RESTORED: A STORY OF A VICTIM OF SEXUAL ABUSE

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.

HOW IMPORTANT EDUCATION IS

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

In her essay entitled, “Bakit Mahalaga ang Edukasyon?” (Why is Education Important?), Marjorie Calipus, 21, wrote this oft-quoted saying of our national hero Gat Jose Rizal, which says, “Ang kabataan ang pag-asa ng bayan” (The youth is the hope of the country).

For Marjorie, education is important because it is the first step in achieving one’s dream. This is the key to have better livelihood opportunities, including better jobs, and better standing in the society. After all, no one wants to be belittled or oppressed by anybody.

“Pangunahing kwalipikasyon sa pag-aapply ng trabaho ang tinapos na kurso. Kung hindi tayo nakapag-aral ay mahihirapan tayong humanap ng trabahong sapat na kita. Kung di sapat ang ating kinikita ay siguradong hindi natin mabibili ang ating pangangailangan,” Marjorie wrote in her essay. (Educational attainment is one of the major qualifications in getting a good-paying job. If one does not earn enough, one cannot buy her daily needs).

This is her reason why she enrolled in the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI). To finish her studies and to, according to her, “straighten my life.” She also wrote that education can change one’s character.

She learned about the ALS Program from a neighbor who was attending ALS at the St. Peter United Methodist Church (UMC), a partner of KKFI.

This is what happened to Marjorie. She used to bum around their house in Navotas City. One day, she attended KKFI’s life skills training and Bible studies. Then Marjorie come to a self-realization. She developed a relationship with God.

She overcame her fear of failure by reading modules and practicing essay-writing. She persevered by answering practice questions in the modules.

“I do not want to disappoint my parents,” said Marjorie, adding that her inspirations are her parents and her dream.

She was elated when   she learned she passed the Accreditation and Equivalency examination she took last April 17, 2016.

“I am ecstatic. I plan to continue my studies and pursue my dream of becoming a teacher.

Yes! That is how important she considers education is. She plans to teach children and youth to value education. Exactly how Gat Jose Rizal meant it.

 

 

HEALING THE BROKENNESS THROUGH EDUCATION

by Glenda B. Gutierrez
 
“I was given away by my mother,” confesses Andrea Faye Figueroa, 17, speaking in the vernacular.
 
Andeng, as she was fondly called, grew up with her aunt. She was only three months old when her mother gave her away. She says her mother cannot afford to raise nine children of different fathers. She is the sixth child.
 
She says her life is better with her aunt, who treated her like her own child. However, she has children of her own to raise and did not have very much time for her.
 
Due to lack of parental guidance, Andeng became remiss in her studies. She said she stopped schooling due to plain laziness. She was able to finish her first year of high school at the Obando National High School.
 
She stayed with her biological mother for a year. However, she did get along well with her siblings, her mother and the latter’s new husband. So she went back to her aunt and stayed at home. She said she preferred to go out with friends or bum around the house than go to school.
 
But there came a point when she longed to turn her life around. She wanted a better future, after all and she knew that her dream can only be achieved if she gains adequate education for her to get a better employment.  
 
Then she learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program from a friend who was attending such. The next thing she knew, she was enrolling in the ALS program of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI).
 
Still, it was a roller-coaster ride. Andeng had to struggle and there were times when she felt discouraged. But she did not give up.
 
“Inisip ko na wala akong mararating kung puro tambay lang ang gagawin ko,” says Andeng (I thought I would not amount to anything by bumming around). “I simply persevered and held on to my faith in God.”
 
Her hardships paid off. Andeng was able to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency examination of the Department of Education. She said her inspiration is her aunt who took care of her.
   
The sadness brought about by the estrangement from her family still haunts her. But she tries to look at it from a mature point of view. She is focusing on her future college course, education, and dreaming of becoming a teacher.
 
She plans to financially provide for her family and send her younger siblings to school. That way, she hopes the brokenness of her family will somehow be healed.

IF THERE’S A WILL

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

 

23-year-old Enrico Teliquido knew that if he would dream of a better future, he must acquire education. There was no other way. He also knew that he would not gain the education that he needed via the regular, or formal, route.

