Casting Our Nets into the Sky

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The first logo I designed for Abot Tala two years ago had this latin adage: Ad Astra Per Aspera meaning “to the stars through difficulties.”  Through hardships to the stars.  That’s exactly what we are all going through. We have these lofty dreams and ours was a vision for freedom for young people to direct their education and life path with the help and guidance of mentors. We’re still reaching for those bright things in the infinite dark sky and we are still going through rough, rougher and roughest waters, the roughest of which may be this period of uncertainty and waiting.

We refuse to believe that this is the end. Instead we forge on, hoping against hope that stars can be held in the palm of our hands until we throw them back out into the night, only to catch them again and again. They may slip through the holes of our net but these are never impossibilities.

Eight years ago, it was discovered that I was pregnant and had cancer at the same time. Against all odds, despite having chemotherapy while pregnant, my baby was born healthy. He is now 7 years old, a naughty, creative, hyperactive, smart, joyful, malambing boy. This picture makes me think of the dreams we have that are seemingly impossible, that make us want to give up but I remember clearly not wanting to give up this baby. Why is it easy for us to give up other dreams especially if it is our personal dream? I think the dream we can’t give up on, the dream that keeps us going despite the hardships and difficulties are the dreams for our children.  For those who don’t have biological children, it may be something else, a legacy that we hope continues past our physical time on earth.

Abot Tala is like my child but there are times when I want to give up.  I can never do that with my real children.  I know of parents who have given up on their children and children who have given up on their parents.  The tragedy is heartbreaking and I can never imagine it happening to me but it has happened to people close to me.

So what is this business of giving up or wanting to give up on a dream?  When circumstances force us to fold up, do we fold up or fight to keep open?  There will be people who will always be on the side of encouragement and there will be the naysayers who think it’s losing battle.  However, you don’t hear this only outside; the voices are right inside your head swinging like a pendulum or a hatchet about to cut either the rope that holds you captive or slice your body in half.

Since Abot Tala is for teens ages 12 to 18, it is where my own kids could go to should they wish to in the future.  They are only 7 and 10 now so it won’t be after a few more years till they’re eligible to join.  We don’t know if Abot Tala would still be alive by then because we don’t even know if we’ll be able to survive this crippling debacle.

In August last year, we opened Abot Tala Junior which ran for two months before closing it down since it was a threat to the sustainability of the original center for teens.  The program for younger kids ages 7 to 11 was much more complex and we did not have the space nor the staff fit for it.  It was a crushing blow to realize we had to close shop so quickly but it was a painful amputation that had to be done.

The center chugged along while never meeting our target numbers but we all believed it was only a matter of time and we’d reach the tipping point.  Most people may favor the traditional school system but there were outliers, out-of-the-box thinkers and families  who needed this option for their teens.  To counter our bloody red FS, we came up with a fundraising program that we were about to launch when, COVID reared it’s blood-thirsty head.  A crown of thorns descended on a few that soon exploded exponentially.

We were in the process of  starting a fundraiser with the country’s premiere auction house, Leon Gallery.  The country’s equivalent of Sotheby’s was generous enough to support Abot Tala but then who would think about auctioning art work or antiques now unless the funds go to our frontliners in the medical field?  Who would think of sponsoring teens who need an alternative to school, who need an option to following a rigid curriculum when all schools have closed down?

We sit with uncertainty as long and as peaceful as we can because there is little choice but to ride this out.  Abot Tala is offering summer classes but apart from that, we wait with bated breath and sinking budget.

Another thing I was looking forward to is a fragment of another dream.  My 10 year old son, Joshua and I are avid fans of Shark Tank and it’s been my dream to pitch on that popular U.S. TV Program of 11 seasons.  Tinky, one of our Abot Tala board of trustees messaged me about John Aguilar, host and producer of the Filipino version of Shark Tank.  Thanks to serendipity, I ended up attending a talk for start-ups where John and his wife, Monica talked about their experiences and stories as an entrepreneurial couple.  I was able to ambush John after and gave an instant elevator pitch about Abot Tala.

I submitted the online application form and requirements some weeks before the lockdown and a few weeks into the quarantine, got word that Abot Tala is invited to do an online pre-pitch when things go back to normal.  Nobody knows when that will be.

The biggest challenge for me to take on in Abot Tala is approaching people I know for help and support.  It’s easier for me to approach total strangers so I kept attending event after event and now, the possibility of appearing on the Final Pitch gives me that boost to go on with a potential resolution in the horizon.  Imagine if we get a big investor who believes in what Abot Tala stands for and offers full support.

It seems naive to expect a miracle.  A miraculous save.  A rescue swooping from the sky.  A superhero with cape waving in the wind.

But there is too, the preparation for when a miracle should occur.

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And not to forget, the other miracle in my life: Joshua who was born when I was 38 and my family was thinking I’d never marry nor have kids.  Proof miracles do happen.  They can even happen every day, often undetected.

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