The Epitome... That is Tita Mely!
by Henry Tabao
Women Power! These are perhaps the best two words that describe the women of today. Through the evolution of time, women became at par with the wits, the guts, and the strength of men. Though selectively, there are women out there who surpass the expectations of men in general. I am so honored to know one exceptional being, a woman of strength, of vigor, of wisdom, of guts and of faith... AMELIA IRIARTE KOHNO!!
A fruitful woman:
Amelia Iriarte Kohno was born and raised in Tacloban City, LEYTE. She earned her Chemical Engineering degree from the University of Southern Philippines. She did not only excel in the academe but was also a Chess champion, awarded a Certificate of Honor, Ten Best Chess Players of the Philippines, Women's Division, 1976 National Chess Championship.
"Chess intrigues me even now. It is really amazing how 2 people play with their minds from the opening, middle and end strategies. Of course, masters can play alone. When I was young, I always took pride in knowing that my father was playing chess with then Philippine President Carlos P. Garcia whenever he came to Tacloban. They were friends from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. It was my father who taught me and my 7 brothers how to play chess and win. And I started to love playing then. We had chess boards all over the house. I often compared a chess board with my life. There are 2 sides and somebody up there is telling us that we can overcome whatever trials, problems and sorrows we encounter in our journey through life. If we master and skillfully plan our moves, we can win. Playing chess is 'seeing things even with our eyes closed' as winning in chess is capturing the king. A chess player must remember that there is always a way to surmount whatever difficulties come his way."
She joined the Department of Tourism as Promotions Officer until her marriage with her Japanese husband, Mr. Kohno. Their marriage was blessed with a beautiful and charming girl named, Aimi, who is at present a mother herself. Her grandchild, Angie, is her joy inspiring her to regularly visit her daughter's family in Tokyo.
"I met my husband at the same University in Cebu where I was studying. Having lived in the Philippines, he was familiar with our customs, traditions, etc. But when we started to live in Japan, I entailed many problems in communication, difficulties in understanding the different Japanese customs, traditions, social norms and values."
A public servant:
Tita Mely, as we all call her, has made the beautiful and historic Kyoto her second home. This is where she mastered her Ikebana and her skills in tour guiding. She has accompanied many dignitaries and famous personalities who have visited Kyoto. Tita Mely has been a Kyoto resident for nearly 30 years now and for so many years has been involved and very active in many civic organizations.
"My husband's first job was in Kyoto 30 years ago and we have lived here since then. I love Kyoto because it is beautiful all year round in the spring, the cherry blossoms, summer for its festivals, autumn for the maple trees and snow in winter. It is also rich in history and culture."
She has an undying quest for public service. She is not only a former President of the Philippine Ladies in Japan but also of Kyoto Pag-Asa Filipino Community, a church-based Filipino organization that aims to provide social, emotional, and legal aid to Filipinos in distress and in dire need of assistance. For instance, she provides bi-lingual interpretation for people who have no knowledge of the Japanese language, especially those who are incarcerated and being investigated by the Japanese authorities. She also provides counseling to victims of domestic violence together with the kind-hearted and approachable Catholic nuns in Kyoto, Shiga, Nara and Mie Prefectures.
"As I have lived in Kyoto for almost 3 decades, I have seen and I am happy to be part of the growth of the Kyoto Pag-asa Filipino community. I am now the adviser after serving as president for 7 years."
Before becoming one of the advisers of the Philippine Community Coordinating Council (PCCC), a network of Filipino organizations in the western Japan which aims to uplift the image of Filipinos, she chaired the core group and was known to be a feisty yet intellectual and persistent individual. As an adviser or as an individual, she is still very visible in the community, continuously offering her assistance when needed without any expectations of material gratitude in return.
Her professionalism and dedication has earned her numerous recognitions from people who believe of her exceptional contribution to the society. She participated in the Beijing NGO Forum on Women in 1995. She was invited as one of the speakers at the 4th Global Filipino Networking Convention on 29 September 2006 in Honolulu, Hawaii. She founded Mother Earth Connection together with Sr. Agneta Lauzon of St. Joseph College, a non-government environmental organization that coordinates and interacts with individual community, government as well as non-government institutions in an effort to save Mother EARTH.
