For several years now my health has not been good, and in 1995 I was almost permanently in a wheelchair. There seemed little possibility of recovery, but I truly believe that my illness was meant to be; for had I not been so ill, perhaps I would never have gone to the Philippines and my mission would never have begun. So as crazy as it sounds, I thank God for my illness, and for being blessed with my very special mission, and also for the courage and strength that He gives me to continue it.
My first visit and the Mission seeds are set
I first went to the Philippines in Nov ’95 and stayed with religious sisters for a two months holiday. During my stay with the sisters they took me to Santiago City, which is in the northern part of the Philippines where we visited an orphanage. I was so touched by these poor little children, that after much prayer and heart searching for both my husband and I. We decided that it was the right thing for me to volunteer to be a helper in the orphanage for 6 months. Obviously in my physical condition I could not do too much, but I could always play and sing with them and another pair of arms to give cuddles is always welcome.
The Mission begins
In Nov. ’96 I went back to the Philippines as an unpaid volunteer. I lived in the sisters’ convent in Santiago. I went to the orphanage as often as my health would allow and it was not long before the children and I were great friends despite language differences …Being able to speak the language is not top priority … LOVE IS! Soon I had a new name. They called me Mama Nickie and even today, most people know me as Mama Nickie.
Appalling conditions and treatment
From the very first day I was not happy with the conditions in the orphanage. I started to write a report to the powers that be, about the conditions that the children lived in and the treatment they received. However before I had a chance to finish my report, a parent came to me; and told me about the cruel treatment her foster daughter was receiving there. Honestly I could not believe what I was hearing, so I asked if I could speak to the child myself.
Grace and Lovelyn tales of abuse and torture
The next day I met with Grace and Lovelyn and they told me that the directress of the orphanage Hit them and didn’t give them food. Locked them in the toilet for hours on end. The stories got more horrific as they went on!
Chili and rubbing alcohol in little girls’ vaginas
They told me that she put chili and rubbing alcohol in the little girls’ vagina’s, and that she had stripped a girl down to her panties, she then put wet clothes on the girl’s head and took a photo. As if that wasn’t enough they told me that after she had taken that photo of the little girl, she made her take off her panties and took a photo of the child’s vagina …
No one escaped
So it continued story after story of abuse and torture of innocent children. No one escaped, from the eldest down to the youngest baby. I could not believe. I did not want to believe, and even though I had my suspicions about what looked like cigarette burns on a little girl’s legs, I still did not want to believe, but…
Then the girls’ gave me proof. They gave me a photograph that one of them had taken from the director’s office. It was the picture of the little girl with the wet washing on her head. Then I had to believe.
I needed to find out the TRUTH
So, I started to ask questions. The children took me to other children, and they in turn took me to yet more children and adults.
Torture of two year old babies
One adult told me, that she had witnessed the accused holding a baby of about Two Years Old over the gas flame; and burning the child’s bottom. She also witnessed another Two Year Old in a pan of hot water on the lit gas stove, and pushing babies’ faces into faeces on the floor.
Orphanage from hell!!
The horrific stories went on and on, it must have been a nightmare for the kids. The orphanage from hell!! I must state here, that all of these claims of abuse have been testified to in the courts.
What could I do?
I approached the owners of the orphanage, who seemed unable or just unwilling to do anything about the situation. I was extremely shocked to discover that the children had approached several other influential adults: ALL of whom did nothing. I could not just walk away and turn my back on all of these little innocent children. Could you?
I could not walk away!
I had to do something and so I went to the authorities. After a lot of red tape … red tape does not only exist in the U.K.!! … After several months the “lady” in question was arrested and charged with child abuse.
Filipinos are very loving and peaceful people, and will suffer almost anything inflicted on them, by anyone they consider to be higher in society than they are. They have great respect for what is called “utang ng loob” or “debt of gratitude” and sadly, as the children were being fed; many felt that they had to honour their “utang” their “debt”.
Children of courage
Out of the original 12 children who spoke to me; 7 bravely agreed to testify. Despite all manner of threats, to both children and myself, in Nov ’99 we finished the case for the prosecution. I was so proud of the children, as they stood in the court and faced their abuser and related their stories. What courage it must have taken!
My tears and my vow
My tears fell in the court; just as they had when I first heard their terrible tales of torture & abuse, just as they do every time I think about it. These are the children I held in my arms and fell in love with. I vowed to them then, that I would get them justice. She would be punished for all she had done to them, and to all the others that I have not yet managed to find; or for those who are just too scared to testify…
I WILL keep my vow no matter what!
Justice is very hard work
The court case can be very frustrating and very hard work, I must admit that many, many times I have been tempted to say “Hang it all”, and get on the next plane home…But somehow I seem to have gained a reputation for being a peoples’ champion in all sorts of causes…. I can’t imagine why!!! So there is always another good reason to stay.
My pleasure to serve
It is a great pleasure and an honour for me to be able to help so many people, and in so many ways. Although, the court case takes up a lot of my time and energy, I still find plenty of time to help many other people.
There are many ways to help so many people
For example, over the years I have sponsored 28 scholars. Through generous support, I have been able to provide much needed medicines & medical help to several people. I have also supplied reading glasses and funded eyesight tests; school supplies and money for special projects for many children. I even provide a regular monthly allowance for some children, but unfortunately not as many as I would like. I have helped provide housing, clothing, food, transport; and of course I always try to give my love, understanding, time and anything else for that matter that they ask of me.
I live in one very small room it is only about 10ft square which is my office, living, dining and bedroom. As most of the children are living in far off villages; they often stay over before court appearances. On one of these occasions as I watched them sleeping, I had a dream to open a half way house, where ALL would be welcomed, and where they would find food, temporary shelter, medical assistance, and above all LOVE.
BAHAY NG PAG-ASA (HOUSE OF HOPE) THE DREAM BECOMES REALITY
With a lot of encouragement and support from family and friends Bahay ng Pag-asa has become a reality. After many, many problems. including five of us having to move in to a building site and living in two rooms for five months!
We also had a major disaster ten days after work started. Our engineer died of a heart attack; he was only 39 years old!!!!
It is a sad loss to us all. He was not only our engineer, but also a friend. So now not only was I mum, dad, nurse, cook, marketer, accountant and general dog’s body, I also became the engineer having to count bricks and bags of cement, not to mention paying for everything!
The house was finished as much as funds would allow in May 2004. Since then it has been a permanent home for six children; and a manic depressive schizophrenic. As I am registered by the social services as a foster mother, it also became a temporary refuge for children in need. I also continue with several outreach projects, many of which are featured in my portfolio.
On November 21st 2005 Bahay Ng Pag-Asa became a UK registered Charity. Something for which again I must thank my family and friends for unending support and encouragement.
I hope and pray that it will open doors to increase our funding which is desperately needed to continue the mission, and whilst we have a small store and a tricycle to help meet financial costs, we are at the moment unable to support all the needs of both home and mission. We seem to be a victim of our own success as our out reach program is growing in leaps and bounds. The mission has at present a small number of regular sponsors. If you feel you can join them we would be extremely grateful. If however you don’t feel you can make a regular commitment, then perhaps you would consider making a one off donation or even supporting one of our fund-raising events.