Eternal Signature
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18 October 2017 Eternal Signature

Written by: Ana Jean Jandayan

As part of our #NationalVolunteerMonth2017 celebration this coming December, we are featuring the nine winning entries of our Volunteerism Story Writing Contest. This is the the winning entry from Region X.

Armed with portmanteau and travelling shoes, a determined foot journeyed towards the precipitous mountains of South Cotabato. The road unveiled itself to be a hostile ordeal. Lucky enough though, a forward truck passed by. Several feet boarded up including his, and the next seven to eight hours went by with the gurgling sound of the vehicle’s spirited engine. The forward truck came to a halt at a particular sitio which signaled the start of an hour-long walkathon to finally reach the place. He, along with his company, wandered through labyrinthine ways and complicated crossroads. With ounces of deep breath and beads of trickling sweat, the area was finally within sight. He took a panoramic view of the place. It was almost barren and there in the middle lies the makeshift school topped with iron ceiling but still standing in scrawny scaffolds. From the sight that unfolded before him, a strong compassion fueled his desire to do things bigger than himself. He is Deonnel Peren and in the year 2002, he started his selfless adventures as a changed man and as a committed volunteer.

I would never have heard the name “Sir D” were it not for my friend. Nothing was so special in his name so I just let it pass. But once again the same name resounded when she related to me who the camping facilitator was in the latest camping she had participated. I asked who that “Sir D” is and when she told me the many things he was affiliated to, I was awed. I wondered: will I ever meet this man? For years hearing nothing about him, his name became buried in my memory, but just recently, when I was given the chance to write for this story writing contest, I was given the chance to excavate a name in my brain’s archives. I was sure who to interview for this story—it’s “Sir D”.

The thought of interviewing Mr. Deonnel brought in me a surge of interest and a wave of curiosity. Questions flooded hungering for answers: What could have led this man to dedicate his life to volunteer? What could have challenged him? Why did he still continue?...and the trail of inquiries went on and on. When the opportune time came, I gathered all the courage I could muster and with a pen in hand and my cellphone on the other, I started chronicling his inspiring story of self-transformation and selfless volunteerism.

Hollow, meaningless, and lost. Those words could have encapsulated the life of Deonnel. As a product of a broken family, he lost sight of a good future and saw nothing but the darkest sides of being alive. He drank too much alcohol and is blindly leading his life to an unknown direction. He almost jumped off a cliff and attempted to end a life not worth living. He is but a man with no goals to achieve, no purpose to fulfill.

But he changed. How? Through prayer. Looking in retrospect, he thought how miserable he had been. “I told Him if He could change me then I’ll give everything to Him,” he said. And change has befallen him. He started to break bad habits and alter old ways. He filled his hollowed life with substantial amounts of God’s word. And in honor of such change, he vowed to dedicate his life to glorify Him through volunteering.

In 2002, Mr. Deonnel became a missionary of Socio-economic Uplift, Literacy, Anthropological and Developmental Services otherwise known as SULADS, a self-supporting organization whose primary aim is to help marginalized citizens especially the Lumads in remote areas through health, education, agriculture, and livelihood assistance.

The first area he was assigned to was at South Cotabato. There he spent one year living with the villagers specifically the T’boli tribe while performing various services. They built a classroom out of the resources found in the area. Then they would accommodate the children and hold classes. Late afternoon to night they would attend to the community’s agricultural initiatives and livelihood duties. Mr. Deonnel for one packs his bags and brings his guitar, medical books, first aid kits and bible stories, while he ventures from one house to another to offer massage, physical therapy and storytelling.

But as much as he loved doing all those things, living in the mountains though has its own share of hardship. Reaching the area is in itself a painstaking trip to take since the place is off the beaten track. There are several adjustments that one has to make. Deonnel learned to spend the night on a hammock instead of bed, eat root crops and employ vegetarian diet instead of the usual variety of staple food in the city, and walk kilometers instead of riding miles. He even recalled how they had to go through long walks and extensive strides to cross rivers just to reach town and get some of their supplies.

