From the hinterlands of Panay and Negros to Asia, Middle East, Europe and Americas, there’s “no mountain high, valley low or river wide enough” for Ilongga traveling teacher Isabel Grace P. Villegas.
Transcending mountains and seas and cultural complexities, there’s no stopping nature lover Isabel Grace in reaching out to the needy and making a big difference to the lives of the less-fortunate by serving humanity with Godly love.
Her meaningful journey in touching others’ lives around the world began 13 years ago when Isabel Grace started working as an itinerant teacher of Balm of Gilead Learning Center, Inc.
Volunteer Tribal Teacher
During vacation time or semestral break, she volunteered as tribal teacher to Asian countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Burma and Vietnam.
“Seeing the need of the underprivileged pushes me to think of organizing an NGO for this special purpose – no other motives but to simply respond to the need,” Isabel Grace shares about her noble passion for humanitarian service.
Thus, the birth of Kayang-Kayang Missions International Inc. (KKMII), an interdenominational group of Ilonggo professionals including doctors, nurses, medical technologist, chemist, nutritionist, teachers, dentist, computer programmer, businessmen, caregivers, social worker, paramedics, coastal resource manager, carpenter, engineer, sailors, information technologist, pastors, priest, accountants, bookkeeper, lawyer, soldiers, physical therapist, retired US policeman and journalist.
A Shelter for the Distressed
Kayang-Kayang (KK) is a Hiligaynon term for native hut which it is mostly made of old branches of trees as posts and coconut leaves or nipa as roof, according to Isabel Grace.
Thus, KK provides good shelter and refuge to weary travelers where one can find rest, comfort and revival, she stresses.
“The same is true to our Savior. He is our shelter and refuge, our strength and real help in times of trouble, hopelessness and despair,” says Isabel Grace.
The group aims to render services to target communities in need of health, education and skills training.
They also facilitate livelihood program and community development through linkages of existing government and NGOs.
KK likewise assists local and international missions program through manpower empowerment and hands-on participation in feeding, short-term literacy and medical missions.
They further intend to coordinate with local and foreign missions for young professionals to be exposed to target areas in great need of workers.
Isabel Grace’s mission in life is “sharing God’s word to the whole world through holistic approach.”
“We had medical missions at one of the garbage dump site communities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia where you can see mountains of garbage – maggots everywhere – kids running to and fro without underwear but playing around happily,” she recalls.
“One of the kids ate slimy leftover foods in a bowl full of flies coming from a garbage can. There were tears in his eyes yet he was so fulfilled to grab that food to feed himself,” Isabel Grace shares one of the harsh realities she had experienced.
Tens of Thousands Served
In just a span of three years, KK was able to reach out and serve some 23,000 beneficiaries in Cambodia while working with the tribal groups there.
Back home, KK also served three years in the uplands and lowlands of Tapaz in Capiz benefitting some 18,000 people.
“Realizing that I and the Kayang-Kayang Team are still more blessed is one of the greatest joys. Giving and sharing is not only for the rich and famous. Even though we are poor if we have that heart to help, we can do something,” Isabel Grace avows.
“We don’t need to be that rich to help others. From the little things we have, we still have that chance to influence a few but have a great impact to others, one heart at a time,” she affirms.
“This is teamwork! One may play the role as a sender and supporter. Others may do the work itself. And the most powerful help are those who fervently pray for our safety as we walk on the hilly, rugged road up the mountains,” says Isabel Grace.
Inspiring, Wonderful Feeling
“I was inspired to continue the work because there are generous people touched by this noble cause. Sometimes they do not just give but they join me in the team to experience the wonderful feeling of reaching the needy,” she affirms.
Isabel Grace works daily as full-time Prep and Nursery teacher at Balm of Gilead Learning Center in Arevalo, Iloilo City as well as tutorials after school till the evening but still manages to do a lot of charity work.
She still finds time for their Medcaps (Medical Civil Action Programs) being conducted on Saturdays.
Isabel Grace serves as volunteer at Iloilo Doctor’s Hospital to help cleft palate patients of “Operation Yuhum (Smile)” headed by Larry Malley extending help to the recipients from the mountains all over Panay.
“The KK work was a part of my quality time bonding with my sisters and brother that’s why we fully understand work ethics as trained by our parents. We were able to influence the team also,” she says.
Isabel Grace also sees to it that she visits her father (who has liver cancer for almost 14 years already) on Saturday once a month and every time she’s needed at home to check on his needs and spend quality time with him.
“Our home is a three-hour ride from the city to northern part of Iloilo. I’m a homebody, I seldom go out without necessary reasons,” she adds.
Her mother died September 2009 due to severe arthritis after being bedridden for almost 9 years.
A Heart for the Sick
“My parents are the reasons why my heart is with the sick people who cannot afford to buy medicines for themselves. We’ve been through such situation,” says Isabel Grace.
“A profession is nothing when you don’t put your heart in it. Being happy and fulfilled does not determine your profession. It is the simplicity of having it and offering God the best of your services to mankind,” she adds.
For Isabel Grace, the “achievements and material things should be nurtured with an educated heart and character. Whatever we do as long as we offer it to Christ, it will certainly last.”
Photo credits: Kayang-kayang
(This story first appeared in Mezzo Magazine March-April 2011)