My story began in 1992 at the age of 2 when my mother, a Filipino native from the province of Leyte, became the very first donator of children’s home Bahay Aurora in the Philippines. The children’s home is an initiative by my parents’ dear friends Herke (from Leeuwarden) and his wife Arlene (from Baras, Rizal, Philippines), who wanted to help street children and orphans in the Philippines after getting inspired by the dreams of Arlene’s mother ‘Inang’ Aurora Ramos Santiago.
I was raised in the Netherlands in a family of four with one older brother and we visited the Philippines not that much. It was quite expensive at the time but somehow we managed it to find our way to our Manila-based family even now and then. My mother’s generation of brothers and sisters were the first one to finish their college and university degree which made it possible for me and my cousins to grow up with education as well. As a little kid I was fascinated by my cousins who were constantly working their way up in school to change their lives for good. Without any education in the Philippines you have to come from really, really far to have a normal life. I remember my elder cousin Emmylou crying in the car as we dropped her off at high school in 1995. She was so stressed about her school results and she asked my father to help her, because she didn’t want to end up without any money in the Philippines.
In July 2005, I was 15 years old at the time, we organized a big family holiday to the island of Boracay. With 20 family members and friends we traveled on a 12 hour boat trip to Boracay. The island was not yet overwhelmed by tourists from all over the world and everyday we had the beach for ourselves. What was supposed to be a memorable happy holiday turned out to become a life changing family trauma.
On an early sunny morning me and my 3 cousins Mikko, Emmylou and Warren decided to have a 7 A.M. wake up swim in the crystal blue water at White Beach. The rest of the family was in our apartment preparing breakfast. We jumped off a boat, around 20 meters from the coast. With low tide at the time, you could see the whitest sand trough the water at a depth of 1,5 meters. As we were jumping from the boat and waited in the water for the rest to join, my cousin Warren didn’t jump. He dove straight in to the water. Slowly he floated up to the surface with his back turned to my eyes and the upcoming hot sun in the sky. I started joking that it was not funny to scare your cousins like this. From joking around I started screaming and turned him towards me. He didn’t move. As my cousins Mikko and Emmylou started to panic, a family friend who was a Manila policeman, kind of ‘ran’ 20 meters in to the water and pulled Warren out of my hands. I was clearly in shock and couldn’t move an inch. I still don’t know how I got back to the beach but I remember a 40 year old American man ran across the beach to give my cousin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It was too late. My dear cousin died in my arms on that peaceful Boracay morning. That same day my cousin Warren and his parents were transported by plane back to Manila, as the rest of the family followed one day later on again a 12 hour boat trip. It changed our lives for good and we had to recover from this tragedy as a family.
Two days after the funeral my parents took me and my brother to their friends Herke and Arlene who were managing the Bahay Aurora children’s home just 2 hours outside Manila. I was clearly traumatized and I had trouble understanding what was going on in the children’s home. I tried to talk to the kids but I couldn’t. I ended up hanging out with my brother and their daughter Angelique, watching movies in their house on the compound. Herke and Arlene showed their respect by telling us how sorry they are for our loss. Somehow it was comforting and I started to relax. I really appreciated the warm welcome from the staff and the kids and we stayed for one night and two days.
When returning to the Netherlands I moved on with my life. The second year of high school was about to start. I didn’t quite talk about the accident. One year later I met my girlfriend Hansje and after high school, just before I graduated in Applied Psychology in Leiden, I wanted to go back to Bahay Aurora. I had so many mixed memories about this place, but somehow I wanted to be there for the children. I wanted to do something with everything I learned and I was sure Bahay Aurora was the perfect place to give back to the country that has inspired me in so many different ways.
I remember walking in to Bahay Aurora in the year of 2012 as an intern and the first conversation I had with the kids was with a 9 year old little girl, her name is Merly. She showed me that she could talk a little bit Dutch and that she is really good in sports. She was in Bahay Aurora for already 1 year together with her 2 elder sisters. That same night we had diner and another girl, who still lives in Bahay Aurora, just missed out on the last piece of rice. To my surprise all the other kids voluntarily came up to her to give a piece of their plate. Can you imagine this when you realize these kids grew up on a garbage belt in the slumps of Manila, without any food for days? From this moment I knew this was a magical place and after my time as an intern, I returned to Bahay Aurora every year, sometimes even twice. The staff became really close friends and I started praying for the future of the kids. It feels like I grew up with most of the kids for the time they were admitted in the children’s home. They taught me everything about life and that love will get you through the day. As long as you are passionated about the future, you can make it.
Around christmas 2016, Herke and Arlene who were still very close friends of my parents, visited us in our home in the Netherlands. With Herke I talked about the future of Bahay Aurora and how ‘we’ can make sure that in the upcoming years Bahay Aura will continue saving lives. How we can provide them with education, food, shelter and more importantly: a family. We have to make sure that our Bahay Aurora children will give their very own children the chance to go to school as well. With education they can change the world. They will raise better families and they will always fight against poverty in an acceptable way. With education they can help people who are in need, even when they don’t want anything in return.
In 2017 I entered the Bahay Aurora board as a volunteer, which is based in the Netherlands. I felt so inspired and motivated to help the board to make a difference for the kids. Since 2012 I followed the kids growing up from street children to mature passionated students. Like Eric and Rodel, who were found in a box on a Manila garbage belt and now are college graduates and still very close friends of mine. Or family should I say.
Right now I’m sitting in a plane and every year I’m flying back to the Philippines. It breaks my heart knowing that I have to leave again after 7 days. I am blessed for everything I have in life and I will continue doing everything I can for the kids of Bahay Aurora. Not alone, but together with everyone from the Bahay Aurora family: the staff, the kids, the volunteers, but also with my friends, sponsors and my very own family in the Netherlands. Thank you to everyone who is involved with the mission of Bahay Aurora. It really changed my life, forever.
Let all things be done in love,