Dar sin contar el costo: Heide Aquino, a woman for others

December 12, 2018
By: 
Rachel Joyce Marie O. Sanchez

Heide Aquino is a faculty member of the Modern Languages Department who teaches Spanish. Aside from being able to translate “dar sin contar el costo” from Ignatius’s Prayer for Generosity into English, she is also able to translate “to give without counting the cost” into a lived experience through her service.

Experiences

As a Teacher

Modern Languages Festival: Quizbee 2018 (top left) Heide Aquino, Evelyn Soriano and Luisa Young; (lower left) Doris Faylona and Ria Bautista

Heide does her best to make her Spanish classes enjoyable and relevant for her students by creating a happy atmosphere in the classroom. In previous years, she even brought her students to her barangay to tutor grade school and high school students in English and Math. The local children’s parents appreciated the presence of the Ateneans. Unfortunately, this was difficult to sustain because the Ateneans tended to be very busy.

As a Kagawad

Nevertheless, Heide did not give up serving her barangay, Brgy. East Kamias, Kamuning, Quezon City. She attempted to organize other tutorial sessions with local tutors. Moreover, she served as a kagawad for 17 years, starting out as an appointee but eventually becoming reelected for three consecutive terms, capping the top slots.

As an Organizer of Senior Citizens

When she turned 60, Heide organized the Joly Senior Citizens of Barangay East Kamias.

She presently leads her group of senior citizens, which conducts many activities for and with other seniors. They have an open Zumba session every Saturday morning, followed by lectures on wellness and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Heide also prepares breakfast for the senior citizens after the fitness activities. Whenever there are birthday celebrants, they are also given a birthday cake along with their breakfast. Every summer, Heide organizes free excursions to different places like Laguna and Antipolo, borrowing vehicles from local councilors. Their group also throws a big party every Christmas where there are dance contests, costumes, prizes, and grocery giveaways for the seniors. And if anyone passes away, they give 5,000 PHP to the bereaved family. Heide also teaches the senior citizens to dance and join contests such as church fiestas; they win every year.

All these activities, not to the mention the food needed for every meeting, require a specific budget. Unfortunately, the funds provided by the barangay are not enough. Their group of about 100 members collects a minimal annual due of 300 PHP, but this is also insufficient. Hence, Heide has also explored other means of sustaining the group.

 

Despite earning a lot after attempting caroling, Heide decided not to try it again because the homeowners they visited just wanted to give the senior citizens money without asking them to sing. She felt that this was an embarrassing way to earn.

They now hold Bingo from time to time, and this generates a decent amount. However, the bulk of the money the organization uses really comes from friends who receive solicitation letters from Heide. Her neighbors come to her house to give them their contributions, while other persons from Ateneo also contribute. This has become a habit for some people and has helped sustain the activities for the senior citizens, especially their Christmas parties.

Motivations

Background growing up

What motivates Heide to do so much for her community? Her background growing up has contributed a lot to her commitment to social involvement. Even as a young girl, she was already engaged in many activities, including regularly becoming a class officer in her school. These activities have helped her retain a value for service and an other-oriented attitude through the years.

Being like a duck thrown into the water

Some situations have also enabled Heide to deepen her commitment to serving others. Being a kagawad was not something that she originally planned to be; the responsibility was given to her because she was chosen. The Kapitan ran for Quezon City councilor and lost, so the first kagawad became a kapitan. In turn, the barangay needed another kagawad, and they appointed her to fill the position. This opened new doors for her.

For Heide, fulfilling the role of a kagawad was an experience that was “like throwing a duck in the water.” She enjoyed being with people, including both the poor and the politicians, and found herself being able to adjust to any level of society and enjoy what she was doing. Moreover, she was able to forge friendships with rich people who had hearts for the poor.

Being a senior citizen

Heide is now focused on organizing senior citizens because she has already reached that age herself. Even though she is 74 years old, she does not let her age stop her. Instead, her age further motivates her to care for others. She believes that as she shares more of her time, talent, and treasures, she is showered with more blessings, such as good health. For her, health is worth much more than money. This enables her to keep on contributing what she can for her community and teaching in her beloved school, Ateneo.

