Philippine Self-Help Foundation

How it all began

Monday, 12th June, 1989

I was already half awake when my mother woke me up at 4 o’clock in the morning in order to prepare for my first day of work. It was going to be a long trip to Bacolod on Negros island where my new job was going to be. First, I had to walk for a mile to go to the main road where I could get a jeepney to the port; then take a boat to Iloilo City; drop by my old boarding house and pick up my belongings there; then finally head off for the pier where I would be taking the 7 o’clock boat to Bacolod where my new job was going to be.

My father, who always accompanied me on the important trips that I’d been making since I was a child, was going to take me all the way to the Iloilo city pier that day. At 5 o’clock, it was still dark as he and I set off for the main road. At 58, he was still agile, and so I had a bit of a difficult time keeping up with him. I was sweating when we got to the main road despite the chilly morning air. We arrived in Iloilo city a little after six o’clock and then we took a tricycle to my boarding house. Fortunately my landlady was already up and so it did not take me long to get my belongings.        

The pier was bustling with longshoremen as well as passengers when my father and I got there about 20 minutes before 7 o’clock. My father accompanied me into the boat with me, carrying my big bag of belongings. As soon as I had settled on a seat, he bid me goodbye. A lump was forming in my throat as I watched him go down the gangplank. As soon as I was out of his sight, I began to cry. 

It was a two-hour trip to Bacolod and I arrived at 9 o’clock. When the boat anchored, I forgot about my homesickness because of the ensuing commotion as longshoremen scrambled up in search of customers. After a while, I made it through the chaos and finally got on a jeepney which would take me all the way to a place called “Shopping”. (I was told that the place was so called because it once was the shopping center of Bacolod). It is about a kilometer or so from the PSHF office and so from there, I got a ‘trisikad’ or a pedal taxi.

It was about 9:45 when I finally got to the PSHF office which was on the 2nd floor of the Minimart Bldg, a rather nondescript building, except for a little shop downstairs and a billiard table in another room. The door of the office was closed and so I went next door to get the key from the Ciudad family whom I had come to know on my first visit, a month or so earlier, when I had come to Bacolod for the job interview with Richard Foster, together with his friend John Wilson. It was Pastor Ciudad who opened the door and who gave me a warm welcome while handing me the key to the office. Incidentally and sadly, Pastor Ciudad succumbed to age-related illnesses last week and was buried only yesterday (11 June 2014). He and his wife were going to have a big impact in my life in the years to come.

The office smelt of wax when I entered it. I was told by Pastor Ciudad that Mr Pantaras, a PSHF loan recipient as well as a member of his congregation, had been cleaning the office earlier that morning. This explained the wax smell.

It was a spacious office. There was a kind of receiving room in which there was a long bench as well as several shelves all laden with books. A doorway on the right hand side from the receiving room was the PSHF office itself. There were one or two shelves there, a sturdy single-door wooden cabinet which remains up to this day, and a wooden desk. There was a portable typewriter on a table and some paper too. Outside the office room was a hallway and then a small five-cornered room which was to become my bedroom. 

After having ‘digested’ the sparse furnishings of the office, I began to look for something to work on. I was disappointed to find nothing and I was not eager to take a look at the books on the shelves because of the dust on them. Richard, during the interview, explained what would be expected of me, and I could not figure out how I was going to carry out those tasks. Absurdly, I began to think of going home, and then later on told myself that I would give this job two weeks. It would be a great pity that it would end this way, I thought to myself, after all the excitement that I'd had for this job. 

Soon it was lunchtime and I went out to find a place to eat, and was soon back in the office. At about 1pm, I heard a very familiar and most impressive voice calling out my name. That brought an end to my musings. It was Elre, the first coordinator ever of the PSHF. He was a radio disc jockey and I had idolised him when I was a teenager, and I could not believe that I was going to work with him!

Later that afternoon, he took me on his motorcycle to the Burgos market where he introduced me to some families that had received livelihood assistance from the PSHF. The following days saw me doing some some typing and filing, and Elre introducing me to more families. Soon it was Friday, and I was eager to go home. Elre told me to come back on Sunday because a PSHF friend and supporter, Jay Allgood, would be arriving. 

That visit of Jay was going to be a crucial point in my life. I mentioned earlier that I was going to give this new job two weeks and then leave. But at the end of Jay’s short visit, a significant unfolding of a new chapter in my life started to take place. I once wrote that the understanding of life and the knowledge that I gained in my first seven weeks in the PSHF were far more meaningful than my seven years of radio broadcasting.

Twenty five years ago, my fingers ached after typing a proposal or a narrative report because they would sometimes go into the holes between the typewriter keys. At the time, I always had at my side the thick Oxford dictionary which my parents had gifted me when I was in college, as well as a Roget’s Thesaurus which I had fished out from the Ciudads’ library! Nowadays I’m on ‘high technology’ with a 13” MacBook Pro, where at the touch of a finger, not just synonyms or antonyms appear on my screen, but events in other parts of the world. Be it a high technology gadget or a manual typewriter, the PSHF continues to make a difference in the lives of the poor. I am grateful and at the same time privileged to be one of those who carry out its vision and mission which is to bring help to the needy with livelihood and medical assistance programs. Little did I expect that my ‘two weeks’ would turn out to be two decades and a half!

Bernadette G. Togado
12 June 2014
Bacolod City

This photo was taken in 2005 during the South East Asia Games football event held in Bacolod city.  Bernie (25 years in the PSHF)  and Sherry (15 years in the PSHF)