Here comes my second post in the category “Tell my your story”. Maria, 17, grew up as an orphan in a SOS children’s village in the Philippines from the age of nine. She told me how it feels to live without a mother, how her dreams of a career as Psychotherapist are influenced by her own life – and how from the day that I interviewed her on, she would celebrate her birthday twice a year.
At the age of five years, my mother left me and my brother. She gave us to her friend in the neighborhood and simply disappeared. Our neighbors were farmers and they already had five children. When they couldn’t bring up enough money for us and themselves anymore, they brought us to the Department for Social Welfare and Development of our state, which protects the rights of us Filipinos. My brother and me were separated: I lived in a center for abused and orphaned girls, and my brother stayed with the family my mother had given us to. The DSWD tried to find our mother, but when they asked her to take us back she refused and handed the responsibility over to the government. That was how I officially became an orphan.
At the age of seven, I was passed on to a foster family, and as I had told the DSWD I did not want to be separated from my brother, we were now able to stay together. Life in the foster family was not ideal, but alright. They took good care of us, yet they had a son of their own, and we could always feel, who the parents favored. Everything was different between him and us. We were of the same age, but whenever he did a mistake it was blamed on me, for example when we played in the same room and he messed it up. “You are the girl, you should be cleaning this”, they said. I knew that was not the real reason. Still, I was happy that I had a place to stay, so I tried not to care.
After spending two years with this family, my brother and me moved again. The government decided it was time to put us into a long-term-center: the SOS children’s village in Davao. My first day in the village was the 23rd of July in 2004, I remember it exactly. I can not describe how it felt seeing this new home for the first time. It was amazing, and right from the start I felt like having finally arrived. There were fourteen houses in the village, and in each lived eight to eleven children. Every house was led by a mother who was even acting like a mother. Our mothers were all single, and if they married they retired from their motherhood and left the village. The children in a house were brothers and sisters, and even though we came from different backgrounds, we all had similar stories. We all went to school outside of the village. Most of the children don’t do very well in their subjects. The majority of the children in these villages don’t have a chance. I think they are very influenced by their backgrounds. These children simply cannot overcome their past, and that endangers them.
Sometimes few of us have to leave the village. The two most common reasons are failing your subjects, or pregnancy. If you become pregnant while you live in the village, you are asked to leave. Some years ago, that happened to one of my sisters. She both did bad in her subjects and got pregnant from her boyfriend in town. The village sent the girl to live with her biological sister. Her boyfriend left her, our sister ended up living in poverty, and after she gave birth to her child, she left it with her sister, orphaned as she is herself, and ran away with another man. I hear these kind of stories so often that I sometimes have the feeling it is very typical in our country: Women leaving their children and running away with a new man. But then I see all the happy families around and I remember that this is not normality.
Separation is my greatest fear; the kind of separation when you know you will not see somebody ever again. I have been separated with my loved ones far too often and it has caused me so much of pain that I cannot imagine anything being worse. I don’t know why my own mother left me. I heard she was a prostitute and did not have enough money for her children. I don’t know if that is true. Sometimes I have flashbacks, remembering how she took us to the houses of strangers, witnessing her intimacy with them. I don’t know if my mind creates these memories from what I hear, or if they are true. In the end they always seems very real to me.
When I first applied for a passport, it was very difficult. As I am not adopted, and because human trafficking is a big issue in the Philippines, I needed the documents of my parents. My guardian is our village director, but the government is very strict and said, they needed to see my mother. We had to find her, somehow, but we did not know where to look. For many years I hadn’t heard from her, so the social workers of our villages traveled to the province where she had been seen the last time. They went around all the towns, asking who had seen her. Finally, in July 2012, they called me, telling me that they found my mother and would bring her to the village the very same afternoon. I was very shocked by this sudden surprised. I became very emotional and did not want to see my mother. After all, she had left us. I thought I was over her, it had been so many years. I did not want to cry. I prepared myself not to break down in front of her, I cried all noon, till she came. When I stepped in front of her I was strong.
My mother cried. She stood in front of me, begging for forgiveness, saying she was sorry, saying she had no choice. I forgave her. I asked her, who my father was, and she told me his name. I had never heard it before. I also asked for my real birthday. In the SOS children’s village, we always celebrated it on November the 15th. There would be a big party with a program of dance and music; the whole village came together to eat cake and be happy. My mother told me, my real birthday is October 27th. Yes, that is today. Today, I celebrated my real birthday for the first time in my life. From now on, I will celebrate twice a year. I won’t change my official birthday in November. That takes time and money. But it is good that I know, and I am grateful that my mother told me.
My mother stayed in our village that night. I came to see her and we talked. We both felt a little clumsy and awkward, but I listened to what she had to say. I learned that she is currently serving the government, cleaning and washing their dishes. My brother did not join our conversations. We two are on good terms, but still not very close, because we never learned how siblings interact with each other. Sometimes I wish I could simply go to him and ask him, if everything is okay. But I can’t: He is faking his joy and happiness all the time – and I won’t be the one to make him serious. He hasn’t forgiven our mother yet. He came to see her, but didn’t speak a word. To me, he said, she is a slut, a whore. Somehow that hurt and it only enhanced our barrier.
I think, we children from SOS villages need somebody to understand us. We are so full of pain that nobody can even imagine, that we just hide it in ourselves. It’s not only because we lack parents, a normal family. It is because of how society sees us. I was bullied very often in elementary school, because I was an orphan. You can imagine it being like in a movie: “Orphan, orphan, you don’t have a mother,” they would scream, and dance around me in break time. It was mostly boys, and I ended up punching and kicking them aggressively. I got into trouble very often for these fights, but whenever I tried to explain, nobody listened. Nobody cared.
Now that I am in the SOS children’s village, much has changed for me. Daddy Bem-Bem, who used to be a SOS child himself and now serves the organization as a village director in Davao, is my greatest source of inspiration. He helped me throughout my toughest times. He gives me confidence and makes me believe in myself. His words and stories guide me whenever I make decisions. I grew up without a father and the presence of Daddy Bem-Bem helped me a lot in terms of accepting this reality.
We children are wounded. We don’t only suffer from emotional stress, we don’t only feel misunderstood – we don’t understand ourselves either. After secondary school I want to study psychology. I will become a psychotherapist, go back to the Philippines and serve the SOS children’s villages. What we children mostly need are people who can help us and who know what we have been through. We need people who can look inside of us, who don’t believe our smiles when we fake them. In our village they only send children to a psychologist if their problems become very evident by their behavior. But so many of us feel ignored in their feelings. I was considered a very happy child in our village, because I love to laugh and interact with others. They never thought they’d need to send my to a psychotherapist, but they don’t know what’s going on inside of my heart.
I think I would have needed a psychotherapist. That might sound very selfish, but I think it is rather rational. I don’t have parents. I don’t know where I am from. I just live on and on, but nothings attaches me to my past. When I was in my elementary years and christmas or graduation came, all the families celebrating with their children., I could never control my jealousy. Now I start to learn to express myself. I think when I am a psychologist I can finally understand my own fate. Only when I am at peace with myself can I fulfill my biggest dream: that is to inspire people. I want to go back to my country and see that the people who know my story, are motivated by the beautiful outcome of the hard times that I have encountered. Life does not need to be dark. You are the one who defines where you go.