Celebrating Christmas in Hard Places

By Babylene Bocayes, Philippines Field Communications Specialist   |  Photos by Babylene Bocayes and Hope Center staff

Christmas is the time of the year when kids living in poverty in the Philippines receive a gift at their Hope Center and celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Sisters Chynna and Shine Mae were happy to receive Christmas gifts from their Child Champions.

In the Philippines, Christmas is the most-awaited time of the year.

Not only because it is celebrated for four months here (festivities start on Sept. 1 when people put up Christmas decor and play Christmas songs), but this is also the time of the year when people generously give — especially to children in the hardest places.

In OneChild, all children receive a special gift during Christmas. Mostly, simple wishes like a new pair of shoes, a new dress, a new toy, or even just to eat sumptuous food are granted.

These things are special because kids in poverty do not usually have them in their homes. Thus, children wait all year for this event – an opportunity for children to be hopeful.

How Poverty Affects Christmas Celebrations

“When others are preparing delicious food on the table during Christmas, we have nothing special to put on our table. What can we do? We cannot afford it,” says one mother, Lorena. Even if they have so little to spare to celebrate Christmas, nevertheless, she makes sure that her children will understand that Christmas is about being with family.

“It does not matter if we cannot buy them toys. What’s important is we have a meal to share,” says Lorena.

Mother Lorena, 50, with her two youngest children Josmaryan, 10, and Mariel, 7.

One of Lorena’s children, Josmaryan, 10, is part of the Caravan of Harvest Hope Center in Mandaluyong, Philippines.

This year, he received wooden puzzles, oil pastels, and a toy car from his Child Champions. It put a smile on his face.

When asked what the meaning of Christmas for him is, he says, “It is the birthday of our Lord Jesus.”

Another mother, Jennifer, is taking care of nine children (three are from her previous spouse and three are from her husband’s previous spouse, and Jennifer and her husband Lerry have three children of their own).

They live on an income of $10 to $14 a day from Lerry’s job as a tricycle driver.

From this meager income, they can buy about 5 pounds of rice, 10 eggs, and some vegetables that Jennifer will try to spread over three meals for 11 people.

“Even if we are poor and we are a big family, the Lord never abandons us,” Jennifer says. “He always provides for our needs.”

Parents Lerry and Jennifer Alcalde are raising their nine children in a small apartment room with barely enough space for all of them. They are thankful that two of their children, Yhunica, 10, and Lance, 9, belong to the Caravan of Harvest Hope Center.

On Christmas Day, Jennifer’s family celebrates with their neighbors by holding a potluck dinner. They usually bring spaghetti because this is all they can afford.

This way, they can also enjoy other food that their neighbors have prepared. But nothing beats a mother’s special food.

“I love eating spaghetti that my mother cooks,” says Lance, Jennifer’s son who is registered in the Hope Center along with his sister Yhunica.

Both Lance and Yhunica received play dough, puzzles, stuffed toys, and some coloring materials from their Child Champions.

As soon as they received their gifts, they immediately played with them together with their little brother and sisters.

For Jennifer, Christmas is about coming together as a family, no matter how hard life is for them.

“I am so thankful to God that they were chosen,” she says about her two children in OneChild’s program. “If it is just me and my husband, I don’t think we can do it alone. They are a big help to us. They give my children school supplies, which we cannot afford.”

Child Champions as Channel of Blessings

Children feel so special and grateful when they receive Christmas presents.

Lance, 9, is thankful for the puzzles and toy car he received as a Christmas gift from his Child Champions.

“When I think about Christmas, I think about gifts,” says 9-year-old Chynna, a sponsored child in OneChild. “I feel happy when I receive gifts.”

She is thankful to her sponsor for remembering her during Christmas.

Children like Chynna who are part of OneChild’s program receive gifts from their Child Champions during Christmas.

All this is possible through the generous giving of sponsors and donors.

“We give gifts to all our 89 registered kids in Mandaluyong City, gifts that they can enjoy and also be useful in developing their minds in terms of creativity,” says Child Champion Andrei Torrenueva.

Caravan of Harvest Hope Center Director Jonaly Gutierrez adds that these toys also help kids cope with the stress brought by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Child Champions in Hope Centers have different ways of sharing Christmas blessings with the children. Most of them buy new clothes, shoes, slippers, and toys, then wrap them in colorful gift wrappers or bags and place them under the Christmas tree. On the day of their Christmas party, a Child Champion will call their names one at a time to come in front. Shy but smiling big, they receive their Christmas gifts.

What an opportunity to make children feel special and loved!

Sisters Chynna and Shine Mae Cuarez treasure the toys they receive as Christmas gifts from their Child Champions. They even have kept the toys they received last year.

While most Child Champions buy the gifts themselves, some bring the children or their parents to do their own Christmas shopping.

This is fun for the kids because they can choose things that they like. Another interesting aspect to this is that Christmas shopping allowed some children to go out to the malls after more than a year of being restricted to their houses due to the pandemic.

In addition to the gifts, the Christmas party is features lots of food. Child Champions prepare food that children love like fried chicken, rice, spaghetti, and cake. Some even served lechon (roasted suckling pig), which is a special dish for a special occasion like Christmas.

With the COVID-19 restrictions still in place in some areas in the Philippines, some Hope Centers did not hold a Christmas party.

But Child Champions went out of their way to deliver gifts to each child. It brought joy to the children, nonetheless. How these children wish that everything will be back to normal when they could go out to their Hope Centers, see and play with their friends, sing and dance, and learn God’s Word from their Child Champions.

Even if children live in poverty, even if they have been restricted to their homes because of the pandemic, even if they do not have sumptuous meals on the table, these children will continue to be joyful about Christmas because they have their families, Child Champions, sponsors, and most especially, Jesus, the very reason for this season.

You can put a smile on a child’s face by giving to OneChild’s Christmas Gift Fund. With your contribution, all children will be given a special gift at Christmas.



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