partners in February next year for distribution on March 22 in time for the celebration of the 119th anniversary of the Philippine Army.