Thank goodness, there is the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of the Department of Education (DepEd).

“That is why I enrolled in ALS,” Rico, as he is fondly called, said. “I really want to finish my studies.”

Rico stopped his studies after finishing Grade V at the Sergio Apostol Elementary School in Sta. Cruz, Manila, became of financial constraints. His family was too poor.

However, he found an alternative in the form of the ALS Program in the Manila North Cemetery (MNC) in 2012. The next year, he passed the elementary level of the Accreditation and Equivalency (A & E) examination. That made him one of the original ALS graduates of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI).

However, he felt he had to help out in providing the needs of the family, so he stopped his studies again. He earned and continues to earn a living for the family by driving a pedicab inside the Manila North Cemetery (MNC).

Rico is the fourth of six siblings. Their father, Victor, is a “barangay tanod,” while their mother, Delia, is a housemaid. Rico would tell you that there had been better days. Their lives had been better years before when they lived in Divisoria, a business area in Manila.

Victor’s adoptive parents then owned a meat stall in Divisoria. Their income was steady with Delia augmenting the family income by selling vegetables. Their financial problems started when Victor’s adoptive parents died and they moved to MNC with Delia’s relatives.

Earning a living in MNC is difficult, Rico said. Victor initially worked as a helper in the construction of tombs and “museleos” but the income was not regular.

Added to the family’s problems were the early marriages of the elder Teliquido children that meant additional mouths to feed.

Rico showed dedication in his studies. His school works indicated promise. He also demonstrated good leadership skills. In fact, he was elected as the president of the MNC Youth Generation. This organization is composed of youth from the cemetery with the objective of promoting unity and mutual protection among members. Among the projects implemented during his term was the fund-raising for their registration and participation in barangay basketball leagues.

Rico dreams of being a teacher, which is now an achievable reality given that he is now allowed to enroll in college.

A TEACHER SOMEDAY

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

“I learned to be more patient and can now control boisterous children,” says Ian Leonardo Sabdao, 19, of his experience handling kids of the LikhAral classes. He was one of the volunteer-teachers.

Ian, a former Alternative Learning System (ALS) student of Magsaysay, Tondo, is one of the 23 young people who passed the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) examination conducted by the Department of Education (DepEd) on April 17, 2016.

Ian
Elated Ian (right) is all smiles as he poses with batchmate, Mark Anthony Tado

Likharal is Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc.’s (KKFI’s) version of the Vacation Church School (VCS) wherein children were provided summer activities. The objective of this program other than teaching underprivileged kids is to raise volunteers and train them eventually for a life of service.

It is Ian’s second time to teach at LikhAral last summer but has been teaching VCS in Knox United Methodist Church (UMC) for four years. He finds LikhAral more organized because it goes through extensive training and teaching-material preparation.

“I used to get angry easily when the children become unruly. Now I talk to the children earnestly and get their trust,” says Ian.

Ian Likharal
Ian (center in blue shirt) teaches a song to his students during the 2016 Likharal sessions in Barangay 463, Sampaloc, Manila

 

Despite growing up a United Methodist, something was lacking in Ian’s faith-journey. In fact, he used to attend classes at Bethel Knox School, a Methodist school.

“I stopped schooling due to peer influence of my ‘barkada’ (group of friends),” Ian admits.

He manned a computer shop to while the day and earned money when he was out of school. He said he did this to help in his family’s financial affairs.

Despite being brought up a middle class household, Ian said he was always in want of money. Both his parents are working. His father, Avelino, is an electrical engineer and his mother, Lilian, is a chef. Ian is the middle child of three siblings.

“My faith in God deepened in KKFI,” he says. “I became closer to God.”

Ian is known to be friendly and easy to get along with. I always see him around KKFI always wearing a ready smile for everyone.

He says now that he had passed the A&E exam, he can continue in college honing his skills in education. Yes, Ian was definitely inspired by his LikhAral experience and now wants to become a teacher.

With his amiable personality, heart and passion, I know he will be a great teacher someday. I hope sooner than later.

