An auspicious morning comes to Jing Si Hall in Quezon City. Shrugging off fatigue, the handful of Tzu Chi volunteers from Cebu beats the rooster’s call, preparing the last of their delicacies to be sold hours later.
Among these is budbud kabog, the specialty rice cake (suman) of the town of Catmon, Cebu. Whereas most rice cakes are made with large-grained rice, budbud kabog uses seeds of millet grass that are in plentiful supply in town. Cooked in sugar and coconut milk, this delicacy has since become the symbol of the town’s local culture.
Making this kind of rice cake is difficult, as Cebuano Tzu Chi volunteer Mary Ann Aribal attests. In fact, the local festival in Catmon features a dance that portrays the eight steps of making one budbud kabog, from harvesting the tiny seeds to wrapping the end product in banana leaves.
Complicating the process is her lack of six fingers.
“I was born with my hands already like this. I’m not sure why but it may have something to do with my mother’s slip and fall while she was still seven months pregnant [to me],” Aribal says.
Nevertheless, she shows mastery of her four intact fingers in wrapping the rice cakes and giving out free samples to her fellow volunteers in Fiesta Verde. The two-day wellness and vegetarian food fair in Pasig City saw the Cebuano volunteers participate for the second time, bringing the best of the province to Metro Manila.
For Aribal, her time in Tzu Chi as a college scholar has served her well. The once-shy Aribal can now muster the courage to interact with scores of visitors and fellow volunteers during the event. She’s also able to share the story of her growing pains with her deformity.
“The teachings [of Tzu Chi] were a big help, given that I was shy before. Through Tzu Chi, they boosted my self-confidence to share my experiences and insights to others in Catmon,” she narrates.
In a way, this year’s Fiesta Verde is dedicated to Aribal, a former Tzu Chi scholar. As with the goal last year, the event aims to raise funds for the foundation’s Mission of Education. Apart from scholarships, Tzu Chi Philippines hopes to expand its education programs to include a vocational school within the Great Love Campus in Sta. Mesa, Manila. Integrating courses like English communication and welding, the school will provide better job opportunities for many impoverished youths.
Over at the Ting Ting Coffee booth, Tzu Chi volunteer Ting Ting Pua understands the feeling of helplessness among aspiring youths. Growing up from an impoverished family as a child, Pua’s dedication as a volunteer now comes from making sure the next generation doesn’t go through her plight.
“Having grown to an impoverished family, I stopped around high school since we couldn’t afford the tuition fee. That’s why I understand the scholars’ desire to study but are unable to because they can’t pay for it. When I heard about Fiesta Verde’s support to them, I decided to donate all proceeds,” Pua narrates.
Ting Ting Coffee and several exhibitors agreed beforehand to donate every peso they make to Tzu Chi’s Mission of Education. To increase her donation, Pua this year decided to sell pastries along with barako (Liberica) coffee from Batangas.
The Jing Si Time for Kids booth markets a peculiar item: hand towels in the shape of different animals. Some are crafted by sons and daughters of Tzu Chi’s long-term beneficiaries; others by Tzu Chi volunteers themselves. The painstaking process and required attention to detail, like the budbud kabog, often leaves them tired.
But given that the kids thought about making these out of gratitude, Tzu Chi volunteer Cecile Go couldn’t disappoint them.
“[One child] told his story how his ill mother became a long-term beneficiary four years ago. He stressed his mother’s words: “If not for Tzu Chi, I would no longer be here in this world.” She told her children to repay Tzu Chi as much as they can in the future. That’s how they came up with these towel animals,” Go narrates.
“We often get tired of doing so many of these, but we do it out of love, which is a cycle. People who bought these would leave their love on the children,” Go adds.
By the afternoon of Fiesta Verde’s last day, the booth ran out of the towel animals. Many bought the items by the bulk, 50 pieces or more.
On the other side of the event venue, the Palo Livelihood Program showcases its wide range of bags. Made with a mix of Oxford fabric, Aida fabric, and cross-stitching, the bags are crafted by survivors of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), now residing at the Palo Great Love Village.
Endowing the livelihood skills necessary for the survivors to recover is the responsibility of Tzu Chi volunteer Espie Sapim of Barangay Payatas, Quezon City. To this day, the people continue to express their gratitude to her.
“When I first arrived in Palo to help the victims, I taught them how to create their own livelihood. It makes me happy when they tell me that they wouldn’t be able to learn how to sew bags and the like had I not come. They also tell me to never leave them,” explains Sapim.
Along with a new home for the survivors, Tzu Chi initiated a livelihood project to provide them a means of recovering from the disaster. Part of their proceeds normally goes to the survivors and their families back in Leyte. In the case of Fiesta Verde, however, they agreed to donate every peso to the Mission of Education out of gratitude.
“The families [in Palo, Leyte] are happy. Had it not been for Tzu Chi, they wouldn’t be able to recover from the disaster,” says Sapim.
Swamped by a wave of interested patrons, Tzu Chi volunteer Nancy Que (left) gets to work. She and her fellow volunteers are tasked with selling the towel animals they and the children of the Jing Si Time for Kids class made prior to Fiesta Verde. Note that they also made towel bouquets. 【Photo by Heng Choun Lee】
Tzu Chi volunteer Ting Ting Pua’s coffee both this year has expanded to include cakes and pastries to increase her donation to the foundation. Growing up in an impoverished life, Pua understands the plight of out-of-school youth and dedicates herself in their welfare any way she can. 【Photo by Heng Choun Lee】
In the Palo Livelihood Program booth, Tzu Chi volunteers take inventory of the bags they sold. As with previous Fiesta Verdes, this year sees an increase in the variety of bags that were made by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) survivors. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
The lack of six fingers doesn’t hinder Tzu Chi volunteer Mary Ann Aribal from doing her part in Fiesta Verde. A former Tzu Chi scholar from Catmon, Cebu, she went with her fellow Cebuano volunteers to the event to sell their local delicacies. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
After a Tzu Chi volunteer bought 100 pieces of Catmon’s famous bud-bud kabog, Aribal distributed them to her fellow volunteers on duty around Metrotent. Bud-bud kabog is a type of rice cake that uses millets instead of grain rice. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】
Aside from bud-bud kabog, the Tzu Chi Cebu booth sells banana chips and pinakurat or coconut vinegar. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】