Bernardo M. Villegas
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Greatest Gift to the Poor Part I

           The greatest gift to the poor is quality basic education and skills training for their children given for free or at very low costs.  This is a very precious heritage that St. Josemaria Escriva left to the faithful of the Prelature of Opus Dei which he founded.  A preferential option for the poor is very much part of the DNA of Opus Dei.  Canonized on October 6, 2002 by Blessed John Paul II, St. Josemaria's message to ordinary Christians is to "seek Christ in ordinary everyday life...and to give back to material realities and to the most trivial occurrences their noble and original meaning."  As he himself showed through his personal example, he spent the first years of his priestly vocation attending to the needs of the most abandoned poor people of the slum areas of Madrid in the late 1920s and early 1930s.   As Opus Dei spread to all the corners of the world over the last 84 years, this example of the Founder has not been lost to its members.  Thousands of social enterprises in favor of the poorest of the poor have been established by members and Cooperators of Opus Dei, either as corporate undertakings or more commonly as personal initiatives. These enterprises have addressed the multiple needs of the poor such as feeding clinics, day care centers, hospitals and other medical facilities, social housing, microcredit, rural cooperatives, and home for the aged and orphans.  The most numerous of these initiatives, however, have been in the area of technical education for the children of the poor as the most sustainable means of helping them and their families.

          Take, for example, the Banilad Center for Professional Development (BCPD), a project of members of Opus Dei in the Visayas.  As reported last December 2, 2011 by Cris Evert B. Lato in Inquirer Visayas, BCPD is a technical-vocational school that offers programs in hotel and restaurant services to young women from low-income families in Central Visayas. Since it was established in 1992 as a project of the Foundation for Professional Training, Inc., the school has produced over 2,000 graduates who now work in hotels and tourism establishments in many parts of the Philippines.  Others have found jobs abroad. The school offers a two-year hotel and restaurant management course and teaches skills in commercial cooking, food and beverage, service housekeeping, baking and pastry production, front office service and bartending.

          BCPD is going to be especially busy in the next five to ten years when Philippine tourism will take a quantum leap because of significant improvements in infrastructures in the countryside.  Daughters of poor households can look forward to gainful employment in their own country without having to become overseas workers.  Testimonials from very satisfied employers of the graduates of BCPD abound.  As Ms. Lato reported, "Owners and general managers of tourism establishments sing praises for the young women, whom they described as 'loyal, committed, always happy and hardworking.' Jill Urbina Viado of the Laguna Group of Companies, which operates Cafe Laguna and Lemon Grass in Cebu, said BCPD students have good work attitudes and stay loyal to the restaurant.  In 2008, former Tourism Secretary Joseph 'Ace' Durano gave scholarship grants to BCPD students after witnessing the 'competence of graduates coming from the technical-vocational school."

          What will happen in Cebu in the coming years will be multiplied several times in the Metro Manila area as the number of hotel rooms double just in the next three years.  Fortunately, a similar initiative is benefitting the children of low-income households in such districts as Antipolo, Fairview, Taytay and Bulacan.  I am referring to the first technical-vocational school put up by members of Opus Dei in the country, the Punlaan School in the city of San Juan.  An article that appeared in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (October 17, 2008) described the great good that Punlaan is doing to those families living below the poverty threshold in the Metro Manila area:  "Majority of Punlaan's young women scholars rely on funds donated by private individuals and companies.  Many of the students are also hard-pressed to earn money to support their family, and are thus training hard to be able to someday join the workforce of restaurants and fine-dining establishments.  The sad reality, however, is that a majority of them do not even have the means to eat three square meals a day.  But for the majority of its students there's still room for hope.  Punlaan, after all, has a 100-percent track record of all its students eventually becoming employed in prestigious hotels and restaurants immediately after graduation."