 

 

GOING FOR THE GOLD

by Margoh Bronzal dela Paz

 

I am 17 years old and I am the eldest in the brood of six. My father, Michael, 38, is a tricycle driver in Divisoria, a traditional and quintessential business center of Manila, while my mother, Jean, 37, stays at home to take care of the children. We live in Barangay 108 in Tondo, Manila.

Sometime ago, I learned that Ms. Joanna Marie Merced, a neighbor, is an Instructional Manager (IM) of the Alternative Learning System (ALS) of Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI). It was in April of 2015 and I had just finished Grade 7 at the Dr. Juan G. Nolasco High School.

So there is an alternative, I thought. Since I am a bit older than my classmate, something that caused much insecurity on my part, ALS, indeed, became very attractive to me. Another factor is the economic condition of my family. My parents, I am certain, would not mind if I could finish my high earlier so I can help them provide food for the family the soonest possible time.

ALS, I thought, could solve some of our financial burdens.

Although I had some difficulty in coping with my lessons, particularly writing essays, I never considered giving up. I did not want my effort to come to naught. I also did not want to waste this God-given opportunity to finish my studies.

I saw how my father work hard to provide our daily needs. Our financial situation drove me to continue my studies and to do my best. I know education is the key to a better future for me and my family.

So, to achieve my goal, I attended each and every class of ALS. I was attentive and tried to listen hard to the IM’s instructions. I did my homework and I made sure I answered all the questions in the modules.

When I learned I passed the Accreditation and Equivalency examinations, I did not know what to do. I wanted to shout and jump for joy. Actually, I could not remember if I did. I would not be surprised if I actually did it. The happiness I felt at that moment was indescribable. All my efforts bore gold.

Now that I am an ALS passer, my next move is to enter the university, study even harder and achieve my dream of becoming a dedicated law enforcer or police officer.

If life is an Olympic event—a race—then, I am ready! I am set! And I definitely will go for the gold!

 

(Translated from Filipino to English by Glenda B. Gutierrez)

BROKEN BUT UNBOWED

by Glenda B. Gutierrez

 

Justine D. Laquindanum, 17, comes from a broken family. Her parents separated when she was in Grade 5. Her father, Nicolas, a carpenter, settled with another woman with whom he had other children. Justine has never met her siblings.

Her mother, Rowena, on the other hand, is an overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Oman. Justine has not seen her mother as often as she wanted because the latter rarely comes home. The airplane fare are too prohibitive and her mother’s employers would not allow her to come back to the Philippines on a regular basis.

Despite the distance, Justine is close to her mother. They regularly talk through phone or the internet.

Due to lack of parental presence and nurture, Justine rebelled. She allowed her peers to influence her and her lifestyle. She lost motivation to attend school and eventually stopped studying altogether. She would say that she simply got lazy.

Although she thought of going back to her formal schooling, there was a price to pay. The high school of her choice does not accept fourth year transferees.

Then, she learned about the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program of the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) from a friend who was enrolled in the first batch at the St. Peter United Methodist Church (UMC).

But first, she knew she needed to correct some bad habits she has accumulated through those easy-go-lucky years. One of them—indeed, the hardest to break—is the habit of laziness. I seemed it has been set in her system so firmly, it would be a herculean task to undo it.

So she forced herself to attend ALS classes and tried to read one or two modules a day. There were times when she felt discouraged, thinking all her efforts would come to naught if she failed to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) examination.

But she continued to dream and pray. Yes, she prayed every day and read the ALS modules.

When asked about her inspiration to continue her studies, she answered, “Ang pamilya ko at ang pangarap ko na balang araw mapauwi ko na dito ang mama ko at ako naman ang magtratrabaho para sa kanya.”  (My family and my dream to be with my mother. I want her to come home so I can be the one who will work and earn for her.)

She was overjoyed upon learning she passed the A&E exam saying, “Masayang masaya ako dahil sa wakas unti-unti ko nang magagawa ang aking pangarap.” (I am very happy because I am slowly but surely achieving my dreams.)

Indeed, with prayers and determination, Justine is, piece by piece, starting to complete the brokenness that her family suffered before. She is determined to leave all the negative things behind and focus on her brighter future.