HANS Sy was watching television one night in mid-2010 when he chanced upon news footage showing Ricky Reyes, the high-profile beauty business mogul, crying over an eviction letter issued by a newly appointed Malacañang official.
At that time, Reyes had already invested seven years into a project called Center for Health Improvement and Life Development, or Childhaus, a temporary shelter for indigent children with cancer.
Childhaus was operating in a decrepit building inside the Quezon Institute, refurbished with the help of some friends in the Arroyo administration. It hosted 200 or so sick children, each accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Reyes said he spearheaded the nonprofit initiative as his way of paying it forward for his success in the beauty business.
The Palace appointee insisted, however, that Childhaus was a project of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and asked Reyes and the sick children to leave.
Sy was touched by what he watched that night.
“I told myself, ‘These are children with cancer. They don’t even understand why they are sick,’” he told Inquirer Lifestyle.
The reticent businessman wasted no time in calling Reyes to ask how he could help.
Reyes admitted he was surprised at Sy’s query. After all, the beauty magnate is actually closer to Sy’s father, Henry Sy Sr., who built the formidable SM empire from scratch.
The sick children, who come from as far as Kalinga Apayao up north and Sultan Kudarat down south, and the adults taking care of them were initially herded into a rented house.
Reyes asked Sy whether Banco de Oro, the bank that belongs to the SM Group of Companies, had a foreclosed property somewhere that he could convert into another temporary shelter, but Sy had other plans.
Nine months later, Childhaus transferred to a seven-bedroom bungalow along Mapang-Akit Street in Quezon City that Sy had purchased.
Sy often came to visit the children. On one such occasion, however, the businessman observed that the 40 or so children living there lived in cramped conditions.
“Dikit na dikit sila. Kawawa din. That was just a house, so I decided to build something,” he said.
On his birthday last year, Sy celebrated with the kids in Childhaus.
Reyes noticed that during the festivities, one of Sy’s friends brought an easel up on the stage. “I thought it might be a picture of his father, Henry. It turned out to be the plan for the construction of a brand-new home for Childhaus,” he exclaimed.
Childhaus’ latest address is in Paco, Manila, a five-minute walk from Philippine General Hospital (PGH), where children from the shelter undergo chemotherapy.
The spanking new white-and-gray building sits on a property formerly owned by Mercedes Rivera.
As expected, it took some time to convince Rivera to sell. The 380-square-meter lot where the seven-story building now stands was the previous site of an ancestral home with Japanese-inspired architecture.
Construction began in January, and ended last November.
The new Childhaus has three dormitories with double-decker beds for the children and their adult companions, a chapel, a social hall, an entertainment center, a dining area, an outdoor playground at the penthouse and its own water filtration facility.
Architect Paul Angel Galang said the building has a floor area of 1,800 sq m.
“Marami akong mga kaibigang hinoldap para mangyari ito,” Reyes joked, referring to Childhaus. Reyes’ donors come from key political and business circles.
Reyes said social workers from 11 government hospitals, including PGH, Jose Reyes Memorial Center and National Orthopedic Hospital, refer cancer-stricken children to Childhaus so they can stay in Metro Manila instead of shuttling back and forth from the province while completing their treatment.
One child with leukemia said she endures three to four hours in various forms of public transportation from Bulacan to PGH twice a month for chemotherapy.
Eight-year-old Tricia Lyn Cahayagan’s suffering does not end there. Rush hour on the way back to Bulacan meant she and grandmother Imelda Arnella would have to reach home late at night.
Two other children with leukemia—Christian Sabate, 12, and John Arbie Insorio, 15—also go through the pains of chemotherapy and rush hour before returning to Carmona, Cavite, and Biñan, Laguna, respectively.
Sy said Childhaus could accommodate 150 children and their adult companions.
“Wala namang dahilan bakit ko ginawa ito,” Sy said wistfully after the building was blessed by Franciscan priest Anthony Dumabok on the first Sunday of Advent.
“I will share with you a secret,” he told the guests. “Every birthday, I always surprise myself with a gift. Minsan relo, minsan painting. Basta bagay na medyo mahal. But naisip ko, I will turn 60 (Sy turned 60 last September). I should do something different. Something I really love. As I said, when I saw Ricky crying on TV, it really touched me,” he explained.
“Seeing these children fight has given me strength. I realize I have so much blessings so I might as well share my blessings with them,” Sy added.
The businessman also pointed out that Childhaus “is not only my project, it is everyone’s project, starting with my mother Felicidad, who gave me guidance, with ‘Mother’ Ricky Reyes who started this whole thing, and my family who gave me strength to do this.”
Sy, of course, did not forget his unnamed friends who also chipped in to make the new Childhaus building a reality.
“To my friends who gave support, alam n’yo na ang ibig sabihin ng support. Natuto na rin ako kay Ricky,” he joked.