Give your life in return - Children of the Mekong

Give your life in return

There are many strong individuals out there. For our overseas volunteers, these are often memorable meetings. Nothing, however, is more incredible than to discover that those currently working in the slums and in the sponsorship programmes were previously children in difficulty. They themselves were helped when they were in need. It is one of these stories which Agathe wished to tell you.

Text and photo: Agathe de Courville


Gil Nino is a former sponsored child, very involved today in the organisation, ‘Share A Child’

Gil Nino is a former sponsored child, involved today in the organisation ‘Share A Child

Today, I would like you to meet Gil TERIOTE, formerly sponsored as a child by Share A Child. He dedicates his life to this charity in Cebu City. He gives all his time to the most destitute, he goes to meet them during the day and also searches for ways to help them, train them and guide them. It is a life devoted to the most underprivileged. This is his testimony.

“I was born on Friday 13th January 1978 in the city of Surigao. Fervent Catholics, my parents named me Gil NINO: Gil means “God Is Love” and NINO in honour of the Child Jesus. Campo Bacuag, where I grew up was not a peaceful place: I witnessed the war from a young age.

My parents were the owners of a small store and every Sunday we would go to the market to sell dried fish. Business went well enough for my parents to buy a jeepney [local Filipino transport] and then build a house of our own.

In 1986, we were transferred to the city of Surigao because my parents were wrongly accused by the military of supporting the rebels. They, therefore, changed their line of business and our business grew to the point of employing several people!

I studied at the best school in the city where I rubbed shoulders with the richest kids. However, when my parents separated, they sold all of our possessions and then my father and mother moved to two different islands. My two sisters and I were left with our grandmother until I was transferred to Cebu City.

Left under my uncle’s care, for the first time in my life, I was far from my family and my roots. I cried almost every night and even blamed God. I felt so alone that I lost my appetite which led to a stomach ulcer.

I was treated very differently from my cousins: while they studied in private schools, I went to public school. I got up early to water the plants and feed the chickens while they were still in bed. I walked to my school while they travelled to theirs in a car. They had fortified milk for breakfast and meat for lunch, while I was only allowed fish. I was depressed and the question ‘why?’ ran through my head a lot. A feeling of injustice gnawed at me, I felt like I had the worst life in the world.


Despite it all, I received my elementary diploma with distinction. My parents didn’t come to the graduation ceremony…

My uncle did not know where to send me for high school because I failed the entrance exam to the Abellana National School. I remember feeling a terrible hunger during the exam because I wasn’t given any lunch money.

I was therefore forced to repeat the year I had already managed to pass! I had classmates that were awarded scholarships with Share A Child. Thanks to them, I was able to meet the lawyer Nina Valenzona. I cried in front of her. I realized that I had been strongly affected by what I had experienced. That’s when I was accepted as a scholarship awardee by Share A Child, I was very happy.

In 1991, I began my journey with Share A Child. It became my second home. As I was very shy, during the activities, I preferred cooking… I struggled to share what I had experienced. However, Ms Nina encouraged me to overcome this fear and I realised how much it was necessary: it allowed me to develop my “inner self”.

As a sponsored child in the Tap Tap program in the mountains of Cebu City

At the home of a sponsored child for the Tap Tap program in the mountains of Cebu City

Little by little, I started to gain confidence in myself. As I listened to the life stories of other scholarship awardees, I realised that my story was not the worst. I began to feel grateful for all of the blessings I had received. Some of the “whys” I had asked myself before were now being answered. We were like brothers and sisters in the organisation.

Almost every Sunday, we went to the municipal prison to teach scouting to incarcerated minors. When I heard them recount their experiences, I thanked God even more for what I had. It changed my outlook on life and opened my mind: now, when I witness a child stealing, I tell myself that he probably has nothing to eat or that he needs it for medicine. I really learned a lot from them.


In 1994, I finished my secondary school studies and passed the entrance exam for the Industrial Technology Centre (CITE), where I received a diploma in Electronic Engineering in 1997.

