As I child, I had always dreamed of running away with the circus, or perhaps joining a caravan of gypsies. Blame it on Ludwig Bemelman and his Madeline books which had the smallest, spunkiest schoolgirl protagonist diligently lining-up in two straight lines, yet somehow managing to get herself into misadventure after exciting misadventure, even under Ms. Clavell’s watchful eye.
For want of a proper circus or gypsy caravan this side of the world, I found myself joining instead a not-so-scurvy crew of pirates. A shared passion for rhum, buccaneering, frilly frocks, and bad-ass hats got me tagging along with the crew of the Jolly Roger Rogers; a collaborative effort of the pirates and wenches of Black Pearl Philippines and the Star Wars aficionados of the Philippine Outpost of the Stormtroopers 501st. In recent years, the crew has expanded to include the caped crusaders of Justice PH, as well as other friends and fiends of the bunch.
But pillage and plunder are not necessarily on these pirates’ checklist; quite the opposite, truth be told. And the sight of the troopers, although awe-inspiring and more than a tad intimidating, does not strike fear in your heart. These scallywags and scoundrels are some of the biggest-hearted, most generous folk you will ever meet on land, at sea, and – if you had a chance to go – in galaxies far, far away.
And this is what keeps me tagging along.
A very motley crew
The Jolly Roger Rogers was founded by writer, costume and role-playing fiend, offbeat icon, She-Captain, and all-around amazing woman, Karen Kunawicz.
Karen initially founded the Black Pearl Philippines, a fan-based group of the Pirates of the Caribbean series. Her love of all things sea-worthy and Johnny Depp coaxed the inner pirate out of her in ways that have since cannon-balled across the Manila scene.
Enter the Philippine Outpost of the Stormtrooper’s 501st – under the command of husband and wife dynamo, Oneal and Regina Rosero – the local arm of the international Star Wars special interest group. As fate would have it, the pirates and troopers, along with the occasional Darth Vader and C3PO, found themselves doing events together on a fairly regular basis.
Thus the birth of the Jolly Roger Rogers, which – according to the group’s Facebook page – was “a way to combine pirates (who fly flags of the Jolly Roger) and the troopers who always say “Roger, Roger” on their comms.”
Beyond the fun and inevitably awesome geek factor of cosplay (the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game), the members of the groups involved with the Jolly Roger Rogers are “cause-players” (the practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game, BUT for a worthy cause.)
The agenda of these costumed characters is not only limited to Toy Cons, Comic Cons, movie premieres, and special appearance, but also includes charity events, fundraising activities, and care for sick and recovering children.
Recently, several fundraisers were held at malls across the metro for the benefit of the victims and survivors of Typhoon Haiyan: Photo opportunities with characters in costume, for a minimum donation. It was physically taxing (especially for those in full-on armour) to stand, pose, walk around, entice people for several hours to stop and get involved, but well-worth every ounce of effort.
The crew has also just wrapped up another successful Christmas party at the children’s wing and in-hospital school, the Silahis ng Kalusugan (literally, a ray or beam of health), at the Philippine General Hospital. The school is for children too sick to attend regular classes outside the hospital, but well enough to study. On its 7th year, this special activity has become one of the highlights of my own Christmas since I joined the group 4 years ago.
Throughout the year, Karen busies herself collecting funds from private donors, in preparation for the kids’ moving-up or graduation ceremony (usually in March), Christmas, and to support the facility however possible apart from the group’s regular activities with the kids.
This year’s Christmas festivities were especially charged with a mood of positivity, fun, and a renewed sense of hope. The children came in costume, as well, despite battling degenerative illnesses, cancer, and other ailments I can neither properly pronounce nor spell. They came ready to sing, dance if they could, receive love, and give love in even greater measure.
The good fight
As I stood off to one side of the classroom, watching Iron Man bust out some dance moves – to the delight of Superman, the Flash, Batman, pirates (including a She-Captain-pirate-turned-Ms.Santa), wenches, troopers, children, parents, teachers, and friends – one of the mommy coordinators standing next to me said: “We are thankful that this year, all the kids made it to the party. No one lost the fight.”
In that instant, I was reminded to count my own personal blessings, all too often forgotten. Also in that instant, I was filled with gratitude and admiration for each of the brave children and their ability to smile through hardship; and for every one of the wonderful volunteers – the costumed crew and the behind-the-scenes givers.
To me, this bunch of Filipinos is truly global not only because they have stepped-up to worldwide standards of excellence, but more so because they are examples of what should be worldwide standards of excellence. Excellence of character, heart, and purpose, as they help others keep up the good fight.
Life is like a Philippines
That night, plopped down on my couch body drained but spirit full from the day’s affairs, I received a text message from Karen. She was reading through the thank you notes from the kids. One of them, from LJ, read: “Life is like a Philippines, sometimes we are in bad time, and sometimes we are in good time. We’re thankful because now we’re in good time, and good hands.”
I like that.
Visit http://jollyrogerrogers.com/ to learn more about the crew and its activities.
Learn more about the Philippine Outpost of the Stormtroopers 501st at https://www.facebook.com/pinoy501st
Climb on board the Black Pearl Philippines at https://www.facebook.com/blackpearlphilippines
Check out the caped crusaders of Justice PH at https://www.facebook.com/justiceph