Since 2006, going back to Ateneo de Manila’s campus for a visit meant looking for Alma Fermano, popularly known as Ate Alma, and having a selfie with her. One of the most memorable ones was in 2012 when I attended a cousin’s wedding and had a reunion dinner with block mates in Katipunan, Quezon City.
With very limited before the get-together, I squeezed in a quick surprise visit to Ate Alma while wearing my semi-formal dress. I was in a rush and clumsily tripped. She was that special. Even with a bleeding knee, I knew I had to find her like a niece longing for a hug from her favorite aunt.
During those times, I had no idea how special the campus’ go-to photocopy lady was to a lot of other students. I just knew that Ate Alma was special to me. She was more than just a service provider – she was a friend, a cheerleader, a therapist, an Ate, and a Nanay rolled into one.
“Kumusta ka, Ga?” was her usual greeting whenever I dropped by her spot when I was still a student. It was reminiscent of how my mom would genuinely ask how my day went whenever I got home from school.
More often than not, my reply would be unfiltered, “Stressed po, Ate. (Insert rant about deadlines).” And she would respond with a comforting smile and words of encouragement. It has always puzzled me how she never runs out of the happy vibe when many would probably find her photocopying job as routinary or for lack of a better term, boring.
While there are so many reasons to get cranky or agitated in her line of work, she finds enough reasons to be consistently warm, kind, and accommodating.
Ga or Pangga, short for Hiligaynon term of endearment palangga which means love, became an instant nickname for many of us who know Ate Alma.
For years, she witnessed her panggas’ academic pains and wins. She was there when we were still navigating our way through classes, getting lost and asking for directions as freshmen. And when the time came in our senior year, she was also there to ask for copies of our graduation photos to add to her growing collection. I remember not being very happy about the way I looked in my photo but there was Ate Alma whose face lit up when she finally got her requested copy from me with my handwritten “dedication” at the back of the print.
Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” That is so true and Ate Alma remains a living proof. I may not recall her pick-me-uppers almost two decades ago but I will never forget her warm and nurturing presence.
In one of my conversations with Ate Alma, she expressed a hint of sadness as graduation time drew near and my batchmates and I were leaving campus soon. “Kailan na kaya tayo magkikita ulit?,” she wondered. It was then that I secretly vowed to keep in touch and visit her any chance I would get.
My heart was overjoyed when I found out during the height of the pandemic that others also cared for Ate Alma. In fact, they cared for her a lot. Her kindness came full circle when typhoon Ulysses struck her home and her house was damaged by the flood in 2020. Collectively, current Ateneo students, alumni, and even those who did not know her gave Ate Alma the help she needed and deserved during the time of crisis.
The call to help her initiated by an Atenean went viral. Ate Alma received a sudden influx of monetary help, beyond what she needed to rebuild her home. With the gift of advanced technology and without asking for help, acts of kindness from people whose lives she has touched over the years easily found their way back to her.
This was perfectly captured by award-winning director Antoinette Jadaone’s short film produced by mobile wallet and payment platform GCash. Tears were shed and shared during the grand premiere of #GCashStories last Friday with both guests and executives savoring the inspiring story of Ate Alma.
It was a joy to see Ate Alma get the spotlight she deserves and even celebrities lined up for a photo op with her. As people flocked onstage, I had to take off my mask for a very brief moment just so I could get her attention. She was showered with so much love. The same kind she freely gave away over the years.
Witnessing how small acts of kindness add up over time inspires me so much. Tears still well up in my eyes whenever I re-watch “Alma.” I just cannot help but savor the blessing of being her pangga.
In case you missed it, check out the short film on GCash’s Youtube channel.
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