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By Father Gary Walker
The author, an Australian, is editor of The Far East, the magazine of the Columbans in Australia and New Zealand. He has worked in Fiji and Belize and also served six years as a member of the Columban General Council.
Holy Family Home is a cross between a boarding school and a refuge. It is a safe haven of brightly colored walls, plants and peacefulness on the outskirts of Bacolod, a city on the sugar-rich island of Negros in the Philippines. The 40 or so girls who live there and the 15 or so college students who live in a house near the city center are from poor families who cannot afford to educate their daughters or from families in which the girls could be at risk if they were living at home.
Columban Father Seán Coyle, the editor of Misyon, was my guide to this small but significant home when I visited him last May. May is also holiday time for schools in the Philippines.
Sr Alma Alovera TC is the director of Holy Family Home. She was on retreat the day we arrived and the girls were washing clothes. Most of the girls who live there were absent with their families because it was school holidays. However, Sister Alma came off retreat to talk with us. She is a young Capuchin Tertiary Sister of the Holy Family, one of a community of seven who run the home, from Titay, Zamboanga Sibugay, where the Sisters run Friendship Home San Francisco for girls from poor families in rural areas so that they will have the chance to go to high school. A young Chinese woman, Jin Ping, was staying with them with a view to joining their Congregation. She is now one of seven aspirants.
‘The girls go to local schools during the school year, they walk to school with the children from this local area; some of the older ones take the jeepney to Bacolod,’ said Sister Alma. ‘They have their school routine and their holiday routine. The aim of the Home is to provide a place of security and safety and to assist the girls in getting a good education.’ With obvious pride she mentioned that some of the girls had finished high school and were going to college.
The question hovers in the air about the cost of running the Home and financing the girls’ education. Sister Alma explained with a disarming smile, ‘Holy Family Home has some benefactors and Providence helps us educate the girls.’ The girls live in pleasant dormitories, each bed having at least a teddy bear or other soft animal-toys. Sister Alma said, ‘Every girl who comes to stay here receives a teddy bear on arrival.’
Father Seán Coyle supports the Home by celebrating the Eucharist, hearing the girls; confessions and visiting throughout the year.
Like any home the girls have work and play built into their daily and weekend routine. Holy Family Home has skilled people who spend time with the girls and help them to express their feelings and provide emotional support for them. Sister Alma wants it to be as much like home as possible. The girls are encouraged to look out for one another, especially the older girls for the younger girls.
There are many successful people who received little education yet succeeded in the world. But they are exceptional. Most people are not able to follow their example. Education is the key to getting somewhere, of giving people choices. Holy Family Home is giving this small group of girls that chance.