The Journey : There is HOPE

4:00 AM

October 22, 2015 marked a journey that will forever carve a poignant memory for me and  my BOIS students from the ACLC College of General Santos. It was the day when we paid a visit to the Substitute Home for Girls (SHFG) at Barangay Fatima, General Santos City.

The SHFG is a temporary shelter for girls who had suffered sexual exploitation and child abuse from the hands of their perpetrators. At the moment, SHFG is taking care of 19 girls aged 7-19 years old.

Generally aware of the sad circumstances in their lives, my class and I had chosen the SHFG as the beneficiary of our outreach program. I did the necessary briefing prior to the trip so that my lot may avoid saying or doing anything that would take the wheel away from "JOY" and give the chance for "Anger" and "Fear" to maneuver. No,no. Not today. The objective was to bring forth felicity and share a few gifts to the girls.

We opened the program on a high note, thanks to the energetic host of the day, Clair. She sincerely expressed her gladness of being there with her classmates, and I think it was very sweet of her to tell the girls how beautiful they all are.

After the pleasantries, we warmed up to simple dance steps that somehow helped clear the awkward air around us replaced by contagious laughter that filled the place as we played from one game to another.

And what does one do when games zap out the energy in you? Replace it!So now we party with food from the pantry. Teng! Teng!

Each SHFG housemate gets a packed meal of fried chicken,
 vegetable lumpia, a cup of rice, a choco bar and
 a can of Dole Pineapple Juice courtesy of Dolefil.

Shortly after lunch, the girls took turns in singing to while away a few minutes before we move on to our next activity. Little did I notice that some of my students and I were already trying to fight back the tears as the girls sang Leah Salonga's song, The JOURNEY...

I have been to sorrow
I have been to bliss
Where I'll be tomorrow
I can only guess
Through the darkest desert
Through the deepest snow
Forward, always forward I go

This was the second time I heard those girls sing the song and yet , it did not fail to give me the chills knowing the harrowing stories each one  of them has to go through in this cruel world. I can't help but weep.

What a journey it has been
And the end is not in sight
But those stars are out tonight
And they're bound to guide my way
When they're shining on my life
I can see a better day
I won't let the darkness in
What a journey it has been

Whew! Well, they are past the darkest desert now. God works in wondrous ways. Being here at the Substitute Home may just be the start of a better journey for these girls. And lucky are we as the girls have prepared a dance number for us, too! We were entertained by their tambourine dance. Through this number, we would like to believe that these girls believe somebody up there is indeed bound to guide their way.

Our time was ticking away. We gathered the girls in the center of the Hall, and with their House Mommies led by Ms. Tine, we presented our simple gifts to them. These were vanity kits courtesy of the Greenleaf Hotel and our generous benefactors who helped us raise funds for this activity.

We also gave them something that they can use for recreation: some board games and a new Volleyball. And what do we do with a new ball? FRIENDSHIP GAAAMMMMEE!

 While the girls were busy playing, we were told by one of the house parents that we have been  allowed to make "Kwentuhan" with the girls. I was hesitant at first. I'm not sure if my kids will be able to handle the "sharing" appropriately. This was something we were not prepared for. When we came, we know that we ought to be sensitive with what we say to or ask from them lest we stir some emotional outpouring from any of the girls.

After the game, we served creamy egg pies courtesy of Jo-Ann's Bakeshoppe and asked the girls if they  are willing to share their stories with us. We will only listen to what they would want us to hear. No pressures. And just like that, I saw small heads group together...and then silence swept around the hall...followed by sniffs...and deep breaths. And when I looked around, I saw my kids in silent tears, disbelief and horror written on their faces. It was a heartbreaking scene.

Each girl narrated a painful story. Imagine a 15 year old girl impregnated by her own flesh and blood. A 16 year old girl sexually abused by her father over and over again, with a mother who refused to believe a daughter's cry for help. A 7 year old orphan molested by her guardian. A 9 year old girl exploited and sent to laborious work for a living. A 15 year old victim of prostitution and drugs...God. My heart is bleeding. I can feel my ears burning, and my hands sweating. How can these young people suffer so much? How can people do such a formidable act to these young souls? I think I'm gonna puke.

But now, they are here at the Substitute Home. Away from their assailants. Far from the sickening world outside with house parents to take care and protect them.

And then it was time to leave. Emotions were up. Hugs were tight. Kisses were exchanged. We've found new friends. The girls asked us to come back soon. "Kahit wala kayong dala, Ate. Bumalik kayo. Malungkot kami dito..." The words were daunting.

As we drove away from the Substitute Home for the Girls, I offered a silent prayer...for all the 19 girls whom we have shared the afternoon with...and for the many others suffering the same fate. I prayed for the good Lord to send many of His Samaritans to save these poor little things from further harm. I prayed for my students, that they may appreciate the things that they enjoy now: food, family, freedom and more. I pray that they may be kept safe from these ghastly situations. I prayed for my own kids' security...and thanked Him for allowing us to be a blessing to others.

There is hope. We will see a better day. 

BOIS, you've got one proud mentor here...:)

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