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Cancer festival is Filipino idea of Occupy Central

HONG KONG (Mabuhay) : A cancer festival put on by the Filipino Migrant Cancer Support Society (FILMCASS) on November 3 in Chater Road, Central, is not to celebrate the sickness, the coordinator of the group, Melina Lagarbe, explained, but to celebrate the lives of those who lost the battle with cancer and those who inspire us as they live with it and give us courage.

Billed as a Celebration of Life, Fellowship and Thanksgiving, the festival began with a prayer of thanksgiving for the contribution to the life of the community that people suffering from cancer have made, both in their struggle for survival, as well as in death.

The festival has become an annual event in Hong Kong, held during November, the international Month of Cancer.

The members of FILMCASS set out to walk with people living with cancer, offering them spiritual support, as well as helping in a concrete manner with doctor’s appointments, arrangements with the Immigration Department and other necessary chores.

The 11 people still in Hong Kong who have survived cancer, along with those who walked with them during their struggle, laid a flower for each one of the 23 who have been part of the group and succumbed to the struggle, since the foundation of the organisation in 2007.

During a solemn moment of the afternoon, the spiritual adviser to the group, Canossian Sister Vicky Ramos, read the name of each one, as a flower was placed on a small shrine erected for the occasion bearing a ribbon inscribed with the name and a photograph of each one.

Some died in Hong Kong and others had returned to The Philippines. The list includes Pacita Roads, who first came to the group as a benefactor, but ended up being supported during her own struggle with cancer.

A tourist from Ireland named Michael, who spent some time studying the banners decorating the street with their messages of healthy lifestyle, diet and general guides to health and wellness of spirit, commented to Mabuhay, “That was the most beautiful thing that I have ever seen.”

The strength of the group was shown by the 33 different individuals or organisations that came to be part of the presentation of the afternoon of prayer, music, reflection and input from professional people, as well as some classy singing and dancing.

Lagarbe told Mabuhay that this is not the full extent of the list, but only those who were free and available to come and take part on that day.

The 66 people who either are members of FILMCASS, or work with them in providing support, comfort and help to those who are struggling with the disease, reflect the breadth of the contribution that the group has made in the Hong Kong community.

Some of the members of the group are themselves cancer survivors, or are living with cancer, and they willingly share their experience with anyone in need, working to impart the same strength that themselves received from the helping hand that was stretched out to them.

The 31 regular benefactors and supporters of FILMCASS were represented during the afternoon, including Bruce Aitken, who offers great inspiration through his Sunday night radio programme, The Hour of Love.

Lagarbe explained that although the work of the group is primarily in accompanying those with cancer, there are costs involved and the assurance of a regular income from people across the social spectrum in Hong Kong makes it possible to plan and offer people a chance they may not otherwise have.

She specifically offered her thanks to Deo Volente, the community from St. Joseph the Worker in Kwung Tong, the Simbayanan-KAMMPI, the Sacred Heart Canossian Group, segments of El Shadddai, the Prison Ministry, St. Teresa Filipino Community, the Diocesan Pastoral Centre for Filipinos and the Progressive Labour Union of Domestic Workers, all of whom turned up in numbers to support the festival.

Members of the labour union performed an imaginative dance, as they unfurled a large banner reading, The Pork Barrel is a Cancer. Abolish it Now!

The guest speaker for the afternoon, Michael Manio, a doctor and researcher in medicine at Hong Kong University, shared something of his own pain at losing close relatives to the disease, as well as giving some helpful hints on what to look out for and how to protect yourself with regular checkups and looking after your general health.

FILMCASS grew out of the Buhay Ka (wholeness, openness, ready to serve) movement, but changed its name when it registered as a non-government organisation in order to make its services better understood and more widely available.

During the afternoon the original inspiration of the group, Father Robert Reyes, was acknowledged, and also those who still serve under the original name of Buhay Ka.

The group has always received strong support from the Filipino chaplaincy in Hong Kong, as well as from successive personnel at the Philippine consulate general.

The current consul general, Noel Servigon, paid tribute to the work being done and a relatively new face on the scene, vice consul, Fatima Guzman, also attended.

The labour attaché, Manuel Roldan, shared that he has pledged his heart to supporting the caring work that that FILMCASS does, and brought a little bit of inspiration to the beleaguered Filipino community as it faces the pressure of movements to ban them from the city over the Manila bus hijack incident.

“It is up to us to respond,” he said, “and we do this by doing our work of service as best we can and continuing to prove that we are the best domestic workers in the city.”

A succession of entertainers, including Cherlie Mosquedo and Wilma Balwet, who sang two of her own compositions, injected a festive atmosphere into the afternoon, which Roldan described as the Filipino idea of Occupy Central.


A tourist from Ireland named Michael, who spent some time

studying the banners decorating the street with their messages
of healthy lifestyle...  commented to
Mabuhay, ‘That was the most beautiful thing that I have


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