Grateful for Tzu Chi Foundation’s continues assistance to her husband and family in the last 4 years, Gloria Cantado diligently collects recyclable materials to donate to Tzu Chi Foundation.
A tricycle drops Gloria Cantado and 4 of her youngest children at the Jing Si Hall in Quezon City early morning of April 3. A few feet in front of them, another tricycle, stuffed with plastic bottles and cartons, also stops before the gates. After paying the Php80 rental for two tricycles, Gloria and her children help each other unload the recyclables and carry them inside the Tzu Chi Foundation Philippines headquarters.
In the last 4 years, Gloria has made it her mission to donate recyclables in support of Tzu Chi Foundation’s environmental protection program.
“I really strive to pick up plastic bottles that I see wherever I go, even in the middle of the streets, and put them in my bag. Even if it’s just one bottle or two, I really make time to pick them up. I am not ashamed of doing it,” shares 44-year-old Gloria.
Recycling Tzu Chi volunteer Nene Uy recalls her first meeting with Gloria. Uy, along with other Tzu Chi volunteers, were doing recycling activities at the Jing Si Hall one Friday morning when Gloria came along, bringing with her a lot of plastic bottles and cartons.
“At first I thought it’s only a one-time donation but that day, she came back twice and each time, she brought so many recyclables,” says Uy. “When I inquired, she told me she collects them from the family members of the patients in Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC). She said many of the family members are just leaving the cartons they used to sleep in when their patients are discharged; that’s why she would ask them to give it to her instead.”
According to Gloria, picking up scrapped materials isn’t something new to her. Some years ago, she scavenged for items down the river near their home in Sta. Maria, Bulacan and sold it to the junkshops. It was her way of helping her husband, Alfredo, support the family’s needs.
However, one May night in 2012, changed all of that.
Alfredo was driving a tricycle in a dark street on his way home when he missed the humps on the road and he was thrown out of his vehicle. He dislocated two important veins in the spine (C4 and C5) from the accident and became permanently disabled.
Just as the family thought things won’t get any worse, Alfredo caught pneumonia in 2014. He underwent a tracheostomy procedure, where the doctors created an opening through his neck into the windpipe and placed a tube through the opening. This provides Alfredo with an air passage and helps him breathe. Due to his unstable health condition, he was confined in the hospital for 2 years.
Gloria and their 6th daughter, Maricon, take turns attending to his needs. While Alfredo stays at the Spinal Ward of the Philippine Orthopedic Center (POC), Gloria and Maricon slept in the 2nd floor of a structure beside the hospital with old cartons as bed. This structure was especially built for the family members of the POC’s Spinal Ward patients.
Classes were only beginning for the 1st year high school student Maricon when she was compelled to stop to look after her father in the hospital. Maricon has big dreams: she wants to become a doctor. But that has to take the backseat with her father’s situation.
“We were told that while Tatay (father) is alive, we should take care of him well. That’s why I am looking after him. Although we are having a hard time, we don’t mind because before the accident, he took care of all of us,” Maricon tearfully says.
According to Gloria, Alfredo was a hardworking father. To support their 10 children, he did every job there is. He learned to weld, drive a tricycle, operate a backhoe, and do mechanic works and even carpentry works. Some days, he managed to bring home Php300-500. At times when money is hard to come by, he would go to the nearby river and fish to bring food in their table.
Today, with their breadwinner struggling for dear life in the hospital, the Cantado family had to find ways to survive as their last savings and furniture are sold. The eldest of the siblings took jobs in the construction to help with the expenses.
Gloria learned to make bags and wallets from beads in a training program for the Spinal Injury patients at the POC. On good days, she earns Php400 from selling her products. She stretches this budget for their daily expenses.
But however hard they toil, the expensive costs of Alfredo’s medications exhausts their resources. Gloria considers it lucky therefore, that she heard about Tzu Chi Foundation from fellow patients at the hospital. She sought its help and since October 2012, Tzu Chi has been providing Php6,000 worth of monthly medicines for Alfredo under its Long-Term Assistance Program. In addition, the family also receives 40-kilo sack of rice and pack of groceries.
In 2014, Tzu Chi also started providing them with Php3,000 monthly living allowance after Gloria suffered from Bell’s palsy, a form of facial paralysis causing an inability to control facial muscles on the affected side.
It was this overwhelming love from the Tzu Chi Foundation that inspires Gloria to donate the recyclables she manages to collect, instead of selling them to earn.
“It’s also for the benefit of others who might be in need. I might not be able to help them financially but through these recyclables I can still be of help. The recyclables I am collecting can do so much and can help so much, because it can be made into blankets or shirts. Also, it will lessen the litter and garbage in our environment,” says Gloria.
Tzu Chi Foundation is a firm advocate of recycling to protect the Earth. Through a modern technology in Taiwan, the foundation turns plastic bottles into threads and manufacture blankets, shirts, and other wearable items from it. Instead of selling these, Tzu Chi gives away these products to the survivors of calamities.
In addition to recyclables, Gloria has also made it a habit to save coins every day to help the needy. “I learned from Master Cheng Yen (founder of Tzu Chi) to help our fellowmen,” explains Gloria. “That’s why whatever is in my power to do and give, I am ready to.”
On April 5, Alfredo was finally allowed to go home. When Tzu Chi volunteers heard about this, they travel to Sta. Maria, Bulacan on April 8, bringing a hospital bed for him.
Upon seeing the volunteers, Alfredo bursts into tears, mouthing the words: “Salamat po” (Thank you).
Since Alfredo came home, he had been sleeping in a flat bed made of bamboos. Although his doctor advised for a reclining bed, it was too expensive for the family; hence, their gratitude for the Tzu Chi volunteers’ gift.
During their visit, Tzu Chi volunteers also performed the sign language of the song “One Family” for Alfredo, his wife, and their children. They comforted the family with words, wishing Alfredo to recover soon and reminding his family members to remain strong and continue caring for the patient.
“I will strengthen my resolve to care for my husband and make him strong because of their encouragement. It may be unfortunate that God gave us this challenge, but as I said, we will just have to care for him no matter how long it takes,” Gloria ends.