Narissa Bernas started the “Philippines Christmas Outreach Program” in 1997. This program still runs today, with its 17th annual program planned for December 2014. At one point, the outreach program has grown to support over 1000 children across 4 depressed areas of Manila and Capiz. Narissa saw children being shooed away from community Christmas parties, some of them orphans, homeless and severely underprivileged. So many children with tattered clothes, worn-out slippers, walking bare foot, dirty and smelly, struggling in the area. Humbled by the suffering she observed, Narissa felt there must be something she could do. Maybe there was a way to bring the positive and joyful spirit of Christmas back into the hearts of these wonderful and ever resilient Filipino children.
The Philippines Christmas Outreach Program enables Filipino children to belong to a Christmas party they can call their own. This event aims to instil the real meaning of Christmas… the significance of the birth of Jesus Christ, and understanding that God is not here to punish. He is a God who is forever loving and forever merciful. This event has inspired many children to go on to become positive, giving and loving adults.
Today the program runs under the banner of Off-Grid Aid. It continues to expand its events across the Philippines, hoping to empower the youth of tomorrow.
Every Christmas (usually on December 28th), Filipino children are invited to a day of fun, food and frivolity. While having fun they will be involved in activities that foster the understanding of values such as sharing, caring, connection and equality.
Sharing: Cakes are sliced in a way that every child gets a slice. Children are involved in this process. Gifts are equally shared amongst all the children, with no preference given to one child over another.
Caring: Children can queue for seconds (food), but only after all children have been provided for.
Empowerment: Games work on an “effort” reward system. When children are seen to be involved and enthusiastic, giving it their best shot, they will earn points and be rewarded for their hard work. This approach is not about “winning” or “losing” but about empowering every child, encouraging effort and self-expression, no matter who they are, or their level of skill.
Connecting: Children are brought together to undertake activities which fostering and encouraging community (bayanihan) spirit. Children make new friends, leaning skills such as “effective teamwork”, “conflict resolution”, “positive encouragement of their peers” and “setting a good example for others”.
Event activities vary from year to year depending on the situation and money raised. As an example, the 2013 December Outreach Program involved running a soup kitchen for both children and adults. Here we extended the outreach program to help families affected by Typhoon Yolanda. Narissa’s nephews and nieces donated slippers, school bags, colouring books and story books in addition to food provided. Her nephews raised PHP 2,570 (AUD$ 64) from their own Christmas present money in addition to the donations provided.
Another example was in 2008 when a fundraising activity involved raising money through a public bid on a limited edition China Team 2008 Olympic jacket.
Click here for 2008 press release.
The party continues: 28 December 2014. About 140 children of Pasuque, Capiz were treated to a Jollibee fun and games, a yummy snack of spaghetti and hamburger. Another bestseller is – THE ICE CREAM MAN!