In the bosom of a loving familyBy John Ray Estrellado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
As part of its goal to offer the best education possible, the Salesian Society of Don Bosco organizes activities that can help its students prepare to assume the roles of servant leaders in their communities and pursue the careers they want.
As a high school student of the Don Bosco Technical College in Mandaluyong City, I have been privileged to participate in some of these activities organized by the schools’ office of the development and educational apostolate.
For example, the Student Leaders Assembly was held in Don Bosco Academy in Pampanga recently. We got to meet Bosconians from Tarlac, Makati City and Canlubang, Laguna, aside from those from Pampanga. There were also representatives of Don Bosco schools in the Visayas and in Mindanao.
But the event that truly changed me and was an eye-opener was the student exchange program last year in Thailand.
Along with other students from Don Bosco schools in Luzon, I experienced living away from home. I not only made new friends among Thai Bosconians but also strengthened my brotherhood with fellow Filipino Bosconians.
Thailand was beautiful. Our hosts wholeheartedly shared the beauty of their country, their culture, their passion for good food, their dance and their music. More than that, however, they showed they were bonded to us by the Salesian spirit.
The whole time we were in Thailand, the Salesian brothers were always there to assist us, constantly asking us how we were and if we liked the food they served.
They even made sure we slept comfortably at their retreat house in Hua Hin and the air conditioning was just the right temperature.
When we toured the city, the brothers helped us communicate with Thai merchants. Though their English was not at par with ours, they always did their best to guide us. It was the same kind of attention we got from Salesians in the Philippines, so I felt at home with the brothers in Thailand.
We stayed with foster families who, despite being of a different religion, welcomed us warmly. They immediately made us feel like we were family members.
Like their own
Of course, we missed our parents but our hosts helped ease the homesickness we felt. They gave us our own bedrooms and cooked delicious food. They made sure we had a hearty breakfast before we left for school and drove us to and from school, like we were their own children.
At first, I was anxious about going to school. I wondered what our Thai classmates would be like. But I was surprised to be met with welcoming smiles and warm greetings. Everywhere in the school, we heard them say Sawasdee, Thai for “Hello.”
They asked simple questions in English—our names, ages and religion, which was not a big deal for them. No one minded the fact that they were Buddhists and we were Catholics.
With the students of Hua Hin Vitthayalai School, our party of Filipino students went to the Summer Palaces, bought souvenirs from the Floating Market and tasted street foods at the Night Market. Our Thai friends even bought us stationery as gifts.
On our last night in Hua Hin, before we left for the capital city of Bangkok, some of them cried and wrote us messages of friendship.
In Bangkok, we also went on a city tour, watched the elephant and cultural shows and visited another Bosconian and all-boys school, St. Dominic School, where the famous Thai actor Mario Maurer once studied. Employees welcomed us warmly.
We saw how advanced their technologies were, from computer laboratories to music rooms. But despite the modern facilities, the Salesian spirit filled the school.
We had the chance to see Salesian education in Thailand. The students were very hospitable and friendly. We were among family, people loving us and who we loved in return.
Everywhere we went, the family spirit was always there, the spirit of the Salesian family.
In the words of St. John Bosco, our patron saint, “It is not enough to love, but also to feel one is loved.”
During the trip, I learned the value of family. Everywhere we went, there was always a family to accommodate us. There were also families we would be returning to, our own families.
Because of the love showered on us by the families I encountered in Thailand, I learned to appreciate my family more. I learned to treasure moments with them, a lesson I will not forget for the rest of my life.
It was St. John Bosco’s mission to create a family that would link the broken pieces of this world. Salesians built a big bridge linking diverse cultures and traditions of different countries. The teachings of St. John Bosco created a bond that will never be broken.
The strong connection we felt with our Thai hosts was proof of that. Now Don Bosco Philippines will explore that connection as it prepares to bring other boys to the United States, Brazil, Korea and other places.
The author is a third year high school student at Don Bosco Technical College Mandaluyong where the photographer is a faculty member.