This month we are featuring a ten-year-old lovely girl who despite growing up in hardship because of poverty has remained delightful, intelligent, loving and pure-hearted. Francine’s story is about a great sense of responsibility, hard work, and unwavering hope for a better future.
When I came to visit the family of Jowel and Adelaida de Guzman in San Mateo Rizal east of Metro Manila, the beauty of the surrounding area and its progress impressed me. I noticed the big houses with manicured lawns and garage full of cars; the place was bustling with activity.
But as I went further down the road towards the riverbank, a different sight confronted me – one of extreme poverty. I came to a housing community of shanties under the San Mateo Bridge. Most houses were made out of salvaged materials, some with only tarpaulins covering the residents from the pouring rain or the scorching heat of the sun. The de Guzman family of seven dwell in a structure measuring 2 meters by 3 meters only, perched at the edge of the riverbank under the bridge. Theirs is a precarious location and vulnerable to typhoons like what happened during the onslaught of typhoon Ondoy.
Jowel and Adelaida’s daughter Francine was still in kindergarten when Ondoy hit Metro Manila in September 2009. The typhoon washed away their house and all their personal belongings. The family escaped getting carried away by the raging water of the river by climbing up the roof of a taller house near their location. The typhoon left the riverbank in utter devastation confronting many family dwellers with the uncertainty of the future. Francine even at her early age recognized this. “What will happen to us?” she asked her mother Adelaida who failed to utter any response.
Through donations, the family was able to rebuild slowly their house and for a while they thrived on relief goods. Despite her horrible experience Francine did not lose hope for a better life. She strove hard to do well in school, convinced that it will lead her and her family to a better future. Francine got 3 awards in kindergarten, and she was Top 3 while in Grades 1 and 2. She became a scholar of ANCOP Canada when she got to Grade 3. She remains Top 5 of her class.
I asked Francine where she would play during her free time because this could not be possible inside their house due to the cramped space. “ I do not go outside the house,” she whispered to me. “ I take care of my little siblings while my mother does her chores,” she added. When I heard this, I wasn’t sure whether to pity the child or to feel happy because of her positive disposition. A normal child of her age would seek to be with her playmates and even though she was deprived of this, Francine did not sound complaining at all.
I spoke to Adelaida about what Francine told me. “What she said is true!” she said. “They are 5 siblings and she is the only responsible child in the family,” Adelaida added while on the verge of tears.
Francine and I talked about school and her ambition when she grows old. “I want to be a flight attendant!” she shared. “I want to provide a good environment for my family, away from the fears of drowning during big floods and typhoons,” she added.
While talking to Francine, I recalled that sometime in the past I brought some scholars and their parents to a nearby market to buy a uniform, shoes, and school supplies. One of the mothers shared that her daughter’s old uniform was given away to a girl named Francine whose family could not provide for her uniform as well as her other school needs.
When I asked Francine about that story, she confirmed receiving the uniform and some school materials. “Our family could not afford a uniform for me,” she told me. “When I do get some money I save this so I could help buy milk for my siblings,” she added. Hearing this, I just continued to be amazed by this wonderful girl in front of me.
When asked how she feels being an ANCOP scholar, Francine said that she is very thankful for ANCOP Canada’s support and for everything she receives through the program. “I now have shoes, uniform, school supplies, and regular allowance for snacks!” she said with enthusiasm. For Francine, it is about her dream slowly becoming a reality. She is now a member of CFC Kids for Christ ministry. As she detailed to me the various activities she joined, she exuded joy and positivism in her participation.
My visit with Francine was quite a moving experience. It was a remarkable encounter with a special young person who has a natural grace, purity of heart, and a great sense of responsibility. She spoke her mind with innocence, courtesy, and simplicity. I have seen through a window of a beautiful soul.
By Ed Naco, PIT-ANCOP Global
Editor’s Note: This article has been edited from its previous version.