by Nitz E. Nicolas
Most of us tend to describe a United Sates-born child of parents of Filipino descent as “lucky.” The reason: The privileges of being an American citizen that the child will inevitably enjoy.
But “lucky” is the unlikeliest term Verla, (not her real name) would think of to describe herself. Instead, she tells those who care to listen that she was an “abandoned and abused” child.
Verla was only four when she was brought to an American child-care institution as an abandoned child. Her biological mother and father were both Filipinos. But both were, for one reason or another, unable to care for her.
Her father worked in the United States Air Force, while her mother entered the US illegally. The two met, they fell in love and lived together. In July 29, 1994, Verla was born to them.
But her father and mother separated. The mentally unstable mother was left to care for the infant. The mother found it difficult to look for a good job, perhaps because she was an illegal entrant who was mentally unstable.
One day, a terrible thing happened. The US Immigration authorities caught up with Verla’s mother, who was immediately ordered to return to the Philippines. Hence, Verla had to be taken to the child-care institution, where she stayed for the next two years.
When she turned six, she, too, was ordered repatriated.
Since the institution deemed Verla’s mother unfit to care for the child, it contacted her only uncle, a retired employee of a multi-national firm, to care for Verla, instead.
The mother could only visit Verlaa in her school and occasionally take her out for meals. But Verla became increasingly uncomfortable being with her mother, especially since her relatives kept reminding her of her mother’s “dark side.”
For example, they would tell Verla that when she was still a baby, her mother would often put her inside kitchen cupboard and feed her with charcoals. It didn’t help that she would see her mother dress and act differently (she often talked to herself) even when they were together.
It was not a bed of roses, either, inside the household of Verla’s uncle. She did household chores usually performed by adults. She experienced physical, emotional and verbal abuses, courtesy of her uncle’s family.
Many times, she was tempted to run away, but the prospect of living on the streets all by her lonesome was too scary. She focused her energies, instead, to studying. Soon, she became a consistent honor student.
All along, Verla thought she owed a great debt of gratitude to her uncle for the provisions that had kept her alive all those years. It was a shock when she found out that he had been receiving $400 each month from the US government on her behalf. The amount was meant to pay for her food and school tuition.
This “injustice” is nothing to what her uncle had done to her since she was eight–her uncle sexually abused her. Many times. For three long years.
“He would put his hand on my sensitive body parts and would caress me. I thought it was his way of showing that he cares for me,” she narrated
One day, her Grade VI teacher asked the class to do research on current events and issues. While doing her research, Verla came across the issue on sexual abuses. She realized that this was exactly what her uncle was doing to her.
Since then, she shunned her uncle. But he would not be denied and he threatened and would show his gun to her to prove that he was serious about the matter.
Verla told her adviser, who, too, became the object of his threats. Verla was forced to retract her story out of fear. Hence, the “incidents” continued.
One day, no longer able to keep the secret to herself, Verla told her best friend and classmate all about it. Determined to help Verla, her friend asked her own mom to discuss the matter with the school principal.
Verla was brought to a shelter under the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) of Antipolo City. She stayed there but continued her studies. There, she experienced the peace of mind that she never felt before. For the first time, she felt like a normal child. There, she regained her self-esteem.
Though Verla lost the court case against her uncle, she gained a family when a Christian sponsor cared for her. Verla came to know Jesus Christ and accepted Him as her Saviour and Friend.
But there were still rough stretches in the road she had treaded. She remembered reaching her lowest moment. She admitted that at that point, she questioned God.
“Why did you allow me to suffer for a long time,” she asked of God.
But God opened a window of opportunity for Verla when a partnership was forged between the International Justice Mission (IJM) and the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI).
The Christian group she belonged to at the time referred her to IJM, a Christian non-profit human rights organization that rescues poor and oppressed from violence, coercion, particularly the sex trafficking and sexual abuse of minors, and seeks to restore such victims to full and productive lives.
The IJM filed a motion for reconsideration and the case against Verla’s uncle was re-opened. He was found guilty and ordered incarcerated for 6-8 years.
Unfortunately, however, then President Benigno S. Aquino III paroled him in 2014.
As an IJM and KKFI college scholar, Verla studied in Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) and stayed at the dormitory of KKFI, which is located at the heart of Manila’s University Belt. She consistently topped her class and was even elected president of the Society of Social Work Department.
Her graduation in May 2016 was witnessed by her mother, who was, needless to say, elated.
Verla believes she is now totally healed. She is now preparing for her upcoming board exam on social work.
She was thankful to IJM for supporting her studies and the KKFI for giving her a home.
She appreciates the latter’s conduciveness to restoration of one’s body and soul. She is particularly fond of what she calls “family spirit” in KKFI.
“I am happy staying at the KKFI dorm. It is really a ‘home-away-from home’,” she says. “The environment reminds me that God is with me always.”
In July 2015, Verla found her long-lost father through Facebook. She plans to go to the US this year and pursue a master’s degree there in preparation to become an advocate of human rights, especially trafficked children and women.
Restored, Verla is determined to help other victims as they journey towards restoration. She knows the road is rough. She knows every victim needs a helping hand, like what IJM and KKFI extended to her.
She should know. She had been there and had done that.