If it wasn’t for golden hearts in business and entertainment, the halfway home of cancer-stricken children would have been closed long ago.
It was in 2010 when business tycoon Hans Sy was watching the news and saw his father’s loyal and long-time building tenant on television crying over an eviction letter.
Beauty salon magnate Ricky Reyes’ foundation’s charity Childhaus was being evicted from its home in the Quezon Institute compound in Quezon City.
Childhaus is the nickname for the Center for Health Improvement and Life Development, an organization that temporarily houses cancer-stricken children while undergoing medical evaluation and chemotherapy in Manila, usually at the Philippine General Hospital (PGH).
These children, who number from 40 to 200, stay at the center with one family member free of charge as they go to and from the hospital for their chemotherapy treatments. Were it not for the center, these children and their families would be sleeping in hospital corridors or gardens as most of them have no place nor funds to stay for in the city for the duration of the treatments.
It was 15 years ago when Reyes, fondly called Mader, saw the kids’ woeful conditions during his visits to the PGH Cancer Institute and decided to do something about it.
He was told that the children were outpatients from far-flung provinces. He asked for help from then Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) chairman Honey Girl Singson and they provided one of their empty buildings served as warehouse at the Quezon Institute Compound.
For years, the PCSO also gave a yearly grant of P1 million to the center from the presidential endowment fund. Donors also provided food items with mothers of patients cooking dishes (designed by nutritionists) for their patient residents, as well as keeping the surroundings clean, a practice being done to this day.
The patients also receive subsidy for their medicines, laboratory tests and other items like clothes and other necessities. “I don’t believe in dole-outs,” Reyes once said in an interview by a national daily. “If you just give, they will be parasites.”
Kind hearts followed his lead, including celebrities who would sometimes hold their birthday celebrations at the center. These included long-time volunteer Karylle, Sarah Geronimo, Richard Gutierrez, Dingdong Dantes, Marian Rivera, Anne Curtis, Luis Manzano, Ogie Diaz, Iza Calzado, Gloria Romero, Daniel Padilla, Karla Estrada, Divine Lee, Nadine Lustre, Elisse Joson and even broadcaster Henry Omaga Diaz.
Silent donors came forward, including the wife of a mayor. lt was also at this time that Dr. Rachel Rosario, an anesthesiologist and pain specialist, came on board. Rosario is also the executive director at Reyes’ Munting Paraiso at the Cancer Institute of the PGH.
Reyes spent months looking for a place to transfer the center. But when landlords found out that the house would serve as a transient home for cancer patients, Mader was immediately refused. He was finally able to find a three-story building near Mindanao Avenue in Quezon City that could house 90 people. They moved, but when heavy rains came, the basement would get flooded, risking the occupants’ health.
What Reyes did not know was that after seeing him cry on TV, Hans Sy was also looking for a house for the center. Sellers, however, would up the price when they found out that it was a Sy planning to buy the house.
Finally, the scion found a reasonably priced house at Mapangakit Street, Quezon City and he called Ricky to say it was for Childhaus. They met and Sy handed the keys to the grateful, tearful (but this time with joy) Ricky.
It was to be another temporary place for Childhaus at Mapangakit Street where they stayed for only three and a half years.
Hans Sy had something better for the sick children. He had found a better, more convenient (nearer PGH) and permanent place for what would also be his personal advocacy of helping cancer-stricken children.
A seven-story building at Agoncillo St., Paco, Manila, was a gift he gave from his personal savings, in celebration of his 60th birthday in 2015.
“In the past years, I would reward myself with something special on my birthday. It could be an expensive watch or a painting,” he said, adding that while those things made him feel good, they didn’t make him a better person.
These children, who number from 40 to 200, stay at the center with one family member free of charge as they go to and from the hospital for their chemotherapy treatments.
The gift of a temporary home was his way of extending love for these brave children who continue to fight for their lives every day. “Now, I feel so much better,” he added.
The work of helping cancer-stricken children undergoing treatment continues, with the help of generous donors and volunteers. Of the more than 15,000 children who have stayed at the center, only one percent did not make it. The rest are now healthy and going on with their productive lives, forever grateful. A list of all these patients and donors have been kept in the files of Childhaus since day one, 15 years ago.