I spent all my free time at the Share A Child office, where I was very well received. I participated in training and activities. After graduating, I worked for a year as a maintenance technician in the Archdiocese of Cebu.

When Share A Child opened a microfinance program to help the families of sponsored children, Attorney Nina suggested that I work on the development of this programme. Without hesitation, I accepted the offer and the next day, I took the boat heading for Manila with the other employees for training.

There were five of us and I felt like a thorn among roses. I had to help the families of the Alaska slum by hand, intellectually and financially. At that time, I was also enrolled at CIT-U for a degree in electronics and communications engineering which I received in 2003.

Gil Nino with a family from the slums of Cebu City

Gil Nino with a family from the slums of Cebu City


For all those years, I had had no news from my father. One day, I learned that he had gone to Davao Mountain with the New People’s Army (NPA) also known as, the rebels. I was so sad that I prayed ceaselessly to see him again while he was still alive. Several years later, I learnt that he was living in Davao City with a new family.

Gil Nino in a Cebu City slum, Philippines

Gil Nino in a Cebu City slum, Philippines

Twenty years after I had lost track of him, I went to meet with him. We were in tears; I hugged him very tightly… I only have one father in this world! Whenever I went to church, I had always hoped for a united family. And when the priest would say “Peace be with you”, while the children hugged their parents, I would feel so lonely that I would become jealous. I asked God why this had happened to me. At that time, I only felt comforted when I was with Share A Child.

The microfinance programme developed from 1999 to 2005 and for my part, I became further involved in the Share A Child organisation through sponsorship programmes as well as by taking on the responsibility for nurseries in the slums of Kinasang and Alaska.

In 2005, for financial reasons, I asked Ms Nina for permission to re-join my professional field. Therefore, I was working at the Cebu City Institute of Medicine where I was the head of the audio-visual school whilst also a technician.

Despite a new pace of career, I often visited Share A Child. Ms Nina always invited me to work and participate in activities, but back then I was waiting for divine intervention to enlighten me as to the reason for my existence … I was starting to get bored in my work and I ended up negotiating my leave and resigning.


In 2013, a staff member from Share A Child texted me, inquiring about my blood type. Anxiously, I asked if someone was in need of blood. I learnt that Ms Nina was in the terminal stage of cancer and that only a miracle could save her.

Gil Nino in the Cebu City slums of the Philippines

Children of the Mekong supports the slums’ nurseries facilitated by Share A Child.

I visited her in the hospital. We recalled many memories, such as the summer camp, the outings, the shared moments… Then all of a sudden, she shook my hand very strongly and told me to continue to work for Share A Child. I was shocked and in tears.

Some weeks after her death, her family called me to ask me to be a part of the Share A Child team. I didn’t hesitate. By working with the association, I realised the need for further study, and I, therefore, enrolled at USPF for my Masters. At 40 years of age!

Gil Nino in the Cebu City slums of the Philippines

Gil Nino in the Cebu City slums of the Philippines

Working with disadvantaged children is something different. I have found the path that leads me to happiness … Working with the poorest of the poor is very difficult. Share A Child’s vision, mission, and purpose serve as a light to me on this journey. Along the way, I encountered difficulties, to the point of asking myself if I was making a difference in their lives, if I was doing the right thing, and even if I should just give up.

When I put it into perspective, realise how much I have received, remember the successes of our sponsored children, and read their letters, it gives me the energy to continue serving. I’m fortunate, it’s like the organisation takes care of me.

We are like a big family, with the sponsored kids as the children. Every time our children graduate, it brings us joy and happiness and gives meaning to what we do.

Thank you, Children of the Mekong, for your support and your love of the Filipino children”.

Children of the Mekong works in partnership with the Share A Child foundation (SAC) founded in 2003 by Ms Nina ESPERANZA in the Philippines. The organisation manages school sponsorships in the Alaskan slum and in the mountains of Tap Tap, 2 nurseries in the heart of the slums of Kinasang-an and Mambaling, and various micro-firm projects employing the families of the beneficiaries. In addition to this joint effort in the Philippines, Children of the Mekong and Share A Child share strong educational and humane values.