What a relief: school aids Philippines typhoon victims, teaches life skills

Nov. 19, 2013, 2:15 p.m. (ET)

Master Ramil Abratique was a national champion in the Philippines. Born outside of Manila, he practiced taekwondo for his country during the early years of his life before resettling in the United States where he now operates Victory Taekwondo Center in Parker, Colo.

He has never forgotten his roots, however. Each year, Master Abratique sets up clothing and food drives for the needy of his home country.

“Ever since I started teaching in Colorado, we have had a program where we reach out to the community and have a food drive or a clothes drive,” said the 10-time Philippine national champion. “We always send used summer clothes to the Philippines for the street children because there are a lot of people out there who don’t have a place to live; they live on the streets and sleep on cardboard boxes. We do this every winter time (for the Philippine summer/rainy season).”

Victory Taekwondo Center teaches more than just athletics. Leadership and community service have been worked into the fabric of the dojang, often leading to thoughtful discussion about life and issues larger than taekwondo.

In the wake of this month’s devastating typhoon that hit his homeland— a country for which he won silver at the 1991 World Championships and coached the national team—it understandably hit home for Master Abratique.

“I talked to my students and told them what happened,” he said. “I told them this is the best time for us to really reach out to the central part of the Philippines and send donations.”

The result? Nearly 200 students of all ages bringing in clothing, medicine, spare change, baby food, diapers and canned goods for complete strangers who are in need nearly 7,700 miles away from their gym in Parker.

Donations, Abratique said, are sent through World Vision and local Philippine non-profits that accept direct gifts. He said that total donations collected at his school can be counted in boxes, but his reach has been incalculable thanks to a social media campaign that he started on his Facebook page. Coaches and gym owners from around the country have pitched in, and Abratique said he hopes the efforts gain momentum.

The regular community service projects orchestrated at Victory Taekwondo Center have made a great impact on nearly all who train under Master Abratique and his staff.

Among those students is 12-year-old Braeden Heidemann.

Braeden has never been to the Philippines and has never met anyone from there besides his coach of nearly five years, yet he feels the need to help.

“I’m sure that they would do it for us,” the second-degree black belt said. “It’s moral and it’s the right thing to do. There are people who just lost everything, and I think it’s important to get them back on their feet. It’s going to take several years, but there are people without food or water. It’s important to help them.”

Braeden knows what it is like to be in need after a catastrophic event. Three years ago, his family lost many of their possessions in a house fire. A community rallying around those in need, he said, is vital.

“A lot of people donated in our community and really helped us, and that made me feel good,” he said. “I’d like to do that for other people.”

Braeden is one of Master Abratique’s Leadership Students. Abratique regularly chooses standout students at Victory Taekwondo to set an example for the others. There is no restriction to age or experience— according to Braeden, the youngest Leadership Student is 5-years-old. It just takes a willingness to be exemplary in and out of taekwondo.

“They are very passionate about it,” Abratique said. “We have circle time where we talk about life, and we talk about leadership. I had one student say recently that he will have his mom buy more medicine because there are people across the world who need it. That’s where their minds are right now.”

Braeden’s mind is on good will. The seventh grader is looking to start a donation drive of his own for Philippine relief at Cimmaron Middle School.

“Our number-one focus is life skills,” Abratique said of his school. “We reinforce the importance of having a higher focus and a higher discipline.”

While Braeden has advanced to his second-degree black belt under the guidance of Master Abratique, he said the life lessons learned from his instructor are most impactful.

“He’s taught me to wake up every morning with a fresh start,” Braeden said, “and to go to bed a better person.”