30 March 2020 – “God’s dozen” – from a shelter to just before the #corona lockdown
All came from troubled backgrounds, aged 3 to 18.
Four of them were street children, eight victims of sexual abuse (by family or relatives), two mentally delayed, one prostituted by her own mother. They were brought into the shelter by their own (two) or by frontliners (10). [Read more]
These days, severely-challenged people still overcome.
I haven’t seen her for some time. She lives overseas. She had to come home for a family emergency.
She missed the birthday celebration of a friend; she was in an outreach mission at a small Aeta community.
We met (with two others) in another smaller get-together. She was there first, in a name mall along Edsa, fiddling with her mobile phone. [We did not shake hands, or hug, or besobeso. I was in surgical mask, paranoid about the invincible Pinoys’ seeming unconcern about the #coronavirus.] That was providential — There was more time to talk about things other than the usual birthday fare.
She recalls she had worked in a drop-in shelter in the 2000’s. That was her first job as a social worker, just out of college. She was very idealistic, determined to change lives, lots of dreams.
She remembers twelve children fondly – ‘God’s dozen’, I said.
They all came from troubled backgrounds, aged 3 to 18.
Four of them were street children, eight victims of sexual abuse (by family or relatives), two mentally delayed, one prostituted by her own mother. They were brought into the shelter by their own (two) or by frontliners (10).
The children (now grown) have only good things to say about the big gated two-storey four-bedroom residential house they then called ‘home’.
They have good memories of those days – lots of play for the younger ones, very helpful life-skill lessons for the ‘elders’.
There was a big terrace where kids could play, dance, receive guests/volunteers, do activities, hold parties, interact on special occasions with kids from the neighborhood.
Everyone ate at the same time – on folding tables which served for other activities. Food was prepared in the kitchen by housemothers who also teach older kids how to cook, wash dishes (not to smaller kids), other house chores.
The dining room opens into the living room, where the TV was, where they prayed twice a day. One small office also served as counseling room.
House had two baths, two toilets, but kids prefer to bathe buddy system under the huge water tank.
There was a separate one bath with toilet for staff.
The children slept, bunked together, in two large bedrooms upstairs. Staff, usually a housemother and a social worker, were required to sleep a few nights a week on rotation, in the small staff room downstairs.
The shelter had four staff (2 social workers, 2 housemothers); and later, a center director. A consultant came for four hours once a week for case management discussions.
Eighteen years later, one of the twelve had tracked down some of the girls and staff from the shelter and created a chat group, in the time of the #corona.
My friend Girlie [all names here are not real names] met five of them on March 8 at a Manila park (talk about distancing). A number of their children and spouses were there. I saw the then-and-now pictures; only happy faces.
One could not make it, busy as a kasambahay. One chose not to come (still aloof from the group). One was traced only after the meet up. One is overseas. One could be in jail. Two could not be located (palaboy).
Girl Ara, at seven years one of the youngest in the brood, was mentally delayed (never diagnosed as such), at seven years old. Her father physically abused her, a large burn on her chest from boiling rice water thrown at her. Her trauma was consuming; she used to hide under the table when there were center visitors. She was transferred to a long-term residential facility outside Manila [Manila here refers to Metro Manila]. Now a 27-year old solo parent with three kids, she works as a kasambahay in Manila. She appears to be a very good cook judging by pictures she sends.
Girl Bea was a street child. One of the brighter girls, she always spoke in English, and was always in the office helping staff. Very cheerful, bubbly, “stariray”, she was reintegrated to her family, but at some point ran away again. She was sent to Visayas where she studied patisserie with TESDA. With an entrepreneurial bent, she started a small business selling yema (learned this from the shelter) and supplied them to three schools. She worked as a domestic helper in the Middle East for two years, a secretary in Qatar for two years, in a recruitment agency in Europe for three months and is now in Lebanon leading a recruitment (cleaning) agency team. Married with three kids, she has an online business selling RTWs, jewelry and rejuvenating sets. She is helping her shelter sisters, suggesting business ideas, getting them as resellers, sometimes providing financial aid. She plans to set up a pastry business (brownies, choco munchkins, cake) and to train other kids in this area when she comes home in October next year.
