Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Grace

by Lilibeth Sabado


It took me a while to understand what she was saying.  Then finally I understood, she was saying “My name is Grace”.  “What a lovely name” I said, then she smiled.  Grace was 16 years old.

I spent 10 days in an orphanage north of my previous country of assignment.  While I was there, I joined the staff in caring for the residents in the center.  There were around 150 residents with different levels of need and attention. Some are able to perform activities of daily living; others are capable to do some simple tasks, while some remain in a vegetative state. They have varying levels of special care but all of them have the same story. They were left abandoned outside of the church gate because of their deformity, because they weren’t perfect. Grace is one of them.

While I was there, I helped in the morning care. After lunch break I joined another unit to help them in their work of arts and crafts.  Then later in the afternoon, I joined another group for their English class, taught them how to sing and dance. What I mean by dance here involves simple actions of raising their hands and shaking their heads. Singing would mean simple la la la.   After supper, we all gather at the chapel for prayer, and then they start to mumble, they recite their prayers. I find it hard to understand what they were praying but I said it is for God to understand.

Hospicio de San José is a Roman Catholic welfare institution in the City of Manila, the Philippines. It is the first social welfare agency in the country, and as a foster care institution has been a home for orphans, the abandoned, special needs, and the elderly. Wikipedia
On my second day, I was asked if I could privately tutor Grace to prepare her for her English Proficiency Test.  I said yes. Grace arrived that evening. I learned that Grace used to be a resident in the orphanage.  A Christian elderly couple with an unmarried son adopted her when she was 6 years old. It has been their tradition that every summer, her adoptive family would take her to the orphanage for few days to mingle with the residents.  The unmarried son who she refers to as uncle continued the summer tradition to the orphanage. Grace considers the orphanage her first home, therefore the 150 plus residents are her siblings!

I met with Grace an hour and a half in the morning, then two hours in the evening.  At first she showed me her English reviewer. Aside from the written exams, Grace had to tackle an oral exam. I was a bit unsure how to go along with the class. I can speak English but being able to speak the language is different from knowing how to teach. Teaching isn’t my profession, but nonetheless I took the challenge because I was the only one who could assist Grace in her need at that moment.

There were 50 questions and some of it was sensitive family questions such as ‘How do you show love to your parents?’ What is your most memorable birthday celebration?  When is your mother’s birthday? What is your favorite childhood memory?  When we started working on the questions, I noticed her silence.  I waited then noticed she shook her head then took a deep breath, with her already struggling speech she said: How can I answer all of that, I do not have a mother! I do not know my mother. There were no words but tears streaming down her face.

This experience gave me deeper appreciation of the childhood memories that define who I am as a person.  Many of us will find those questions easy to answer.   I pray that we continue to be a saving grace to those in need.

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