by Kazzandra Ysabel R. Baysa
There were strings on the walls.
Some quite thin but smooth, some thick yet coarse. There were strings on the floor – all still and lifeless, all attached yet detached at the same time. There were strings on the ceilings – all long and unbreakable, all knotted and in loops.
And she was tangled within them all.
Tangled in the dark, empty room, shivering in the cold face of desolation. She is alone, and she is lost. Alone and lonely. Alone and in mourning.
But she moved her tired limbs. She sat and took it slow. And she stood, despite the strain and the effort, despite the extreme pull of gravity. She stood and all the strings came loose. With her dried eyes and nimble fingers, she freed herself from the restraint of solitude – until finally, she was liberated.
With the strings untied, her vision was no longer veiled – there was light after all, she was only too restricted to see it. But with light came reality, and with reality came suffering. There were more, many more trapped within the strings of their own making.
And so she helped their tired limbs, they sat and took it slow. And they stood with her, hand in hand as her voice spoke safety and her hands brought comfort. She was untied, and now it is her mission to help those that remain tethered.
She takes another step as they remember her name – the fighter, the hero, the teacher – Kristine Crisseda A. Mangareng and her story of disentanglement.
FIRST KNOT: COMING OF A HERO
Mangareng wasn’t in the most fortunate of families that lived in Palawan as a child. She would go to school and back home with an empty stomach. It was tough, they felt helpless.
But just as she helped untie the looped strings of others, people helped free her and her family from the first knot she had in her life.
Mangareng’s relatives and churchmates helped them pull through, giving them some of their necessities such as rice and other food. These individuals did not tire of lifting her and her family, and now, these individuals fueled her dream to pay back the good deeds to others who are in need. She grabbed volunteering opportunities in her school and the church she went to, and that’s how slowly but surely, she felt fulfilled, excited even, to continue helping others.
Life is a string and it can snap anytime, but first it runs in circles and ties itself to suffering.
On November 13, 2017, Marilyn Sedoguio, Mangareng’s mother, died due to stage 4 stomach cancer that has already spread to her bones. She watched the light of her home struggle against the battle, and at the end, she was crushed as the battle was lost. It was a pain that she would never forget. It was a wound that healed but still left a scar. But like all knots, this one came undone and showed the world in a better light.
Life’s string cuffed Mangareng tightly to pain, but when it came loose, there was peace once more. Healing comes after hurting, and rebirth comes after being broken down, this was a lesson she imparted after experiencing it for herself. And now, she helps those who once suffered like her. Now, she joins hands with those who are pulled down and she lifts them up.
Like all knots, trouble can and will come undone, one just needs to be patient, persevering, and calm to untie the traps life throws.
NIMBLE FINGERS: HAND IN HAND AGAINST LIFE’S TRAPS
“It is not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives. It’s what we do consistently.”
– Anthony Robbins
This was what Mangareng quoted as she emphasized the importance of consistency in her Zero Waste Project. Aside from donating to those in need, she also spearheads the advocacy of segregation wherein they clean and wash everything from plastic bottles to cans and sachets. The plastics would then be cut by her grandmother and used as stuffing for cushions while the bottles, cans, and papers would be sold. Bokashi compost is made out of the food waste and it is used to fertilize the garden in Longos National High School where Mangareng teaches.
But aside from this huge challenge to the urban community, Mangareng also held hands with Ms. Beth Reyes, the organizer of Hands of God, who motivated her to support and inspire others. With the help of her family, friends, colleagues, and other organizations, she gathers toys, food, clothes, medicine, and other necessities to frequently donate to National Children’s Hospital (NCH), especially to the Cancer Patients’ Ward as it hits a bit closer to home. Although it brought back pain, it also introduced her to a new side of life – the world of children who were battling cancer, the children who were weak and fragile.
But they were so alive and happy, almost like they were paying no heed to the disease preying on them, and it was their life that motivated Mangareng to continue doing her good deeds.
On December 19, 2019, she conducted third gift giving to NCH, and with the help of her supervisors, LNHS colleagues, family, and friends, they were able to make 73 cancer patients, 16 ICU patients, and 38 other patients smile genuinely with hope. On another gift giving, she and her colleagues made 137 happy as they donated 33 Pedia sure milk packs, 26 Tempra medicines, hygiene and medical kits, biscuits, diapers, toys, drawing and coloring materials, along with clothes and grocery packs.
The most difficult project she has pulled through was when she completed the sets of hygiene kits, meds, milk, and vitamins to each cancer patient. As milk was quite expensive, they needed the help of more sponsors. But with God’s grace and the help of her colleagues, the Callada family, and a private school, they were able to provide the needs of more than 50 cancer patients and 40 other patients.
And with her nimble fingers, dozens of strings came undone. They thank her, tears spilling gratitude, their limbs clutching her with the warmth of love. They speak her name, they remember her, and that is the greatest achievement she has ever had.
SUNLIT STRING: CHALLENGES, ACHIEVEMENTS, AND REGRETS
The biggest challenge Mangareng had to overcome in her journey was herself. Visiting patients and gift giving don’t just require time and money; it also requires empathy, mental strength, and bravery. During her first visits, Mangareng felt shy as she ventured onto an environment filled with new and unfamiliar people. The fact that she endured depression only a few months after her mother died did not make things easier for her.
But one stumble did not stop her from getting back up. She walks forward, passing through glints of warm sunlight as she faces the challenge ahead of her with strength, hope, and love from the people around her.
With consistency, responsibility, and determination she has successfully helped those in need, gaining an achievement she deems to be the greatest she has ever received – she was remembered. She was welcomed inside the hearts of those who are in pain, she fought the battles with those who are down, and she cried with those who are suffering.
Truly, no riches can amount to the open gate of a person’s heart.
Mangareng only has one regret, and that is she was not able to start this project sooner. Plagued with doubt and negativity, she questioned herself. But now, with her students and their parents aware and involved in her acts of generosity, now that they look up to her and attempt to follow her footsteps: her journey has officially begun.
Alas, the light has hit her strings, and now she will illuminate the lives of those still trapped in their coiled strings.
STRETCHING BEYOND: PLANS AFTER THE PANDEMIC
And now a hindrance halts the sunlit string’s journey down its illuminated path. Countless needles lay ahead, an obstacle course mapped out as the string has to pass through them one by one. But the end of the obstacle is not the end of the journey, for the hero’s fingers remain nimble, and there are still knots waiting to be untied.
With the pandemic holding Mangareng back, she has been unable to return to the hospital. However she remains active, participating and donating in her best friend’s Rice Sharing Program.
But after this pandemic, the 33-yr old hero plans to launch her new project, “HospiEscuela”, with her friends and family. She plans on staying by the bedside of school-age cancer patients at NCH as she teaches them.
Originally, it was to be launched on March 28, but with the crisis that has emerged, it became impossible. And upon tackling the pandemic that is COVID-19, Mangareng urges people to keep the faith, to stay together and help one another, leaving a quote as she was asked about the crisis.
“Focus on the things you can control.”
And now there are strings on her fingertips.
There were strings on the floor – all detached from those she had freed. There were strings on the ceilings – all still long and unbreakable.
But she pulled them all.
And now the walls of this empty room filled with untethered people fell apart. And now there was light, not just a small glint of sunlight that passed through the cracks and landed on her strings. It was an open blue sky and they were free to bask in its warm and soft sunlight.
It was now an open world.
She takes a step as she breathes in the new world, stretching her ever ready fingers as she prepares to help more beyond her reach. And then they hear her name – the fighter, the hero, the teacher – Kristine Crisseda A. Mangareng. And this was her story of disentanglement.