One Family’s Story

Isabelle and Children

I’m currently working on a German-language article intended for publication back home on a homeless family in Manila. Because meeting this incredible family left such a huge impact on me, I wanted to briefly introduce Isabelle and Ronilo to our readers.

Writing about people living on the streets of Manila was an obvious storyline. Homelessness here is rampant. An estimated 20 percent of Manila’s population lives on sidewalks, under bridges or next to dumps. And as a tourist, you can’t really get away from street children and begging seniors. So, instead of looking the other way, I decided to do an interview with a homeless mother of 6 children.

I randomly picked a street where 20 or 30 people had made their home. At first, I was quite apprehensive. But then, holding my camera a little too tightly, I walked up to a young woman lying on an elevated wooden platform the size of a twin bed and started a conversation.

Isabelle and her family were super friendly and even after they agreed to do the interview, there was no demand for compensation. Maybe I was just a welcome distraction from everyday life. I spent an hour talking to Isabelle about everything: her six children, the fact that she wasn’t married to Ronilo, the birth of her 5-day old daughter, and about the Catholic church and contraception (or the lack thereof). Isabelle assured me that there was no contradiction in backing the church’s stance on birth control but ignoring their views on premarital sex. And, apparently, the church didn’t mind either. I learnt that it only takes a few pesos after Sunday service to buy their absolution.

Homeless Family in Manila

Sin-free or not, having that many children is obviously expensive. It prevents people with little or no income from climbing the socio-economic ladder and making a better life for themselves. And it affects generation after generation. I found out that Isabelle’s parents were homeless themselves and that this 29-year old woman had never lived anywhere but on the street.

What surprised me most was how calmly and frankly she spoke. They had accepted their way of life, but with no more than $4 income a day from selling trash to a junkyard, they weren’t living all that well. They just scraped by. And yet, they managed to send their 4 oldest children to school.

I was so touched by their honesty and hope for a better future for their kids, I went back later that afternoon. But not empty-handed. I brought some printed out photos of the family and a roast chicken for dinner.

10 responses to “One Family’s Story”

  1. avatar Max White says:

    Hey Thomas this type of condition i already faced because i am the one of the street boy from India but i made my carrier with keeping study hard. Isabella doing great job to give education to her child’s and I pray to god her child’s for better future.

  2. avatar carrieannmarco says:

    I love this Thomas! You are so kind. Were they able to speak in English? How did you communicate with them?

  3. avatar paolo says:

    It’s a lovely entry yet it saddens me to the core. How could this be?
    You made the difference in their lives, even for that flitting moment. Someone listens and has a heart.

  4. avatar Thomas says:

    It was shocking and depressing to see so many homeless families in Manila. But they are not just in the capital. The situation has been similar in every larger city in the Philippines.

    It is heartbreaking but, sadly, you can’t stop and talk to everyone. That would just devastate you.

  5. avatar Thomas says:

    Carrie Ann,

    Isabelle spoke English quite well. She went to school just as her children do now. Also, her 12-year-old son Belino spoke a little English. Isabelle’s “husband” on the other hand, hardly spoke any English at all. He was very shy and just smiled a lot.

  6. avatar Eleazar says:

    Hello Thomas. I am Filipino Deaf Guy. I am using Filipino Sign Language.. Oh It made me sad, Look at new baby with his or her mother Isbelle. I think they are good to you.
    You will be blessed. 🙂

  7. avatar Thomas says:

    Thank you, Eleazar, for you comment. It was humbling meeting this homeless family. Even now, over a year later, I’m still thinking about them and wonder what has become of them.

  8. avatar Eleazar says:

    how sweet.. 🙂

  9. avatar moises lee says:

    i hope u could help also the family i notice in cainta rizal philippines. they where asking for help in all the goverment but they didnt get any help because they dont have any valid id. the father and the mother is sick and they had 2 lil kids with them. i hope u could help them. send me a message so i can brought u to them. cause as much as i want to help them im hopeless as well and all alone. im giving them food as much as i could but the problem is the medication for there parents. they where not asking too much. just a food and start up money for living. pls..

    • avatar Thomas says:

      I’m sorry to hear about the family’s hardship. We would love to help, but we are not in the Philippines anymore. Good luck with everything!

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