Her father left her family. Her baby sister was born prematurely and died. She lived in a makeshift house under a tree in the worst possible place for a child at that time—Ermita, the red-light district of Manila. Her mother eked out a living selling fruits that barely helped to feed her and her brother, and she was sexually abused by a foreign pedophile. Yet, despite the challenges in her childhood, this beautiful person looked to her inner strengths, rose from the ashes and transformed her life for the better.
A former client under Stairway Foundation, Susan now works in SFI as computer teacher/administrator, child rights advocate and a performer in Stairway’s long running theatre piece, Cracked Mirrors, Stories of Child Sexual Abuse.
Recently, Susan was asked to return to her former NGO, Kaibigan, to give a motivational talk to a group of student scholars. Read her story below.
Things do not always happen the way we would have wanted it to be. I have witnessed many storms in my life. Most of them have taken me by surprise, but I’ve had to learn and to understand that I cannot control those storms.
When I was a child, my family and I lived at the back of the Bank of Philippine Islands building in Ermita because my father worked there as a security guard. When he lost his job, though, he left us and we were forced to leave the BPI yard. We built a makeshift house on the side of Ermita Building under the Arimas tree and my mother started selling fruits to feed me and my younger brother.
Even after our house under the tree had been demolished, we still stayed there because there was nowhere else to go and my mother did not have enough money to rent a room for us, let alone a house. Her income in selling fruits was just enough to feed me and my brother. I was 6 yrs. old when I was admitted as a client of Kaibigan, and I was 7 when I was abused by someone. My mother did not know but at that time, she brought me to live in Kaibigan which just opened a center in J. Bocobo. Since then, I grew up in Kaibigan until I graduated from high school.
When I graduated from high school, I was not able to control my emotions and decisions in life. I had children at an early age. I had lost the best opportunities I could ever have had. I thought life would be better because I had someone on my side, but it was never that easy. Unexpected conflicts had arisen, and wounds had been inflicted but the scars remain. These scars have given me the inspiration to keep walking straight ahead.
I moved to Stairway Foundation with my own family. My family had lived in Stairway for 6 years. While in Stairway, I had the chance to develop my talent, and to understand that life is not about knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what is going to happen next. They had taught me about hard work, responsibility, respecting other people, appreciating what you are as a person, loving other people. They had taught me about acceptance and forgiving.
I had a hard time reaching for my dream, but with the two young sweet boys God has given, my Kaibigan and Stairway Foundation Family, Michel Latendresse, who had considered me as his own child, I was able to pull through. They have inspired me to get my diploma in College. Having my diploma does not end there; it is just the steps along the path to continue dreaming for a better life. With these storms, I realized that there was never a perfect ending.
I am now an active artist working in Stairway Foundation as an Advocate for Children’s Rights and as a Computer Administrator/ Teacher to the kids. Due to my work in Stairway, I have travelled to Europe and within Asia, and have been exposed to other cultures. I am enjoying my work very much as I continue to develop my skills.
I thank those people who had raised me to become a responsible person, to value hard work, to have patient in everything I do, to be God-fearing and to be contented with what I have. I thank them for seeing the best in me. I thank them for opening my heart in caring and understanding other people most especially the underprivileged children. Without them, I am not the person I am today.
Contributed by Susan Serafico-Gutierrez, Child Rights Advocate, SFI