Maria Teresa Tuyak is a hardworking mother of four from the Philippines. Since her husband left them, she took on laundry work and sold fish to feed her growing children. Although in deep poverty and hardship, she thought life was not so bad until she was raped. She fell pregnant with an unwanted child.
A few months before, Maria Teresa had begun to regularly attend a Bible study in their area. It was conducted by the Timbercity Foursquare Church in Butuan City, a Compassion partner-church. She soon learned that Timbercity Foursquare is planning to open a programme called Child Survival Programme (CSP). She heard it was a programme “to help mothers raise their little children.” She thought to herself that “that sounds like a very good programme,” and wondered if she could qualify.
In May 2008, Compassion Philippines conducted a CSP ministry presentation in Butuan City and Cagayan de Oro City, two major yet poverty-ridden cities in Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands in the Philippines. According to the country’s human development index (HDI), these cities were deep in poverty and had seen so many infant deaths during pregnancy and due to preventable diseases.
Timbercity Foursquare Church knew this need and hoped so much to be able to implement the CSP in their church. The neediest area in Butuan City is a place called “Slaughter,” the town abattoir. Several Compassion-registered children live here and the church has heard stories of infants dying after falling into the very dirty sewers and swamps. Many are malnourished. There is very poor sanitation and the families just let it be. One time the church offered free vaccination and immunization but parents were too lazy to come.
Through Maria’s Bible studies, the pastor of Timbercity Foursquare Church learned more about the pitiful condition of her family and so the church became even more determined to help her. Her eldest child, Erah, 10 years old, suffered from violent, mental imbalance, and none of her children has begun schooling. Due to her pregnancy, she cannot work and relies on the generosity of her neighbours.
San Pablo, a social worker and member of Timbercity, says, “Our pastor has met Maria Teresa in our Bible studies and hopes so much to help her through a program such as the CSP.”
Timbercity Foursquare Church has been a partner of Compassion since 1986 through Timbercity Student Centre Programme, which takes care of 239 sponsored children and has even produced Leadership Development Programme students.
Not all partner-churches can implement the CSP and so the Compassion Philippines country office has to choose which partners to invite. The country office determines which ones are capable of running the CSP and are situated in the neediest areas of the country. According to Maricel Gulapa, CSP Specialist for the Philippines, “Timbercity was an easy choice.”
She further explains, “After investigating an area’s HDI, we look into the overall condition of the communities and then identify performing projects. It is necessary that at the area there is an existing partner-church that is capably handling their Child Sponsorship Programme, upon close coordination with the partnership facilitator in the area.”
Not all invited partner-churches in Butuan and Cagayan de Oro attended the ministry presentation. But Timbercity was there and, after the presentation, quickly submitted a letter of intent to the country office expressing their desire to implement CSP. The church leaders had in mind hundreds of needy mothers that they knew are in dire need of the program, Maria Teresa included. Around this time, Maria Teresa was huge with child. She was around 4 or 5 months on the way.
“We didn’t understand (the programme) at first,” says Landino Estope, senior pastor of Timbercity. “But soon we saw how it could be a big, big help in reaching out to families.” The veteran pastor confesses, “I’m really happy with the partnership. It is a great help in our soul-winning and reaching-out efforts.”
In August, Gulapa visited Butuan to see the community firsthand. ‘Is there an evidence of need? Is the church capable? Do they have the necessary facilities? Are their workers faithful?’ are some of the questions that the CSP specialist had to find answers to. She met with church leaders and with several would-be CSP mothers.
In September, the CSP Specialist wrote Timbercity to tell them that they were chosen to implement the programme. From September to December, the church began scouring communities for mothers and very young infants, mostly from Slaughter. Initially, 500 mothers applied but the programme can only take in forty. The church interviewed all the applicants, investigated their family conditions, and visited their homes until they lowered the number to forty.
When they were about to register Maria Teresa, CSP guidelines suggested that she was too far away from the church and this could disqualify her. For the programme to truly work, it was necessary that mothers must be residing not more than 30-minutes-walk away from the centre to ensure full participation of mothers and be visited by CSP staff regularly. But the church vouched for her and the country office allowed her to be registered anyway. According to Gulapa, “There was exemption at Timbercity as long as they ensure full participation of the mother and that they would visit her regularly.” Maria Teresa was Number 40 on the registered list.
Maria Teresa gave birth the following November to a beautiful baby girl. She named her Hope. “I love her,” she says. “I should hate her because she reminds me of being a rape victim. I planned of having her adopted by a friend but after I gave birth and saw her, there’s just no way that I can give her up. I love her and care for her.”
The CSP officially opened on 1 February 2009. The church built a new air-conditioned room for the CSP and Cereza San Pablo, the social worker, was chosen as CSP Coordinator. On 5 February, all forty mothers and their babies proudly paraded around the city on a pedicab motorcade. City doctors, government officers and the media were invited to witness the centre’s inauguration. As guest speaker, Noel Pabiona, country director for Compassion in the Philippines, explained that “opening a CSP is very much like giving birth to a child. The process is long and painful, but the reward is all worth it.” Pabiona gave a very challenging and encouraging talk.
Beginning to speak in straight English, she thanked the church for including her in the programme. It didn’t take long for her to break into tears as she began to talk about being a victim of rape and then having Hope. “I was determined to give my child away. I was so desperate that in fact I even considered abortion or suicide.” Her voice cracked as she then spoke in the vernacular. “Now I am very happy to have her. I love her.” The church overflowed with tears.
Today, the church is very happy with how much the Lord is using Timbercity Child Survival Programm3. San Pablo says the CSP is providing “education on house cleaning and personal hygiene; also on waste disposal and breastfeeding. We’ve had four births during the first two months of our operation and so we have focused our funds and efforts in caring for those newborns – monitoring, newborn screening and so on.”
Maria Teresa now says, “Before, I just cried when problems came my way. I cried when my husband left … Now, I think I can see more clearly. There are people I can talk to and who care for me and my children and give me spiritual inputs and options.
“(The CSP is) a big help,” she continues. “It helps us raise our children to a brighter future. Mothers won’t worry too much. No matter how difficult life is, we know that we can rely on some people who are ready to help.”
Written By Edwin Estioko, Compassion Philippines