Hayden and Vicki look after kids other than Scarlet Snow
Dr. Hayden Kho’s arrival at the Right Start Center for poor children in San Juan City would have gone unnoticed, except that he stands six feet three inches tall.
After being briefed by volunteers who teach the children crafts and other forms of self-expression, the giant everyone called “Doc Hayden” grabbed a children’s book and carefully stepped inside a low-ceilinged room full of kids at play in various costumes.
Kho plopped himself before a preschool-sized table and as the tots gathered around, he began to read about a self-
conscious boy who slowly gained confidence as he helped his family and peers.
Halfway through the book, the doc passed it on to a 12-year-old boy and asked him to read it aloud. Everyone applauded after the young reader finished the text.
“Doc Hayden is really hands-on in Right Start Community Development Inc.,” executive director Rosalie Seco Mallari said. “He comes here at least once a month, spends time and talks to the children. He even brings his friends and convinces them to help us.”
One rainy Saturday morning, shortly after returning from Paris where he wedded Dr. Vicki Belo, Kho brought friends including Inquirer Lifestyle columnists Tessa Prieto-Valdes and Anton San Diego; Katak Manalo, Bang Pineda, Portia Cruz, Carlo Orosa, Rhoda Campos, Tim Pavino, Jun, Dani and Kourtney Camcam, Georcelle Sy and Tim Yap to convince them to help out or at least draw attention to the children that Right Start wants to provide better opportunities not found in public schools.
Five days a week from Tuesday to Saturday, volunteer staff teach children 4 to 14 years old the basics of art, theater, music, literature and dance.
There are also history lessons told through puppets and costumes. Recycling is practiced by including found objects in crafts. Mallari said some children who learned taekwondo had earned medals in sparring competitions.
She noted that for the past six years, Right Start has given children from less privileged communities in San Juan creative space and exposure to the work of volunteers (“From all walks of life. Here, no one is rich or poor”) while teaching them “empowering behavior.”
Kho is not treated as a celebrity at Right Start. Children realize he is “somebody,” said the volunteers, but greet him “Good morning!” and interact with him as they do with other adults.
“Raising children in a creative space would give them a better chance of growing as responsible adults, also able to think out of the box… Eventually, it’s more expensive to train them as adults if they do not enjoy the exposure, opportunities and training available in a creative environment,” Mallari said.
“Companies now look for people who can provide good customer service, who are respectful… it takes time to develop that,” she added. “You can modify outward behavior (temporarily) but if the child has not embraced that behavior through play, creative exposure and brain enrichment, he will fall back to his old ways.”
Right Start wants to give the children a chance to level the playing field through books, art and music.
“At first the children were hesitant to touch the crayons and books because they were not exposed to these,” Mallari said. “But they have now developed a love for reading, they read to each other. May edge na, even if they don’t get to finish college, at least they can learn things through reading.”
Kho said this particular visit was different from his previous ones. “This is actually the finale of our wedding,” he said. “We had a great time celebrating in Paris but (the celebration) does not end there. Vicki and I have been blessed, a lot of our guests have been blessed, we believe we have been blessed so we can in turn be a blessing to others.”
Bringing friends over to Right Start is nothing new to Kho, Mallari said. One time he came with a social media star from South Korea. During his birthday last May, Kho brought his parents to help him distribute gifts to the kids.
Mallari and other volunteer staff still remember Kho’s
“Lavish Love” party last Christmas where 50 children of mostly “tokhang” casualties from the neighborhood were feted not only with gifts but also basic needs, such as pillows, blankets, shoes and food for Noche Buena. That time, “Kuya” Kim Atienza of ABS-CBN was part of a puppet show.
Kho has been involved in Right Start since 2014. The story goes that while undergoing a personal crisis years ago, he flew to India and found himself holding a limited-edition Leica to take a photo of an indigent child.
Kho cried soon after, asking himself why he was cradling a pricey camera when the child in front of him could obviously go to school for much less than that.
Mallari quoted Dr. Ravi Zacarias, who was with Kho on that trip, recalling how the young doctor also lamented about his botched suicide attempts; in contrast, poor Indian children “struggled to survive.”
Kho returned to Manila thinking of what to do next when a subordinate Ree Meredith told him about Right Start. She also introduced him to one of the group’s founders, singer/songwriter Acel van Ommen.
Kho was clear about one thing. “I can give my money but I don’t want to do it from my comfort zone, from a safe place. I want to go to (the children),” he was quoted saying by Right Start volunteers.
Right Start is now second home to between 200 and 300 children. While many do not clock in five days a week, a typical day would see the center hosting 80 to 100 kids who arrive in three batches during opening hours.
Mallari said the center’s maintenance operations already costs P300,000 a month for rent, electricity and honoraria for the volunteer staff.
Rent is the most expensive, she added. Right Start would buy the building where the center is in if given the chance. But since it is a nonprofit endeavor, the center relies on benefactors like Kho.
The doctor’s post-Paris event called “Maaga ang Pasko sa Pilipinas: Christmas Starts in September (#aKHOandmyBELOved)” was meant to help raise the P5 million that Right Start needs for future expenses. Mallari said the weekend event raised P2.75 million in actual donations and pledges.
Dr. Belo and daughter Scarlet Snow arrived in time for the program the children prepared for Kho and his guests. Belo told the kids that when she was younger, her father would call her attention when their car passed by depressed areas and taught her to “always be willing to share with the less fortunate.”
Mallari said it was Kho’s idea to have a September celebration, if only to position Right Start first on the list of beneficiaries that their friends could consider for holiday “gift-giving.”
“He said people are very giving during Christmas. ‘Unahan n’yo na, let’s do it in September while people are thinking of what to do or give on Christmas,’” the executive director quoted him as saying.
Kho admitted the fundraising for the kids would be a challenge. He said he was ready to sweat it out for them, though. “It’s a big vision but we can start. We can’t do everything (for now) but at least we can do something,” he said.
Right Start Community Development, Inc. is at No. 4 Second West Crame St., San Juan City. Call 0915-7110245; e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org; visit www.rightstart.ph; like RightStartInc on Facebook; follow RightStartPH on Instagram.
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