Girl Candy was sheltered temporarily because she was very difficult to handle. She was reintegrated to her Aunty after a few months. Now 34 years old, she has a partner who works as a leadperson in a construction firm. They have three girls aged 14, 9 and 6. She suffers from domestic abuse; and gets no support from her family. Abuse is heightened during Covid lockdown and she need help last week. Unable to reach anyone in the barangay and the PNP women’s desk, she contacted a barangay councilor who came, mediated between wife and husband, and told Candy that he will file a report with the PNP Women’s desk. As of this writing, nothing has been heard from him.
Girl Delia was sexually abused by her stepfather. Sadly, mother sided with stepfather; their relationship is strained to this day. She was transferred to a long-term residential facility in Manila. Now married with three kids: one son, two daughters. The younger daughter died late in 2019 of a rare genetic disorder affecting multiple organ systems. The medical and death expenses of the youngest have caused financial strain. The husband, a construction worker (aluminum), owes his employer money. To date, the money owed is still being paid in installments. She sells “pagkaing kanto” with PhP300 puhunan. From that, she makes PhP100 which she uses to buy rice and ulam, for the family and for selling. She does laundry for other people, too. She sells soap (from a networking company) from a small table in front of her house (few buy because the soap is expensive). Technically a solo parent as her husband works in Leyte, she is unable to stray far from home as no one would look after the kids.
Girl Emy was abused by a relative). A very quiet child, she often isolated herself, as the kids would kid her about her quaint smell. Now married with kids and lives in Manila. Although she did not finish schooling, she and her husband are able to support their children.
Girl Fe was a street child. She was one of the older girls who assisted in the kitchen. Now with kids, she looks happy; I can see through pictures that she takes good care of her kids, malambing to them. Some pictures on facebook and group chat show her dressed unconventionally. One of the girls heard she works in a pub.
Girl Gigi was mentally-challenged (never diagnosed) and was the longest staying girl in the shelter. She could not be referred to a long-term shelter (residential shelters would say they do not have the facility to deal with special children). She could not be reintegrated to her family; with nine more siblings, her parents would not be able to take care of her and she would probably return to the streets. Now, she brings her six-month old baby along while begging in the Paco-Quirino area in Manila and, on Sundays, in churches.
Girl Helen was prostituted by her mother at age 12. She was being treated for STD at that time at the shelter. She has kids now who are themselves beneficiaries of an NGO in Manila.
Girl Irene was abused by a neighbor family member. A very smart kid, she assisted in the kitchen and would watch over younger kids. She was reintegrated back when mother was able to move the entire family to the Visayas away from the abuser. Now married with three boys, she works as a home-based seamstress for pillowcases and curtains, while husband makes sofa furniture.
Girl Janet was another street child. She was referred to a long-term shelter in Manila. She, her seafarer husband and son are doing well financially.
Girl Karen was sexually abused by her stepfather. She was one of the ‘Ates’ helping housemothers around the house. She was referred to a long-term residential care facility in Manila. She went to school in Manila where she met her husband. They and their four boys are doing well. She has her own dog-breeding business and intends to put up an online shop selling high-end dolls, while husband is a Grab driver.
Girl Lean was another street child. She emerged as one of the leaders in the shelter; kids in the shelter would listen to her. Girlie heard she is currently in jail.
Seven of twelve – from orphanage to a better life.
I wonder whether the journey of these seven of twelve who managed to rise from the depths of poverty and despair is representative of what has happened to others in similar situations.
Two of twelve – are struggling because of lack of social support.
Three of twelve – Were their lives predestined to be like that? when will their challenges end?
I always thought the life of just one person improved is already a great blessing. Here there are several of them. All (but one) of the street children rose from the depths. All who assisted in housework are leading good lives.
These stories are heartwarming. All are additions to the good stories we hear these days.
In this women’s month, glad to see good things still happen to people.
In these days of people coming out, speaking out, about terrible violence and harassment at home and in the workplace …
[written in collaboration with Ms. Traf.]