"The year 2000 was when I had my first breast operation. I thought it was a very good way to helping people raise awareness on environmental pollution which is one cause of cancer. We registered Mother Earth connection with SEC that year. Besides we had already been sponsoring seminars on recycling technology using organic waste and other indigenous materials for livelihood projects promoting environment protection."
Humble as she is, she does always feel so grateful and very thankful for the very rewarding achievements she had. You will see her as a seasoned individual with lustrous silver hair, petite frame with a very sweet smiling face.
Though behind that sweet face and fragile frame, Tita Mely is a fighter! She stands for what she construes as justice and fights for what she believes as injustice. She fights against the odds. All through these years that we have known Tita Mely, never for an instance did we notice that she succumbed to the challenges she was facing, even the challenge most of us would think as a very helpless condition... the battle against CANCER. She defied the medical prognosis of 6 months
to live when she was diagnosed with the devastating cancer. Through faith in God, her willpower to live longer, and with the support of her family and friends, she fought her very best to beat the odds. Through the help of medical science and of course, the healing power of the Almighty, Tita Mely is currently living a fruitful life. She said, with a smile in her face, "Cancer is not to be feared of. Just have faith! I was not scared of death until 3 years ago when my medical doctors told me that my tests showed I only have 3 -6 months to live. It was really painful at first but I gradually accepted that cancer was a reality in my life. When I realized and felt deeply that my family and friends loved me and that God must have a special plan for me. The thought of my many blessings made the difference. I thank God for this sickness because I can help people with cancer feel better just by talking to them. Even healthy friends ask questions on how to deal with breast cancer operations, radiation and chemo. At present, I have cancer in my lymph nodes so I cannot have another surgical operation in case my cancer transfers to another part of my body. Radiation is also not advisable because I already had it. My only medical therapy is chemo and I see my oncologist every 3 weeks. I may be physically sick but I do not think so. And I am thankful for the 'strength' I have to live each day with joy and belief in the goodness we can give and receive."
Amelia Kohno may not be a real Catholic nun but you will always see her surrounded by or tagged along with nuns most of the time. She is the heart of the group of Catholic nuns in Kyoto, Shiga, Nara and Mie Prefectures, specifically the members of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception of the Holy Mother of God (SFIC) assigned to the Kyoto Diocese. One would think that she must have dreamt of becoming a nun in her younger years. Her association with the religious group has made her stronger emotionally and mentally and has also deepened her relationship with God. Her presence in their midst made the nuns become more fun-loving and open to whatever it is that would come their way.
"Being Filipinos, our main priority is 'family' and even in Japan, we have what we call extended families. In our community, Filipinos come to church to 'feel at home' to lessen the pain of separation from their families, friends, and country. I think it helps improve our lives here in Japan by working together in a community and give whatever help we can. At our church gatherings, we announce job opportunities, offer counseling and networking with other groups offering services to help people having problems with living in Japan. It pays to have friends who care."
For the rest of us, Tita Mely, is an aunt, a mother, a sister and a friend. She is there for you through thick and thin. She will go beyond her limits to be of help to others. That is why she is an icon and has been an inspiration for all of us.
"I wish that we Pinoys can cope up with the current increasing global economic problems and be able to overcome financial difficulties. Our world is still a beautiful place to live in!"
She made many of us realize that there is nothing impossible in God-- that faith and belief will always lead us to truth and salvation.
"I want to write a book not only about cancer but also on 'human interests' readings - a book that can help and make people happy and bring hope to those who have given up on life. My one dream now is to form a a 'support group' for people with cancer specially foreign residents seeking medical treatments in Japan."
From her life, you can say that there is always enlightenment and joy in sincerity and kindness. Bravo Tita Mely! You are indeed an epitome of a woman. Mabuhay ka!