A promise of smiles and laughter #28StoriesofGiving

Michael Rebuyas - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The scene takes place on Jorge Bocobo Street in Malate, Manila, a place where children beg strangers for spare change and play on the sidewalk, not minding the dirt and grime beneath their bare feet and the dark smoke swirling through the air into their lungs.

Here, pedestrians share the cramped pathways and walkways with ambulant vendors looking to make quick sales and beggars scrounging for scraps.

Here, Brecy Magayon makes her home.

A frail-looking woman of 44, Brecy lives on the streets of Malate just beside a bank with her brood – her husband, their three children and one granddaughter.

She makes a living by selling whatever she can, be it candies or whatever else she could procure. Her husband Eddie plies the streets on a pedicab, which doubles as the family’s shelter and cupboard come nighttime.

It’s a hard life, Brecy admits, noting the sacrifices that they have to make to eke out a living and to keep the family together.

Compounding their situation is her granddaughter, Ellen.

Now one-and-a-half years old, Ellen is a delicate child. Born with a facial cleft extending from her upper lip to her left eye, she may well be described as a product of tragedy.

“My eldest daughter was raped when she was 12,” Brecy relates the incident that happened one fine day in their hometown in Romblon when her daughter didn’t come home from school with her siblings, only to be discovered the next day, her naked, almost lifeless body tied to a tree.

After the abuse, Brecy says her daughter exhibited behavioral changes, refusing to acknowledge Ellen as her child.

“She would just stare at her and think of the child as the cause of her misfortunes,” Brecy says. The incident forced them to relocate to the streets of Manila in hopes of moving on from a bitter past.

With no one else to help raise her grandchild, Brecy took it upon herself to appeal to various charities and social services for assistance in carrying out costly major surgeries needed to address Ellen’s condition.

Sometimes, she says, all she could do is just cry in frustration, especially when she sees her grandchild being ridiculed by others because of her appearance.

“People would laugh at her, some would call her a monster,” Brecy tearfully admits.

Kanlungan Sa Er-Ma Ministry, a non-profit organization focused on providing holistic care and rehabilitation to victims of abuse and neglect, among others, has been working with Brecy to garner aid for Ellen for the past two months. Volunteers say that immediate help is needed for the child, especially since her congenital defect coupled with her living conditions make her more susceptible to infections compared to other children her age.

It’s not just Ellen who needs help, Frederico Cabredo, a social worker for Kanlungan, hastens to add.

“What we want to do is to take the mother in for rehabilitation,” he says, noting that intervention and rehabilitation is in order for her to overcome her trauma.

With a brood of five living off the streets, a strained relationship with a daughter whose life has been marred by sexual abuse and a grandchild whose future is largely uncertain, there are times when it can all get too overwhelming for Brecy.

Still, she reminds herself of moments when her family experiences joy, albeit fleeting.

A shrill laugh then pierces the air.

Ellen, despite her unfortunate condition, is a jolly child, though a shy one. In between spooned morsels of food, she smiles and laughs – the sound nothing short of infectious. It is music to a grandmother’s ears.

Brecy is grateful that doctors at the nearby Manila Doctors Hospital as well as social workers have been solicitous and supportive.

In fact, Brecy says, this is what keeps her hopes alive: the promise of finally being able to see a smile on the face of her beloved apo and her laughter filling the air.

(Editor’s Note: The Philippine STAR’s #28StoriesOfGiving is a campaign that turns the spotlight on 28 inspiring stories of people and organizations who devote their lives to helping themselves or others. Everyone is encouraged to post or tweet a message of support with the hashtag, #28StoriesOfGiving. For every post, P5.00 will be added to The STAR’s existing ‘give back’ anniversary fund. For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email [email protected] follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine STAR’s page on Facebook.)


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