By Ernesto Cullari
Unemployment is high. It’s almost impossible to get a loan from a bank. The real estate market is great if you’re a buyer with cash, but who has cash these days? When things are this tough it makes you feel blessed to have a family and loved ones around.
But what if things in America never turned around? What if that layoff turned into permanent unemployment? What if unemployment left you and everyone you know totally destitute? What would you do to keep your family together? What if the only thing you could do as a mother, father or older sibling to save your family was to break it apart?
As I write this column there is a father and mother named Antonio and Anita, living in Cebu (the Philippines) desperately trying to do what is unthinkable for any parent. They are trying to give their 13-year-old son Jessie to my mother, who operates an orphanage out of her rented home, for adoption. It is especially painful for this family because, Antonio, the father of six, at one time did have a good job. Unlike many of Cebu’s poor he did know success, but he has been out of work so long now that he’s had to adopt out two of his children just to guarantee their safety. The son Antonio and Anita must now give up for adoption is already enrolled in grade school, but the rising cost of sending ones child to school can be so expensive that many families can’t afford to both send their child to school and then feed them too. For the poor, to live as a family is a luxury too expensive for most.
This week my mother Dalisay and my step dad Matt will likely have 20 children living in their orphanage. They are both feeding them and sending them to school, with money mostly from their own pocket, as well money from a few consistent donors. While legal, their facility is nothing more than a rented home in a residential neighborhood that they share with these kids.
Each child is a unique and special survivor. One kid named Caleb is a true orphan. He has no idea who his mother and father are. As an infant someone left him on the front steps of a child welfare service office. The pastor of a local church took him in for years, but now that their own son is entering high school they can no longer afford to keep him and at the same time send their own child to school. Along with poverty come tough choices.
Being a parent must be challenging. Now imagine having 20 children that you must put through school, help with homework, clothe, feed and take to a doctor and dentist. This month Dalisay has purchased (on average) 16 notebooks per child. Then there is the art paper, drawing books, music books, brooms, foot mops, pencils, erasers, plastic covers, uniforms, shoes and the list goes on. They have spent every penny they have. In fact they are so committed to these children that they spend money to the detriment of their own bills and their own personal needs. Their diet, my mother’s diet now consists of rice, vegetables and canned sardines.
But how can she say no to these little ones? How could they put their needs first when the need to help these kids is so abundant? How could you say no to them? Recently my mother sent some of the girls back to their shantytown to retrieve their birth certificates so that they can be enrolled in school. Whenever the girls need something from home they make them change back into their rags, because the clothing is literally destroyed by the black muck that is everywhere there. The last time some of the girls went back they brought 13-year-old Analiza back to the orphanage with them. There are children rescuing children from hunger, from violence and from destitution. What will you do?
Like America, the Philippine Islands are a land of beautiful tradition and heritage. It is an independently minded proud country. Many nations have tried to conquer the Filipinos, but all foreign adversaries have failed. The Conquistador Magellan learned that armor; an iron sword and a bronze shield were no match for a bare chested Filipino and a rattan stick. Lapu Lapu killed Magellan on the hot sands of the Philippine island of Mactan, which is a short boat ride from my mother’s new home –the island of Cebu. During WWII the Japanese tried to conquer the Philippines as well, but fierce guerilla fighters like my grandfather Patrocinio greeted them with blades and rifles in hand. Where the Spaniards and Imperial Japan have failed poverty has succeeded, however.
On Tuesday June 29th at 7pm, Synaxis Restaurant on Cookman Ave, Asbury Park will be hosting a fundraiser for these children and my mother who have decided to conquer poverty on their own. Join us. Live entertainment by the teen band Sibling Rivalry will be provided as well as finger food. There will be a cash bar and a donation of $50 a person will be collected at the door. For more info go to www.streetkidspm.com