Insights

Being an Atenean

Heide’s many years of experiences have given her more wisdom. She admits that being an Atenean has opened up many doors for her. For instance, people picked her to be their #1 kagawad even though she was not present at the time when the decision was made, probably because of her affiliation with Ateneo.

However, being an Atenean means more than just having access to different opportunities to exercise leadership and responsibility. At a foundational level, it means being formed with a certain ethic that permeates how one lives and interacts with others in society. Heide lives out the Ateneo way by being professional towards others and by seeking to integrate academic life with public service. She knows that people recognize her as a woman of principle. For example, certain people with insincere intentions would withhold information from her during her term as kagawad because they knew that she cannot be corrupted. Also during elections, politicians avoided offering her anything because they knew that she could not be bought. Once, she quit an organization she had done so much for because its leadership abandoned honesty and integrity.

The secret to a happy life

Amidst all the challenges and sacrifices Heide has gone through, she remains joyful. This is her secret to a happy life: prioritize meaning over money.

Heide obtained her master’s degree in Spain and then immigrated to the United States, where she was faced with a lot of job opportunities. Sometimes she wonders what her life could have been. She knows that she could have become well-off like her sisters who chose to remain in the United States. Nevertheless, she remains grateful for the choices she has made and for the experiences she has had in the Philippines. Her activities have helped her realize that the quality of her life is more important than money, and that there is nothing like helping others. It leads to a sense of fulfillment and a feeling of being loved and respected that cannot be bought. Sharing, especially with those who are in great need, is the key to a fulfilled, happy life.

Loving People, Losing Friends

Heide truly enjoys being in the company of ordinary people and the poor. “I love my country, but I end up loving people,” she says. Being with and working for others has helped her become more open-minded and accepting. She has learned to understand where different people are coming from. She drinks alcohol with the local tanod to build rapport and visits communities to meet people where they live. Wherever she goes, there are people who recognize her and greet her.

Love is not without sacrifices, though. Heide has also had her share of heartaches. She has encountered irritating people but has always kept on doing her best to understand the circumstances of others. She has also experienced losing a friend as a result of choosing to stand by her own principles.

The Present and Future of Spanish and the Royal Spanish Academy July 6, 2017 (left to right): José Rodríguez (Director, honorario de la Academia Filipina), Luisa Young, Heide Aquino, Dr. Dario Villanueva Prieto (Speaker)(Director of the Royal Spanish Academy), Fernando Zapico (Education Adviser, Embassy of Spain), Concepcion Rosales and Emmanuel Luis Romanillos (Director, Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española)

Heide once wrote an appeal against the destructive construction projects taking place in Quezon City Circle. Many people signed her petition, only for the local government to tell her that plans were already set for the next two years, the budget was already allocated, and there was nothing they could do. This advocacy of hers also came with a personal cost: a friend of Heide’s who worked in government became angry with her. She would later on notice that, every time she would be a signatory for a letter requesting for a venue from her friend’s office, the request would be denied.

Inspiring Others

Heide’s life has been full of meaning and gratitude. There is hardly any space for regret. However, there is still one thing that continues to disturb her—not just personal regret but a collective one. She regrets that despite the Philippines being blessed with natural resources, and despite all the heroism the nation has witnessed throughout its history, Filipinos still fail to love their country enough. We tend to care about our families more than our society, and for this reason, we steal. She teaches Mabini and Rizal as she teaches Spanish in Ateneo, but some students still do not understand what it means to love the country. She has personally witnessed corruption taking place in her own barangay. She longs for us to be a nation that can overcome greed, regionalism, and kanya-kanya mentality. Do we need a civil war for things to change? As long as we allow these evils to divide us, we are wasting our great potential.

Nonetheless, Heide continues to see and nurture our people’s potential. She does this by seeking to be an inspiration to other people through her different activities and interactions. She creates meaningful moments with groups exercising in Quezon City Circle, students in her Spanish course, and senior citizens who have gotten fashion tips from her—to be good, to look good, and to feel good. Indeed, a life well-lived is a life shared with others.