“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”
– John Quincy Adams
Among her countless accolades and credentials, Marissa Torres Langseth (or “Ms. M”, as she is fondly called) is the HAPI Founder. Over the years, many of us could only connect and talk to her through social media or video call meetings as she resides in New York City. So when she contacted us from HAPI-Bacolod and HAPI Scholars to have a fun trip around the City of Cebu, we agreed immediately despite it being our first time.
Together with Francine Abalayan, HAPI Scholar and future HAPI Social Media Manager, and Kelly Kim Sepida, HAPI-Bacolod officer, I prepared for a ten-hour journey from Bacolod to Cebu. The three of us embarked on a long and rigorous trek that involved riding two buses and a ferry.
The ferry ride, specifically, made me feel nervous throughout as someone with a fear of drowning. The company of friends helped put me at ease and made the journey bearable.
Junelie Velonta, HAPI Scholar and HAPI Youth Ambassador, also traveled for hours to get together with Ms. M. It was my first time meeting Junelie; he was approachable and knowledgeable about many things so his company was something I cherished on our trip.
Even with the struggles of traveling, all of us arrived safely and with excitement thrumming in our bones. We awaited the beauty of Cebu that we were about to discover with Ms. M. November 18 was our scheduled trip around the fabled Queen City of the South. We woke up early, ready to experience and see firsthand the tourist spots in the city.
We arrived first at Magellan’s Cross which is situated at the heart of the park sandwiched by their City Hall and a massive cathedral. The place was buzzing with early morning zeal from tourists and locals. We took pictures at the tourist spot with the help of a very talented local who sells candles. We exchanged some historical knowledge in the car on the way to our next destination.
A Taoist Temple perches vibrantly on the hillside of Cebu’s Beverly Hills Subdivision. The temple is multi-tiered and is open to worshippers and non-worshippers. We climbed the seemingly never-ending steps to bask in the glory of the temple built by the province’s Chinese-Filipino community fifty years ago. Despite the rain stranding us there longer than we’d anticipated, we truly did appreciate the temple and its history.
The last tourist spot we went to left us in awe and disbelief because of its marvelous structure and the sheer volume of expensive materials that reside inside, the Temple of Leah. Nicknamed the “Taj Mahal of Cebu”, it is said to symbolise the husband’s undying love for his wife.
Unfortunately, it was raining cats and dogs just as we arrived. Despite this, we were still able to marvel at the temple’s picturesque and elegant views, taking tons of pictures to commemorate the time we spent there.
The last stop of the trip was at Ms. M’s humble abode where we met the other Scholars: Cebuanos Kryshia Gayle Solon and Edgar Louis de Gracia. They welcomed us with warm smiles and Cebuano hospitality.
Kryshia shared her experience of meeting Ms. M and the HAPI Scholars, saying:
“It was an honor to meet Miss M. personally after being her scholar for two years and counting. She gave off the vibe of a fun yet firm mom and she is both inspiring and motivating. The connections we all shared that day are valuable and I look forward to meeting them again soon!”
She also added that she is shy at meeting new people but the other HAPISkos whom she met were very approachable and fun to be around, which made the event vibrant and engaging.
Edgar, who arrived first at Ms. M’s house despite the heavy traffic, also shared his thoughts on our get-together–specifically, how his preconceived notions about Ms. M were shattered. He anxiously expected to meet a strict, “all-business” type of lady. He was glad that it wasn’t the case and that she was, in fact, down to earth as well as being understanding.
“I was surprised to meet everyone for the first time, and interacting with everyone there was an interesting experience,” he added.
Food, gifts, and treats from Ms. M were overflowing at the HAPI Scholars’ lunch party, including the famous Cebu Lechon that we feasted and enjoyed. We exchanged contact deets so the Scholars could connect on a more intimate and deeper level. Junelie and I were also surprised by an Excellence Award that Ms. M bestowed on us. It was a treat to finally be in the presence of one another.
Junelie shared his thoughts and feelings on being awarded by Ms. M:
“I really thought that I did not deserve Ms. M’s award because I’ve done little for HAPI in the past year. However, conversations with the scholars and Ms. M replaced that doubt with appreciation, inspiring me to do more even if my current situation can only allow me to do little.”
This proves the strong bond and connection that the Scholars have even just hanging out personally for some time.
This Cebu trip with other scholars and Ms. M made me realize how fortunate I am to be a part of HAPI. Being able to have a conversation with a group of people who are open-minded, experienced, and progressive is always an enriching experience.
Kelly said that he expected Ms. M to be intimidating alluding to her social media presence but he was shocked that she was wholesome and kind.
“The trip might have been tiring but meeting Ms. M and witnessing her interactions with the HAPI Scholars was worth it. It was a memorable experience. It inspired us to be dedicated to our cause,” Kelly stated.
Unexpected and unforgettable were Francine’s words in describing her privilege in meeting Ms. M and other HAPI Scholars.
“[T]he highlight of our Cebu Trip was the encounter with Ms. M. At first, I felt a mix of excitement and nervousness however Ms. M welcomed us with a warm smile that immediately embraced us. Her humility and genuine interest in people were evident as she engaged us in meaningful conversations. During our lunch meeting, Ms. M graciously shared stories of her journey, highlighting the obstacles she had faced and the lessons she had learned along the way. Her resilience in the face of adversity and her unwavering belief in the power of compassion left an indelible mark on our hearts.”
After those events, we set off to head home. I was reading Ms. M’s autobiography on our way back home while riding the bus. It made me discern how lucky I am to have known someone like her. Before HAPI, we would have no way of knowing each other but by the stroke of opportunities and same passion for certain causes, I have been one of her scholars for years now. Talking to Ms. M on social media is different from conversing with her face to face. She is soft-spoken, genuine, and straightforward, and her dedication to making this world better can be felt by all of us.
To Ms. M who made this trip possible, to her sister who also received us with hospitality, and to Tito who drove us around with patience in keeping us safe despite the distance, we are all beyond grateful.
“See you soon, Ms. M,” were our parting words. Whenever and wherever that be, I am sure she will hug us again, a hug that will make us feel like we are in our mother’s arms, appreciated and special.