By Jullie Y. Daza
Photos by Noel Pabalate
The visitor stepped out of his helicopter. A 38-year-old British businessman better known as a philanthropist, he had arrived to meet his sort-of adopted children. He had just built 100 houses for victims of typhoon Yolanda in Iloilo and now here he was in Quezon City telling the children of the House of Refuge (HR) gathered to welcome him back: “Very soon you will all have a brand-new clinic!”
An American couple fell so much in love with their adopted child from the Philippines that they could not wait to adopt two more, also from the House of Refuge.
In Germany, a childless couple who owns a vineyard found their best harvest in a Filipino boy whom they had no hand in choosing except by complying with the rules of foreign adoption set by The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and the standards of service and facilities that rule the House of Refuge.
Technically, the House is a home for abandoned children ages four to 16. Not quite an orphanage (no babies here), it’s a center where boys and girls stay together, learn and work together until they’re ready to face the world on their second chance at life. Traumatized by their histories, here they leave their painful past behind, here they belong, here they matter. They are guided, loved, and cared for in all ways, physically, nutritionally, educationally, psychologically, and spiritually, prepared to stand on the threshold of a new life, a new world in another country. This finishing school for streetchildren, as I like to call it, thrives on the kindness of strangers.
The House of Refuge was founded in September 1986, but its adoption program was initiated late in 2002. Since then, it has found adoptive families for 25 of its former residents in the US, Italy, Germany, Spain, among others. Last year, when directress Glady Bunao was in Wisconsin, eight of her former wards who are now in the US got together for a grand reunion with Mama Glady. “They’re all grown-up and successful!” she declared with pride. One of the older boys drove them around in his pick-up. “He’s an engineer!” Wisconsin and Michigan seem to have a concentration of HR kids because of word-of-mouth endorsements and the HR Foundation’s US network.
Leaving their traumatic histories behind, they go on to find a new life in a new world abroad.
But if HR has “graduated” 1,000 kids in the last 32 years, where have the rest gone? Not to worry, assured Glady: “After they reach their 16th year and, if they have not been adopted, they are ready for what we call independent living. We look for sponsors who support them until they have found a job, housing, and can support themselves.” One of these independents works as a delivery boy for Jollibee, which means he delivers snacks to HR whenever he’s in the area.
HR’s success is crowned with a Level 3 category and a “Best Non-Government Organization” granted in the same year, 2018, by the Department of Social Welfare. With the “Best NGO” award, House of Refuge joins the ranks of only four other homes—for babies, the elderly, orphans, and abused children—recognized over the years. As rare as this award may be, it’s the Level 3 accreditation that is harder to achieve and maintain.
Over the years, the economic problems of the world have been felt by Glady, her staff of social workers and houseparents. As experienced by every Filipino family, costs have been escalating—last year, bringing up a child at HR amounted to R65,000 annually—even as donor fatigue here and abroad has put a crimp on cash donations and sponsorships. “We have enough food here,” Glady pointed to her well-stocked pantry, “what we need is cash for operating and maintenance expenses.” Plans to build a new home have been put on hold as available funds are directed toward giving the children a nice, pleasant place of their own. They wash their own laundry, make their beds, clean the kitchen and toilets and bathrooms (six in all), sometimes they even volunteer for kitchen patrol with Ate Lisa, the cook. They’re allowed to watch TV on weekends. Once in a while, the children are entertained by special people like the pilot who talked to them about the joys of flying. More often, they are visited by teachers in English, Spanish, and other foreign languages who come to tutor the housemates for the day when they will leave to join their adoptive parents abroad. (Such a day seldom comes without tears, according to Shalom Ngoho, senior social worker.) Aside from going to school, the kids are encouraged to enroll in art, singing, dancing, martial arts lessons. Several of them have joined national and international athletic competitions, including wushu, rugby, stick fighting (in Mexico).
“Our goal is to develop their personalities, aside from giving each of them a family through adoption,” said directress Glady, who has been with the House for 16 years and has children of her own. “If they can be reunited with their families, why not, but only if we can be sure that the parents are financially capable, and that no abuse or abandonment will happen again.” Such cases are rare, though.
As this magazine goes to press, the House of Refuge is waiting to receive five children from Caloocan, Valenzuela, and Malabon, all of them referred by DSWD. Who knows, one of them will someday be a pilot or the subject of a touching thank-you letter from a couple in Michigan singing their adopted child praises for his or her warm and wonderful personality.
House of Refuge Foundation Inc. is at 24 Pariñas St., Road 20, Bgy Bahay Toro, Project 8, Quezon City. For inquiries, firstname.lastname@example.org, (02) 351 8628 or (+639) 06 488 4776.