Moreover, resources in the mountains are scarce and the children themselves have no school supplies of their own. To provide this, he recounted how they would even empty the last cents of their pocket to buy school supplies for the children instead of buying something for their own comfort. Bridging linguistic differences is also a mammoth challenge to contend with. But despite all these, what Deonnel pointed out as the greatest challenge in his volunteering journey is the extreme nostalgia. “Being in an environment you are not used to usually brings a feeling of longing”, he said. More than insect bites and allergies, what really caused him pain especially in the first two months of volunteering in the area is homesickness.

But as months passed, he has gotten used to the environment and little by little established friendship with the villagers. They eat and bond with them which for him what chiefly made the whole thing a marvelous experience to look back.

After a year with the T’boli, Deonnel shared the next 365 days to another area assignment in Malaybalay and nurtured the cause for which he learned to embrace the T’boli community. After a year of serving as a volunteer in Bukidnon, Deonnel then went to Tawi-Tawi to spend a year with the Tausug driven by that same cause. The inhabitants of Tawi-tawi were known to be hostile thus, he felt very blessed that the SULADS with which he was affiliated, was among the few Christians allowed by the Tausug to be at their community. More than health, educational, agriculture, and livelihood assistance, they also get to appreciate the Muslim community’s culture and their religion. They would even enter the mosque and masjid and take part in their cultural practice.

After three years in mission, Deonnel then became a live wire in many other volunteering activities. He was a part of Rescue 741 who responded during calamities such as in typhoon Sendong and Pablo. He has also created an organization going by the name CHEVRON in 2009 which is geared towards the spiritual and holistic development of youth through providing camping activities.

Volunteering has a special place in Deonnel’s heart and has a pivotal role in his life.

Thus, seeing the people he helped become “transformed individuals” is the most rewarding thing he says he gets in volunteering. The happiness and friendship his extended hands might have induced to all whose lives he has touched and transformed is what he considers as his salary and 13th month pay. In fact, he was ultimately proud upon finding out that two of his students who were in first grade when he came to volunteer at South Cotabato are presently pursuing their studies and reaching their dreams.

Improving the lives of others while gaining meaningful experiences made volunteering an indispensable part of Deonnel’s living. It is what he considers that gave him a direction in life and satisfaction in his soul. Thus, he resolved to continue doing voluntary works in the future for as long as he can and as long as a community is in need.

Deonnel is such an inspiration to talk with. Volunteering has been his lifeline. The inexplicable joy he felt feels like the same joy I also feel every time I take part in our school’s volunteerism initiatives. One particular community extension I have gone through is at Gugma sa Kabataan foundation. This is an adopted community of our department, College of Education, where we get to visit the children once in a month and have tutorials and fun games with them. After the undertaking, what I considered the sweetest part is goodbye. Not because finally we get to go home but because we get to see the rewards of our effort—their smiles, their sweet ‘thank you’, their warm hugs, and their excitement to see us again.

To spend time and pour your talent and skills for the benefit of others feels really refreshing. Volunteering taught me to work for passion and not recognition. It helped me to see glory in loving the community and returning quietly to an uncelebrated life.

Nothing is more fulfilling than living this borrowed life with a purpose. As Deonnel has said, “Everything in this world is impermanent. Money runs out, properties depreciate, beauty fades, but what truly remains is what you have done for others.” Life isn’t all about the several plaques of excellence and bulky distinctions and diplomas; it’s all about changing the lives of others for good and transforming them for the best. We are given this life for a cause that transcends our self-gain intentions. As an author once said, “Everything that we do for ourselves alone dies with us, but the things we do for others remains immortal.”

With a microphone in hand, Mr. Deonnel is presently journeying through barangays, schools, and communities to share his thoughts and insights as a speaker for extension programs, leadership, and volunteerism. He continues strumming that glorious string of life singing the song he has considered an all-time favorite. A song he has conceived while living his life to make it matter through making a difference in this world one helping hand at a time.

Here is a man who lives to give and not simply to gain. Here is a man who believes that “Every surface you have carved your name and scribbled your signature on to entitle as your own will not be yours for eternity, but what you can boast as your own are the efforts you have done to lighten the burden of others.” To volunteer is to write kindness as your eternal signature. Your legacy. This is a radiant page in the life story of Mr. Deonnel Peren, a story he shares and a story he continues to live on.

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