INDEED, nothing happens by chance in this life.
I have been thinking of writing this piece for a few months now but for one reason or another, I have not found the time to do the interview and the piece afterwards, though I first met Philippine Azkal player Simone Rota when my old friend Albert Almendralejo launched PRU Life UK’s second edition of the Football For A Better Life (FFABL) program, a nation-wide grassroots football developmental program in different parts of the country.
It features a free football clinic for kids with former Azkal Chieffy Caligdong as chief trainer assisted by a few active Azkals with Simone as one of them, in fact he was at the launching at the PSA Forum in Malate together with Misagh Bahadoran and Amani Aguinaldo, but I only had a limited opportunity to talk to him.
Last Wednesday night, I was at The Haze at BGC , it was the 35th anniversary of TCL, a leading player in the global TV industry , based in China but has grown over the years and now operates in 80 countries worldwide, and the event was to launch TCL’s CSR program on Sharing Life Through Sports.
This is a four-part web series called Inspiring Bonding Moments and features 4 different athletes from the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia with none other than Simone as the Filipino athlete chosen.
Simone is one guy whose life is a lot like other Filipinos but with a tear jerker as an ending, he was abandoned as a baby at the Buklod Kalinga orphanage in Parañaque but was fortunate to have been adopted by an Italian couple who brought him back to Italy and raised him as their son, and since he grew up there, he did not learn to speak Pilipino and English.
At an early age, he started playing football, at 17, he was already contracted as a professional player and played for teams in Italy and Switzerland for the next 12 years.
Until he made a fateful decision, a decision that would change his life dramatically, a decision that a lot of adopted children struggle with all their lives, with the blessing of his foster parents, he decided to go back to the Philippines for two reasons, play football which was on the rise here with a lot of Fil-foreign players discovering their roots and suiting up for the Azkals, but more importantly, to look for his biological parents.
Two years ago, he was reunited with Sister May at the Buklod Kalinga orphanage and she helped him search for his parents with several women coming out and claiming Simone to be their son, but sorry, the DNA testing disproved their claim, and up to the present, Simone still has not found who his real parents are.
And for now, he has decided to end his search and just wait if something will turn out in the future.
This search of Simone and his subsequent decision to stay here in the Philippines for good will also be captured in a full documentary being produced by Albert and to be shown in Channel 2.
And if you will be impressed already with Simone’s decision to stay rather than go back to a supposedly better life in Europe, then you will admire more this guy for his decision to live in the same orphanage where he was adopted, and helping take care of the kids there.
He teaches them how to play football and show them that football can give them a chance to better their lives in the future, he sleeps with them, watches TV on a 40" set donated by TCL to the orphanage ,brings them to school, and even cooks for them at times. In fact three times a week, Simone also goes to squatter areas and feeds poor kids with lugaw, spending his own money for it.
I got my chance to ask him a lot of question at The Haze that night, thanks to that TCL event, and I learned he was to undergo an ACL procedure on his right leg at the hospital and will be out of action for 6 to 7 months, and admitted he cried and felt sad that he will miss playing for the Azkals, particularly in the Suzuki Cup, but remains steadfast in his dream together with his Azkals’ teammates of winning that tournament and qualifying for the Asian Cup.
When asked by other media guys there on the future of the Azkals, considering their recent back to back losses in friendly games and with a lot of younger players now with the team, Simone says these guys have to be given the chance to play together longer and develop chemistry the way the Azkals of a few years back did, and he is confident that it will come, his role when he comes back, to be a “kuya” of sorts.
Speaking like a foreigner who has barely learned his Pilipino words, he was asked what he could advise to people based on his personal experience in the country, he replied, “do not drive, and do not ride the MRT at 6 p.m.”, which drew a lot of laughter, Simone has indeed become a true Filipino in terms of suffering our daily traffic problem here.
But he says his biggest learning here in the Philippines is how to enjoy a simple life as he experiences it with the orphanage kids, he says the kids have taught him to appreciate more and enjoy what he has instead of dwelling on what he does not have.
No, he does not have a Filipina girlfriend, nor a non-Filipina girlfriend but he is perfectly happy with the present loves of his life, the kids at Buklod Kalinga and he says he has found his home, describing the orphanage as “my home and will always be my home, wherever I go, I know that there will always be a room here when I need it.”
Now you see why I should do this piece to share with you the kind of man Simone is.
Hopefully, this Christmas, I can join him at their Christmas party and bring my share of gifts for the kids there as I do yearly in Mt. Banahaw and for Manila’s street kids.
A heads-up, I will be in Bangkok for a needed R & R with my wife, daughter and grandchild from Tuesday to Friday next week..
The last time I was in Thailand was in 2014 but we went to Phuket because I won 4 round-trip tickets from CebuPac from a event I covered but for Bangkok, we visited this place the last time about 15 years ago to visit my high school classmate and stayed there for several days. This time, we are on our own but then with my apo in tow, I will enjoy any place with her.
I hope to do a piece while in Bangkok.