Last Sunday, I had the privilege to once again partake of the legacy of a child I have never met. Her name is Lauren Santos, the firstborn of my friend and fellow parent, Dedet “The Lechon Diva” dela Fuente. Lauren was born with cerebral palsy. She lived a too-short span of thirteen years but her life continues to make a huge difference in the lives of others today.
Glimpses of her life which Dedet shared gave me a higher appreciation for the meaning of the event which Dedet, her younger daughters Lileya and Liyora put together: Project Wheelchair, a fundraising dinner to provide wheelchairs for the underprivileged.
This was Dedet’s speech that night:
Dedet’s sharing tugged deep in my heart. Looking at Loren’s pictures and hearing of those precious moments, my heart felt the longing of a mother for her child, the loss of a precious loved one, the helplessness and limitation to change a situation.
Some time ago, Dedet had shared with me her life journey and to say that it was challenging is an understatement. Understanding the back story moved me to see that Dedet chose to channel her pain from what must have been a cavernous loss into a far-reaching blessing. I asked her how she overcame; her reply came:
“It was one big hardship after the next but my parents instilled in me how much God has taken care of me. Even in the lowest points of my life, I always knew He was there for me. I always tell my children, ‘Life is not easy. You can have all the money but if you don’t have faith in God, you will never be able to survive.’ One of the turning points was when Lauren was about to pass on… I was able to overcome because I knew that God will be there for her… … It’s all about faith.”
In this article that sisters Lileya and Liyora wrote for the Philippine Star, they said that they wanted to “give the gift of mobility” [the ability to move forward] which in turn gives the opportunities for “the transformative experience…. second chances, and renewed hopes.”—– a metaphor for the very ministry of Jesus Christ for each one of us.
From Isaiah 61 which Jesus read in the synagogue , He describes His ministry to proclaim good news to the poor, heal the brokenhearted, proclaim freedom for the captives, release prisoners from darkness, proclaim the Lord’s favor, comfort all who mourn, provide for those who grieve, rebuild the ancient ruins and restore and renew what was devastated and ruined, to bring joy and beauty instead of mourning and ashes.
That is a parallel on a higher realm of the twelve-course degustacion menu I was taking in. First course: good news. Second course: healing . Third: freedom from bondage; fourth: light; favor, comfort, provision, restoration, joy, beauty… The unli degustation doesn’t end… Each day, more…
Dedet’s faith in God gave her hope “to keep going no matter the cards you’re dealt.” Dedet helped her daughters five years ago, the year that Lauren passed on, to join the Best Food Forward Bazaar to sell Liyora’s butter beer and Lileya’s Chocolate Happiness. That year, Lauren’s sisters were able to raise funds to buy two second-hand wheelchairs to give away.
Fast forward to November 15, 2015, with God’s favor, the wheels for Project Wheelchair turned and how! Held at the gorgeous Champagne Room of historic Manila Hotel courtesy of the generous Yap Family…
…Eighteen people from the culinary industry came together and prepared a degustacion menu.
With Spanky Enriquez hosting the event, around one hundred fifty guests braved the APEC traffic and heightened security to come and support the cause. [Many more supported the cause but were unable to attend.]
Delicious, beautiful food after the next— the labor of love of different chefs— were dished out for the guests.
The preceding photos brought together by different people to complete the whole picture resonated the contributions of people coming together in the bayanihan spirit, a noteworthy Filipino practice.
Behind the scenes, more people volunteered their time anonymously… among them, Lea Stroem to do administrative organizing work, Leo Nemenzo to put together the slide show for Lauren, Sharwin Tee to manage the food flow on the night of the event, and many other kind-hearted men and women who genuinely wanted to help even without any credit. Lord, thank You that You are the Great Rewarder/ Repayer and You don’t miss anything.
The goal was reached and will perhaps be surpassed! One hundred fifty wheelchairs with the gift of mobility (and as the two sisters wish, to give opportunities for “the transformative experience…. second chances, and renewed hopes.”) will be distributed to those who need them. Dedet wants to help not just the person with disability but his family and caregivers, the people around him whose caregiving burden will be much eased. This will help them to move on as well.
Of Project Wheelchair, Dedet says, “This entire mission would not have been possible without our beloved Lauren. This is for you, Lauren, and for all those who keep moving forward in life.”
Dedet posted this on her Facebook timeline on the night of the event:
It had this caption:
“Tonight, with the help of so many, there will be at least 150 people who be thanking the Lord above for having a new wheelchair. – Dedet dela Fuente”
Thank You Lord!
More photos from Project Wheelchair which turned out to be a lovely reunion with friends, old and new. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take photos of everyone but I’m blessed to see every single person I met that night.