BEtween friends: Hja. Sarah Handang: A true friend PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 03 November 2014 14:21

Linda Cababa-espinosa, Ed. D.


True friendships are treasured relationships consistently characterized by understanding, generosity, humility, and, most of all, honesty.  Lacking any one of these qualities could put the friendship under great stress and reduce the ideal category of Friend in Deed to the artificial, deceitful and dishonest Friend in Need.

Even from childhood the friendship from among family members keeps the warmth of harmony and love in the home and makes each day worth living for.  As we grow older, the magic of friendship is also sought and developed with people we meet in the neighborhood, the school, the office.  These friendly relations eventually influence and dictate the events that make up the rest of our lives.  While many friendships turn out to be temporary and untenable, others turn out, thankfully, to be lasting and permanent.  Then again, other friendships turn out to be pretentious and opportunistic while some prove to be well-meaning, sincere and genuinely concerned about others especially in times of necessity.

In an increasingly angry world where dissensions in culture, religion and personal differences are now more commonly expressed through violence, some people stand out as special and unique exemplars of true friendship and peace.

Hja. Sarah Handang, the current principal of Lima Elementary School in Barangay Baluno, has been at her job for the last four years and has enjoyed every moment of it.  Visitors to the school built on top of a low hill are greeted with a huge smile from Hja. Sarah that puts even strangers at ease and gives them the assuring feeling that they are welcome to visit again.  The school has six teachers and 159 students from Kindergarten to Grade VI.  All the students are Christians.  The six teachers, of whom four are Muslim and two Christian, are just as friendly and accommodating as Hja. Sarah.

In this dominantly Christian campus, Hja. Sarah does not feel uncomfortable nor threatened that she is a practicing muslim in a christian community.  Although she wears a sulban to school everyday, she does not consider religion an obstacle to peaceful relations with her students.  Her covered head and those of her faculty, in obedience to Islam, is respected by her students, parents and residents of the community.

Her faculty have accepted Hja. Sarah’s administrative style and have learned to move in the same beat with her.  Through her initiative, every Tuesday, each classroom has a Christian catechist who teaches religion for an hour.  A mass is held every last Thursday of the month attended by all the students.  Parents and members of the community are invited to attend.  In preparation for this mass, a temporary altar is set up on the school stage where even the muslim faculty very willingly set up the crucifix on the altar in cooperation with the Christian teachers.

As principal for the past four years, Hja. Sarah has been able to put up a kindergarten building and a cemented pathway through a donation from the Silsilah Dialogue Movement founded by Fr. Sebastiano D’Ambra whose objective is to foster closer unity between christians and muslims, including other cultures and religions.  A former pupil donated the school gate, and potable water has become available through the cooperation of members of the community.

But her outstanding accomplishment to date is the celebration of a Mass Christian Wedding for the parents of the children in her school, who, she discovered to her chagrin, have no birth certificates and could not be issued the documents because their parents are not legally married!

Thinking only of her students’ welfare and completely disregarding the irony of a muslim woman working for the celebration of a mass wedding of 35 christian couples, Hja. Sarah did everything necessary to make it possible.  Finally, she asked Fr. Vigan? Nevio, PIME, Italian parish priest of barangay Sinunuc to solemnize the mass wedding at the Baluno chapel last Oct. 23, 2014.

The couples, some of whom were more than old enough to have silver in their hair came in hastily - bought or borrowed barong tagalogs and bridal gowns, each pair blushing as Fr. Nevio happily performed the sacrament of Holy Matrimony in the barangay church binding each pair to each other for the rest of their lives.

It was an event and a spectacle like no other.  The case of a groom who had lost the use of his legs was carried gamely by his son, piggy back, from the house to the church to the reception.  Another interesting case was of a 70 - year old groom who got married together with his son and grandson on the same occasion.  Three generations in the same wedding ceremony.

And the Muslim woman who made all these possible stood quietly by, unable to control her tears of joy and kept saying:  I am so happy I was able to do this.  Now the children can get their birth certificates.

And to her fellow muslim detractors who think she is overdoing her interfaith mission, Hja. Sarah says:  The Qur’an tells us to love our fellowmen.  What I am doing is one way of showing love to my fellowmen.

If the parents and students of Baluno have a true friend to thank for the rest of their lives, it is Hja. Sarah Handang whose social concern, esteem and love for the students and their future are at the heart of her profession as principal of Lima Elementary School.