MOST athletes strive for fame, honor, fortune and a better life.
Leoven Gatungay, 12, has a more personal agenda in his quest to excel in football: the San Carlos City booter sees success on the pitch as the only way he can bring his mother home and reunite his family.
At the tender age of four, Gatungay was separated from mother Nadel who left to work as a caregiver in Singapore - a job that eventually strained her relationship with her husband, leading to their separation.
Left with a broken family, the young Gatungay turned his focus to football in the hope of making it big and getting the means to bring his family together again.
“Naghiwalay po kasi sila Papa at Mama. Yun po ang gusto kong maayos,” said Gatungay.
Luckily, Gatungay made it to the Final 12 of the just concluded TM Football Para Sa Bayan after tryouts held in Iloilo, Bacolod, Davao and Manila, earning a slot in a four-day training camp at the Astro Kem Bola facilities in Kuala Lumpur.
Before leaving for Malaysia last week, Gatungay gathered the courage to share his ordeal with officials of the tournament, prompting organizers from Globe and TM to plan a surprise for the young booter.
“Actually he approached us and told us of his story. Nagulat kasi kami ilang years na pala nya di nakikita mother nya. And since his mom was just in Singapore, we arranged a flight for her so she can visit her son in KL,” said Rofil Magto, Globe’s Corporate Social Responsibility manager.
“Simple lang naman yung wish ng bata so we might as well give it to him,” he added.
Making it happen wasn't easy. At first there was a problem with Nadel’s employers, so Magto had to personally call them up for permission.
“May sakit kasi yung inaalagaan nya, so at first medyo hindi pumayag. Kaya tinawagan ko to assure them that Nadel will only be away for a day and be back the next morning to Singapore,” said Magto.
“Nakakalungkot kasi chance na sana nung mag-ina magsama, pero she has a job there, kaya we had to adjust,” he added.
After securing the approval, Nadel booked the flight to Kuala Lumpur on Friday afternoon, but reached the KL football field only at around 8 p.m.. But thanks to an extended training session by FC Barcelona officials, the young Gatungay’s dream became reality.
The reunion was, as expected, emotional. Watch the video here:
“Muntik ko nang di nakita si Leoven kasi may curfew sila. Kailangan ko namang umalis agad the following day kasi pangako ko sa amo ko, babalik ako Singapore ng tanghali,” said the mother.
Inspired by the reunion, Leoven, the star player of a San Carlos City side that bagged the Alaska Cup Under-11 title last year, vowed to become a better football player so he can one day have the means to bring his mother home.
“Gusto kong mas galingan pa paglalaro ko, para pag nagsweldo na ko rito, papauwiin ko na ang nanay ko. Gusto kong mabuo ulit ang family namin,” said Leoven.
“Naiinggit nga ako sa ibang bata na kasama nila ang mommy nila at parents nila. Gaya dito sa Malaysia, yung ibang ka-klase ko na Pilipino, kasama rin nila nanay nila dito,” he added in between sobs.
TM Football Para sa Bayan coach Ronnie Aguisanda, a former national team player, bared that Gatungay has the skills to make it big in football.
“Malakas ang katawan nun eh, saka may control sa bola. Malakas sumipa, madalas nga nasasaktan mga kalaro niya paghinaharang ang sipa ni Leoven, mabigat ang dating ng bola eh,” said the Green Archers United midfielder.
“May depensa rin siya. Ako I am hoping na he’ll be chosen by Astro officials for a Barcelona training. Mas mahahasa yung bata,” Aguisanda added.
Officials of Astro Kem Bola will release next week the names of 32 players from the Malaysia camp who will be flown to Barcelona, Spain for a rare series of drills and seminars at the FC Barcelona facilities.
A Barcelona trip will bring young Leoven another step closer to his dream.