Going Beyond All Expectations – For Her

When the family system failed, Compassion and the church stepped up to rescue Michelle.

By Edwin Estioko With Joyce Tumbelston
Photos by Edwin Estioko

Eight-year-old Michelle* skipped happily home from school to the compound where she lived with her parents, uncles, aunties and cousins in a squatter community in the Philippines. She quickly changed out of her school uniform and headed to the backyard to play.

It was normal for impoverished families like hers, and all she’d ever known, to live together with extended family members. Michelle liked having her cousins around to play with every day. But on this day, her world went dark.

Instead of innocent play, her older male cousin pinned her to the ground and sexually abused her. Ramon* was 15 years old, and Michelle had trusted him as a big brother, someone who would protect her from evil people. Now he was hurting her.

Michelle’s mother saw what was happening. “I saw it with my own eyes; my daughter was pinned down by my nephew. He was abusing my little baby,” she says, tearfully. She ran and snatched the little girl away, but the harm and hurt had already been inflicted. Michelle was traumatized and began having nightmares.

Immediately after the incident, her mother called local law officials and the director of Michelle’s Compassion center, who jumped into action to provide intervention and ensure she had appropriate follow-up support. Ramon was sent to jail. Michelle began going to counseling to begin healing from her ordeal.

Statistics released by the Philippine National Police in 2018 reveal that one woman or girl is sexually assaulted in the Philippines every 72 minutes. Out of fear or shame, many never report their attack, so the true number may be much higher. Because Michelle’s mother reported the assault and the local church came to her aid, Michelle was not left to suffer alone in secret.

The local Compassion church partner is known in this seaside community as a trustworthy advocate for children, and the child development center is admired for the help it provides to hundreds of beneficiaries. The pastor is known for his civic involvement. “Perhaps that is one reason why the local government was quick in assisting us to make sure Michelle was rescued and protected,” says the center director.

But just as Michelle was beginning the long road to emotional recovery, Ramon was released on bail. He returned to the family compound, where his presence created fear and emotional trauma for Michelle and her mother. To protect Michelle from further harm, the local government ordered Michelle’s parents to move somewhere else or they would place her in a shelter.

“That began a series of woes for us,” says her mom. Her father, a fisher, could not afford to relocate the family, construct a home or even rent a decent room. “We moved from shanty to shanty,” Michelle’s mother says. “It was scary and very uncomfortable for my children.” Finally, they ended up on the street, homeless, for several weeks.

Again, the church stepped in to help. Using funds provided by Compassion for the care of highly vulnerable children, the men of the church helped to build a new, concrete home for Michelle’s family on land owned by other relatives.

Today, in her safe environment, Michelle is still healing. She has returned to school and has begun getting good grades again.

“There are no words to express how grateful I am to the church and Compassion,” says Michelle’s mother. “There was no way for us to build a house like this on our own and that quickly. We are deeply moved by the people who helped and by Compassion’s special fund for highly vulnerable children such as my daughter.”

“I am so proud that we were able to assist Michelle in a fast and timely manner,” says her Compassion center director. “Family and relatives are very important to us Filipinos, and in such cases when the family system fails, the church and Compassion step up to fill the void.”

 

*names changed to protect privacy

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. — Isaiah 1:17, NIV