Like many Filipino girls, these girls go to school. But unlike many Filipino girls, these girls live in school—them and about three thousand more. They are from the Sisters of Mary Girls Town in Talisay, Cebu.
They were sought out by the Sisters from the poorest of the poor families in Visayas and Mindanao. Here, they are taught academic subjects as well as technical-vocational skills. After high school, most of the girls get an NCII accreditation from TESDA, preparing them for a life in college or an opportunity to land a job after high school.
The girls attend classes almost year-round. They only get a two-week vacation during the year. Sometimes, many of them choose not to return to their homes for vacation but instead stay in the school dormitories.
That day—the day I took these photos—was a special day for the girls. It was the day the school campus was filled with smiles and laughter, and some crying, too. It was the day the school ground turned into a big picnic ground. It was the day—the only day during the year—the school opened its gates to allow visits from the girls’ families.
I saw mothers and daughters hugging and laughing and crying together. I saw fathers and daughters hugging and laughing and crying together. It was a happy day for many of the girls.
But when I happened to pass by one of the dormitories, I heard some sobbing. I couldn’t help but ask some of the girls walking by me about the sobbings I’ve heard. “Ate, wala po kasi silang bisita eh.” “Bakit?” I asked. “Wala po sigurong pamasahe ang mga kamag-anak nila para pumunta dito sa Cebu,” they replied in halting Tagalog.
It broke my heart because I knew how they felt. During my four years in high school, I had to live with a relative in Manila so I can continue my schooling. I only got visited twice by my parents. Well, thrice, if I were to include my graduation day. My worst enemy at the time was homesickness. Also, I had no one to turn to when I needed comforting. The only means of communication I had with my family back in the province was snail mail.
I admire the girls for their determination and I admire the institution for caring for these children. But I wish there will come a time when no girls would leave their homes just to have the opportunity to attend school, receive nourishment, and endure homesickness for a chance at a better life.