The Boys of Balay San Columbano

26th December 2013 - by Stephen Awre

Fr. Don Kill introduces us to the young people in the care of Balay San Columbano in Ozamiz in the Philippines. 

Rene Boy Eramis, as many of you know, is severely disabled due to fetal alcohol syndrome. He recently turned 32 years old. He is unable to learn but is functional as a helper in our home. He helps to clean the house and prepares meals for the others living with us. Rene Boy was often severely beaten by his alcoholic father. This added to his psychological problems. He was not only deformed, he was unlovable and something to be beaten for no reason. Thank God he escaped from his family and became part of our family.

Rene Boy is currently suffering from a severe infection in his left knee. I had to bring him to Cebu to see one of the good doctors here. The doctors do not charge me for treating Rene Boy, but the tests and medicines are costly. So far I have spent about 9,000 Pesos ($210). We are fortunate to be able to stay in the house of my Chinese friends from the hardware store in Ozamiz. They built a visitors room for me and others, but I get first choice. We have been friends for all the years I have lived in the Philippines. Those now running the store were young teenagers when I first arrived. Staying with the house of my friends saves me about P2500 ($60) per day.

John Philip Gabutero is the second oldest person living with us. “Jan Jan” as he is known, is studying to be an architect. He is now in his third year of college and doing quite well in his studies. His cousin Eddie Clamonte is an engineer and his father is a carpenter.  Carpenters do not make very much money, unlike their colleagues in the USA. A carpenter’s daily wage is less than $10 per day. That is why Jan Jan’s father cannot afford to send him to college. Maybe the three of them can form their own construction company later when Jan Jan finishes his course and passes the bar exam. Jan Jan is a very energetic worker and very diligent in his studies.

The next oldest boy living with us is Edward Macabio. Edward is now 21 years old. He is president of his 6th Grade Class. He is like an older brother for the younger kids in his class who are now only 12 or 13 years old. Edward does well in his studies in spite of having a slight case of cerebral palsy. Edward is also a son of alcoholic parents and grandparents. He and his brother and sisters were abandoned by their parents and left with the alcoholic grandparents. Edward was disabled by a lack of care by his parents when he was small. Edward is a blessing to all of us. He is kind and works hard at what he is able to do.

Next in age is Odel Quiroro. Odel is a deaf mute. He is the son of an alcoholic father. His father died suddenly last May when he fell and hit his head while in a drunken stupor. Odel is a somewhat slow learner. He tries to stick to his own brand of sign language which keeps him from understanding the lessons being taught by his teachers. Odel is now 19 years old but only in Grade Two in the special school for the deaf run by the La Salle Brothers here in Ozamiz.  He is a very industrious young man and works hard whenever there are manual tasks to be done. He will probably never go beyond elementary education, but he will at least have that to give him a better start in life.

The youngest boy living with us is Ruben Enocian. Ruben is 14 years old. Ruben is the son of an alcoholic father who spends most of their meagre funds on drink and gambling. Ruben has had some behavioural problems in the past even when living with us. This, of course, is common among the sons of alcoholics. I had to make him leave the house for several months until he woke himself up and began to behave in a way that would give him life. Thank God, Ruben is now doing fine and is getting good grades in school. He is at the same grade level as Edward but in a different class. Ruben “drives” Edward to school each morning and back home in the evening using a bicycle that has a side car built on to it!

We have other students in Ozamiz who do not live in the house with us. When I moved into the smaller house, we had no place to put the young ladies. One of these is Algen Langiras. She now lives in a boarding house. We only have to pay for her room. She has a working scholarship from Jollibee Corporation – a hamburger chain. On top of her tuition, Algen gets free food at the restaurant. Algen should graduate in March 2014. She has worked hard to get her education and is one of the few who were able to get this scholarship.

The other young lady lives with her aunt. He name is Jesseryl Gabutero. She is known as “Jek Jek”.  Jek Jek is in her third year of studies in Bachelor of Science in Financial Management.

I, along with all of the kids, those in school and those who have graduated, whose lives were gifted with education and guidance, send you our heartfelt wishes for a blessed Christmas filled with the Peace and Joy and Life that the WORD came to bring us. May the WORD live in your hearts and may others experience the WORD in your lives.