Answering the call for Magis by serving others
CAGAYAN DE ORO, Philippines – Gimar Alingig Reyes may be far from home for now, but he's never forgotten how far he's gone.
At an early age, he experienced the value of hard work. The eldest of three children, he was raised by a tenant farmer and a teacher.
"I grew up in a farm. My father had to tend the land for income," he recalled. As a tenant, his father was deeply concern for the family's financial needs. With the rise of urbanization and the gradual conversion of arable lands for commercial use, their family's future source of income was uncertain.
So, his father had to send Gimar's mother to school. A degree could secure her a job, he said. For this, Gimar's father worked twice as hard.
It was in his mother's school where Gimar was introduced to education. "There were days when my mother took me with her so she could look after me. Sometimes, just to help my father with the expenses, she had to sell bags of peanuts, wrapped yema, and maruya – among many snacks she prepared every night – to her classmates."
On days when her mother had to take exams, little Gimar was left under the supervision of his grandmother. He knew early on that this was the measure his family had to undergo to get their necessities and live within their means. His father farmed, his mother studied, and when the land was ripe with cantaloupe, eggplant, coconut, and cacao, they sold the produce at the Cogon Market.
When his mother finally completed her schooling, it was time to reap the harvest. She became a teacher and was able add to his father's earnings.
"It was my family's triumph," he stated.
A call to serve
Gimar finished his secondary education at Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS). As an exemplary student in the science class of his batch, he was qualified as a city college scholar upon graduating and went to Xavier University (XU), where he studied for the next 4 years.
But his first year as an Elementary Education major forced him make big adjustments. On days when the uniform was not prescribed, most students flaunted branded clothing that signified their social status. Breaktime was mostly spent in teashops, cafés, and malls.
"I was shocked," Gimar recalled. "Back then, I was shy to eat at the Magis canteen because I didn't want others to see my meal and compare it with theirs. I remember sneaking into the sixth floor of the library and eating there alone," he recalled.
"I was caught once, and the librarian admonished me. But I told my reason — I had to study right after so I didn't have to go out anymore."
He knew he was in the university for his education, and he wanted to achieve what his mother had. He never took this purpose for granted. Gimar managed to reach out and befriend many of his classmates, and didn't allow anything that could hinder him to get in the way.
In his second year, he was in the dean's list of the School of Education. "I pushed my potential. It reached a point where I embraced the diversity at XU," he said.
He imbibed the Ignatian principle of magis, which means doing things with depth and excellence. Finishing college, earning a degree, then finding a job were not enough to fulfills his dreams that he molded while at XU. He wanted to maximize his potential.
In the second semester of his sophomore year, he volunteered for the Kristohanong Katilingban sa Pagpapakabana - Social Involvement Office (KKP-SIO), the former social involvement arm of XU. It was one among Cagayan de Oro City's active organizations during tropical storm Sendong in 2011. He participated in tutorial sessions, medical missions, and immersions held at Xavier Ecoville, the resettlement site established in Lumbia by the university for the displaced evacuees during the tropical storm.
"I was able to experience the truest sense of being one with the people," he related. "I hold on to my experiences, and I knew what the people felt because I had been through a similar situation."
It was Gimar's opportunity to improve on his teaching skills during tutorial sessions with the children in the community. But more than his exposure was the fulfilling reality of knowing that kids learned to read, write, identify images, and spell their names because of his and his fellow volunteers' collective efforts.
Since then, he held on to the belief that education, like air and water, should be universally provided. He felt strongly that education is the best way to fight social injustice.
"I will take on the role to make education as a great equalizer to all the marginalized," he proised to himself.
Balancing his academics and extra-curricular activities was a challenge, but he used his talents and channeled his passion in the pursuit of magis.
When he reached third year, the period he recalls as the climax of his college education, he decided to apply for the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP), the longest-running volunteer service program in the country.
It was also that same year when he had been chosen by KKP heads as the chairperson for the Student-Volunteer Formation Center. He oversaw and organized activities by student volunteers for the community at Xavier Ecoville, along with Xavier Ateneo's National Service Training Program (NSTP) students.
In his last year in the university, he was honored as cum laude and the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Education. As this achievement mirrored his family's triumph, particularly that of his mother's similar educational achievement, more accolades came.
With the support of SOE dean Dr Jovelyn Delosa and his teachers, he passed the requirements for 2016's Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines (TOSP), one of the highest honors in the nation for students who excel academically, lead by example, and conscientiously undertake social initiatives in their community.
"It was a rigorous process," he recalled. "But being Xavier's representative was already an honor. It was overwhelming."
More than 300 students across the Philippines were eligible. They were narrowed down to 30, and eventually finalized to 10. The last time a student from XU was part of the final 10 was when the present XU Governance and Leadership Institute director Dixon Yasay represented the university in 1991.
As an outstanding student, Gimar desired to serve just as he did to learn. Currently a JVP volunteer, he has been assigned to Casiguran, Aurora where he immerses with the province's indigenous people, farmers, and fisher folk.
A call to love God back
Gimar believes everything he had been through is part of God's great plan – to love Him back and to follow His greatest commandment with the act of service.
Living with the Agta Dumagat tribe along Luzon's east coast, he advocates for their education and rights. Specifically, he helps with the Nuestra Señora de la Salvacion Parish for seminars and workshops, handling topics such as organic rice farming to make good use of the fields.
He also campaigns against land aggressors, which threatens the farmers' livelihood and will most likely displace the indigenous peoples due to urbanization. He shares the sentiments of the locals as they struggle to keep the land theirs.
In 2007, the Aurora Special Economic Zone Act created the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone without consultation with the tribal groups who tilled the land. What was once a farming community may soon become an eco-tourism zone with resorts and export industries setting up shop. (READ: APECO in Aurora: Chaos and paradaise)
Gimar, having been raised in a farm, knows the plight of the marginalized. "Middlemen take advantage of them. They are often belittled and fooled. This unjust structure struck me at my core and I am compelled to help them. I know them because I know the feeling of having less. That's why I wanted to give back what I have received from the opportunities I have been granted."
"The call to service is the call to love God back." He confessed this has been his mantra since second-year college when he started as a student-volunteer.
"Service is a life-long process," he said, likening it to learning. "We have to become men and women for and with others."
This is his call. From selling his father's harvest in a local market to packing bags of peanuts with his mother every night; from tutoring children of flood victims to graduating cum laude from Xavier Ateneo; from treading steep paths and riding rafts on rivers and streams in the province of Aurora to standing at the Malacañang Palace as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines of 2016 – Gimar Reyes is devoted to a life of service.
Someday, he aspires to take part in the initiatives of non-government organizations for the IPs and the marginalized. For Gimar, who believes that education as a universal right, there is more that can be done by heeding and responding to His call. – Rappler.com
This story first appeared on the website of Xavier University - Ateneo de Cagayan.
Angelo Lorenzo is one of the lead Movers in Cagayan De Oro.