SILANG, Cavite, Philippines?A pastor?s wife and homegrown artist, Koni Pascual has combined faith and talent so she and her family can carry out their mission of teaching and helping children, including those neglected and abused at home.
Their eight-year-old program Artreach?instead of ?outreach??has been offering free art classes to about 200 children, with dance and bible study as add-ons. The Pascuals are missionaries of Christian church, Jesus the Anointed One.
?Since I am an artist, this has become the vehicle (to serve my mission),? said Koni, 44.
She used to work as interior designer for a real estate company, while her husband Willie was a seaman. They both lost their jobs in the early ?90s.
?We had overlooked it, splurging on everything, buying groceries every week with food ended up rotting in the fridge,? Koni said.
?We lost everything and had to sell our properties, including our car. For some time, the kids had to stop from going to school. We only had a few clothes left and we even begged for food,? she said.
Looking back, Koni said it was a long, painful transition to becoming missionaries. ?There were no words to describe our agony and that?s when we bowed down,? she said.
Koni herself was a troubled child after her father had left the family.
?We were like kittens shoved to this place?no water, no electricity. We had no money or anything,? she said.
Her mother, dejected about the separation, used to beat her up.
?I had thought to myself?if this is life, forget it!? she said.
Koni even attempted suicide several times at her young age.
?That, perhaps, is why I have this much concern for the kids,? she said, focusing her ministry on children.
Every Saturday afternoon, the family would go to a poor community known as ?Ilog? as it is on the riverside in Barangay Iba, to bring Artreach to about 100 youths.
On Sundays, Artreach is held at the Pascuals? home in Barangay Tubuan II where about 100 children also flock for a three-hour art session and bible study.
Willie, who became a full-time pastor, holds a separate bible study for parents.
Koni has four children, but there are other people at home who call her ?Nanay.?
Jerome, 18, is one of them. He came to the Pascuals about three years ago, bearing grudges against his father who had left his family.
?He said he had forgiven his father,? Koni said, as Jerome is now an active volunteer of Artreach.
Two other girls left home because their stepfather was abusing them, Koni said.
?Normally, you work for your own family or your own children. But now, our life has opened toward the outside,? she said. She said there were times when no food was left for her biological children, ?but they learned not to mind that and become unselfish.?
There is no car parked at the family?s garage, so it has become a colorful gallery of artworks, native bags, hats and ?ukay-ukay? (used and overrun) items for sale.
On weekdays, Koni and her children sew bags, string beads into belts, and paint buri (straw) hats. Some of the products are exported to the United States.
Members of their church from abroad send them used clothes, which they sell at bargain prices.
Koni?s wall displays made from molded ground coffee are sold for P1,000 to P5,000 apiece. She calls it the ?3-in-1 coffee recipe? as it is a mixture of Cavite?s coffee, her art designs, and dried flowers or leaves.
Every summer, Koni facilitates a specialized art class for those who can afford to pay the P200 registration fee.
The money that the family earns is used for the Artreach program. ?It (Artreach) has become a family ministry and from here, we find fulfillment and peace,? Koni said.