Imagine yourself boarding a light boat from the port of Bohol…
The sea is rough, the rain is pouring, and the noise of the engines is loud. An hour later, we finally land on a tiny island full of metal houses… Welcome to Guindacpan!
The children do not have school. They play barefoot in the flooded alleys. There are no tourists here. Time stands still… We are invited to lunch at Agnies’, a primary school teacher and former sponsored child of Children of the Mekong. Her house is big, clean, bright and the fish is delicious! Agnies has four children, who look at us curiously. Happy and fulfilled, she shares her story of a brief opportunity she grabbed, and of a boldness that changed her life.
Interview by Victoire Bureau
Agnies: “My mum left us when I was 5 years old, and it was my grandparents who sent me to school. My grandfather and grandmother loved me very much and took care of my brothers and sisters and me.”
Like many children in the Philippines, Agnies was abandoned by her mother at the age of five. Her grandparents love her dearly, but the little girl knows that this love will not be enough for her to fulfill her dreams.
“My grandparents were very poor and did not have enough money to pay for my schooling. On the island of GuindacPan, there is only one kindergarten. Then you have to go to the mainland. Uniforms, school materials, transport, accommodation, and meals… everything is too expensive. When I was in kindergarten, my grandmother sent me to the neighbouring island of Calituban. At the age of 11, in order to pay for school, I became a working student: I was a maid for a family who gave me board and lodging in return. After school, I cleaned the house. Then I went to Middle school in Bohol, on the mainland, and graduated. All the while, I was doing odd jobs to finance my schooling.
Agnes wants to continue her studies with all her heart, but when her middle school days are over, she knows she will not be able to study. She goes to Cebu City to work.
“I went to Cebu City to work. I made banana chips and other things and sold them on the street to earn money. One day, I heard about a nun, Sister Helen, (a former local programme manager of Children of the Mekong, with whom we worked for 20 years) who recruited young people from poor families in Guindacpan to sponsor them.
The young girl took the opportunity to resign. She returns to Guindacpan, her native island, and takes her diploma with her, carefully slipped into an envelope. She wants to apply as a Children of the Mekong scholar.
“But when I arrived in Guindacpan, the sisters had already left. My chance was gone. So I decided to apply for a job as a saleswoman in an Alturas supermarket in Bohol. My grandmother went with me. After my interview, we went back to the port to return to Guindacpan… I couldn’t believe my eyes. Sister Helen was at the port, sharing a meal with the sponsored children of COTM. I turned to my grandmother and said, “Grandma, I want to study, maybe Sister Helen will listen to me…”.
The emotion is palpable and Agnes’ eyes are misty as she recalls her joy that day.
I ran to Sister Helen. She listened carefully and asked me if I had my diplomas. I had just come back from my interview, and I had them in my envelope, pressed tightly to my heart. Sister Helen made a call, then smiled at me and said, “OK, let’s go to university! You can study! I was very, very happy. I studied hard to achieve my dreams. I am really grateful because without this programme I would not be a teacher today. It was a sister of Sister Helen who sponsored me, “Ma’am Mathilde”, and we are still in touch! I received many letters when I was sponsored. I asked her to visit me here in GuindacPan to see my grandmother, who was very old and sick. She could not come, but her daughter Ingrid came all the way to Guindacpan to meet us.
“When I was 11, I became a working student to pay for school. After school, I cleaned the house.”
Today, Agnes is a happy wife, mother and teacher. She assists Ana Maria, our sponsorship manager. Her grandparents are no longer alive, but she concludes this beautiful testimony: “I wish my grandmother could see what I have become. She would be proud.”