By Br. Jorem Yap
“He is a hard-headed person. If you tell him to do this way, he will do it the other way around.”
This isn’t exactly a description of someone endearing, but this is exactly what struck me about Marlon when he first joined the AJ Kalinga Center (KC) beneficiary-volunteer team in October 2021 as our cook. I remember how I would plead with him, “Marlon can you stop smoking?” He would do the exact opposite.
‘A cry for attention’
After a while, I realize his passive aggression was a cry for attention. A child of a broken family and estranged from his only brother, Marlon Panim lost his job as a factor worker for a noodle company because of a persistent skin allergy that forced him to keep on missing work days. It was just a matter of time before he lost his job and got evicted from his home, eventually ending up on the street.
“I became proud of myself; I thought I am above all; I became arrogant and judgmental of others…”
Marlon’s troubled history, like many in AJ Kalinga’s care, involved meth, general mischief, and the stubborn pride of someone who feels he has nothing left to lose. “I feel like it’s me against all odds. Growing up in the care of other people, living alone, I learned to do drugs,” explains Marlon. The toxic combination of vice and loneliness often brings a distortion of reality. He explains that having a job gave him an inflated sense of self. “I became proud of myself; I thought I am above all; I became arrogant and judgmental of others,” shares Marlon, recalling that period in his life. He had also previously worked as a semi-conductor factory worker.
Homelessness definitely hardened Marlon but kept it enough soft enough to welcome a call to redemption that came in a chance encounter with AJ Kalinga. In May 2021, Marlon eventually left the life on the streets to undergo formation and training in AJ Bahay Kalinga (BK) in Caloocan City. The 34-year old adds: “God is still good to me, despite my shortcomings and sins against Him. He used Bahay Kalinga who helped me regain my dignity and self-worth. I learned to humble myself, pray, and come back to Him again.” The most pivotal change for him was his decision to stay sober. Marlon says, “Above all [because of being in BK], I found the courage and strength to avoid taking drugs.”
Following the Foundation’s program for street dwellers, Marlon moved on to KC to undergo on-the-job-training where he learned how to cook for 1,000 people. Notably smarter than his peers, he would Google recipes with OPM playing in the background and teach himself how to cook new dishes. The 5-month long experience, Marlon says, helped him recognize the God-given talents he could use “to heal others.” Despite his willfulness, I admit Marlon can be kind-hearted and understanding to the point of selflessness.
Marlon was on track to full reintegration into society when the foundation successfully matched him with a partner company, Pryce Gas, which hired him as a delivery crew member in June 2022.
Following the Foundation’s program for street dwellers, Marlon moved on to KC to undergo on-the-job-training where he learned how to cook for 1,000 people. Notably smarter than his peers, he would Google recipes with OPM playing in the background and teach himself how to cook new dishes.
Months later, the unexpected happened. Feeling his left side was heavy one night, Marlon could neither stand up straight nor walk.
By afternoon the next day, he could no longer move his left side. Marlon had apparently suffered a mild stroke and was rushed to the hospital. “It seems that life is teasing me again… I was discouraged again and I wanted to give up and end my life,” he tells me. But it was through Fr. Flavie’s fatherly presence that God continued inviting him to keep moving forward and to continue hoping.
Plot twists of hope
With all the things that have happened to him, it’s easy for Marlon to lose hope, but he keeps on fighting. Though still ongoing, Marlon’s transformation is one of the foundation’s success stories. Why? Because it teaches us to hope. He accepted the turn of events whole-heartedly. Though he initially questioned God, he accepted his cross.
Looking spritely at our Christmas party on December 12, dressed as one of the Three Wise Men, Marlon is looking forward to full recovery and going back to work. Truly, with God, all plot twists lead to hope. ∎