Under the sweltering sun, tens of thousands of children wearing party hats and waving colorful flags rush excitedly towards a towering arch festooned with a smiling sun and the words Sonshine Land.
As the children ran, shrieking under showers of confetti, a song about a dreamland come true booms loudly from speakers everywhere.
Each year since 2005, this scene is repeated in Davao City and in different places around the country and in some cities around the world in celebration of what international television evangelist Pastor Apollo C. Quiboloy, Founding President of the Children’s Joy Foundation, Inc., has initiated as the birthday of every destitute child in lieu of his own. He calls this event the ‘National Children’s Day’ happening every April 25.
Weeks ahead of this event, Pastor Quiboloy, together with an army of volunteers, put up a mini-theme park he calls Sonshine Land, which could accommodate thousands of young beneficiaries from orphanages, shelters and institutions throughout the Davao Region come April 25.
Inside the Disney-like theme park is the Sonshine Fairgrounds where around 60 booths serve and accommodate children from morning until night and give away unlimited toys, bread, beverages, sweets, cotton candy, popcorn and ice cream.
Quiboloy also treats children with a colorful street parade like in any other theme park, featuring huge and beautiful floats complete with well-loved cartoon, fairytale and animation characters.
Following the grand street parade is a stunning dance performance by over 700 youth dancers clad in exquisite costumes executing an international-flavored presentation.
One of the features of Sonshine Land is the feeding area where batches of children from urban poor communities and hinterlands of Mindanao are fed. This is a showcase of what the Children’s Joy Foundation, Inc. has been tirelessly doing since its inception in 1998 – conducting feeding programs throughout the country in answer to the spiking rate of hunger among Filipino children.
The idea behind the National Children’s Day is that children trapped in poverty could at least celebrate one special day as their adopted birthday, which they would never forget until they grow up. Quiboloy believes that planting good seeds in the hearts and minds of these children can contribute to achieving a better world.
Touring the entire Philippines in the early days of his ministry, Quiboloy had known the plight of impoverished children living in the throes of want and destitution.
“I have carried lightweight and extremely undernourished children in many of my concert tours and I couldn’t just close my eyes on this painful reality. I vowed that if the Lord blesses me, I will give back to the poor, especially children who didn’t choose the kind of life they would live.”
Well-wishers and friends also graced the Pastor’s birthday, including Presidential prospect Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, who assured the Filipino people that if it is God’s will that he becomes President of the Philippines he will “humbly obey.”
Speaking before live TV, Duterte said he believed that the Presidency is a mission from God. “I have never coveted the Presidency even up to this day but people are saying that I should run for President. That is not for me to decide. It is something which comes from God,” he reiterated.
Simultaneous birthday parties where thousands are treated to a birthday blowout were also done in major cities around the Philippines and abroad including California, Virginia, New York and Hawaii in the US; Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto in Canada; Brazil, Peru,Ecuador, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Spain, Belgium, United Kingdom and the Ukraine.