In an impoverished neighborhood in the Bicol region of the Philippines, a small shack stands next to a rice field.
“Welcome to our home,” says Catherine, mother to 3-year-old Clowie Mae, as she guides me and a Children International volunteer into a ramshackle structure situated on muddy grounds.
As we make our way into the house, the smell of burnt wood wafts from the makeshift stove outside. A free-roaming chicken clucks at us as it passes by.
The structure is fitted with wooden bamboo slats for walls; the roof is made of rusting, galvanized metal sheets, worn-out tarpaulin and dried coconut leaves. Salvaged metal sheets and tarps cover the family’s makeshift latrine.
Standing outside, you’d never know it used to be a pigsty. Now, it is home to a family of four.
“This is all we have,” Catherine says. “Life has been hard.”
The 22-year-old mother relies solely on her husband’s wage as a helper in a local hardware store. The family survives on P1,500 — roughly US$29 — a month.
Making ends meet is nearly impossible.
For food, the family scavenges and often must buy items on credit from the local store. “We repay when whatever little money my husband earns is available,” Catherine says.
Living so precariously might seem worrisome enough. But their biggest concern is Clowie’s health: Clowie and her younger brother are growing up sickly.
The little girl has had frequent bouts of diarrhea and vomiting. Her legs are blanketed with insect bites and slow-healing wounds.
But without a drop of money for healthy food and medicines, they don’t have much of a choice.
That was little Clowie’s life — some three years ago. Her story as a nonsponsored child was my first assignment with CI in 2014.
Now 6 years old, she’s been enrolled in the CI sponsorship program.
The girl I see now is far from the person I met when we visited years ago.
No longer is she covered in insect bites and wounds that once festered her feet. The grumpy, malnourished temperament is gone. Instead, I see a cheerful girl at the peak of health who came out from her own room — in the family’s new home — to meet me.
Clowie’s connection with Children International has afforded her family the kind of life that would have been impossible just a few years ago.
She participates in NutriServe, CI Bicol’s food supplementation and nutrition education program. Through this, she has access to nutritious food that will help her grow stronger and reach proper height and weight ratio.
Often, children with limited or no access to health services face a bleak future. Expensive health issues can quickly plunge families further into poverty. But health is one of CI’s focus areas that helps children create a better future for themselves.
Before, her family didn’t have access to medicines, but she now receives the same medical services offered by CI to its 26,000 sponsored children in the Bicol region of the Philippines. And, she visits the dentist at the CI community center for dental screening and treatment.
Prior to sponsorship, Clowie’s family lived for 10 years in their converted pigsty home.
Living in it is one thing Clowie’s father, William, knows all too well.
“It was hard and full of uncertainties,” he recalls.
Three typhoons knocked down their house while they lived there. Every time, the family had no choice but to rebuild it out of loans, deducted from William’s already-meager wage from the hardware store where he works. With very little money, the family was stuck in a cycle of poverty.
The environment they were in was unsuitable in many respects.
“It was not a good place to raise my kids,” he says.
Thanks to a generous donor, however, the family has been relocated to a place all their own, also in the Bicol region.
Today, they live in a modest concrete house with two bedrooms. This donor also provided William a padyak, a bicycle fitted with a sidecar, which is a popular local mode of public transport. He drives it at night after finishing his shift at the hardware store. For a night’s toil, he earns an additional P200 (roughly US$4) for the family.
Clowie’s mother also has now found a job as a caregiver to a nearby local family. “Unlike before,” Catherine says, “at least we can now buy [the kids] some toys to play with.”
William is thankful for all the support and positive transformation that CI has made possible for the family.
“My kids can now play safely around the house,” he says, graciously. “No longer do we have to sleep on the floor, and I don’t have to worry about being evicted.”
As a girl attending daycare, Clowie is a tiny bit too young to articulate her thoughts well. But there’s one sentiment she didn’t fail to express:
“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse so that I can help little kids like me.”