Easter signifies rebirth and renewal. It is the most important holy day after Christmas. April recalls many happy memories of childhood birthdays in Baguio, the old summer capital.
In another sense, April marks the 25th anniversary of this column.
Flashback to April 1993. My first article “A Haven for young girls,” was the story of the dedicated Oblate sisters whose unique mission to heal young victims of incest and abuse. It was a different type of mission beyond education and conversion. It touched the heart and resonated with the deep yearning to do more for others.
At a Jungian retreat workshop at the Cenacle, the dynamic Sister Isadora Irrisarri OSSR, the Spanish superior and Sister Nida Viovicente explained their work with marginalized women — prostitutes in Venezuela, bar girls in Cebu, street girls and the poor young victims of incest and abuse in Metro Manila.
The meeting was fateful because an enduring bond of friendship was forged. It became my advocacy — to help abused girls.
In the Philippines, the sisters have worked with young girls aged nine to 18. Among their partners are the Child Protection Unit-PGH, with the cooperation and sponsorship of Department of Social Welfare (DSWD), volunteer lawyers, the police and foreign and local foundations such as the Consuelo (Zobel) Foundation.
The group of dedicated nuns, composed of trained psychologists and social workers, continue to evaluate and process the girls. Then they heal, rehabilitate, educate and teach them livelihood skills at various centers throughout the country.
Twenty-five years later, Sister Isadora has passed to heaven. However, her influence lingers and continues to inspire the sisters to carry on their difficult and complex task. Now there are doing more counseling work with families. Young abused boys also need processing, therapy, and protection.
There have been major changes in the foundation, congregation, and community. The original sisters are determined to fulfill their noble mission despite the obstacles.
I have met and interviewed some of the young girls (then nine years old). Their heartbreaking stories were moving.
I have watched the sisters — “love in action.”
Some of the Amerasian girls have gone to college through grants from the Pearl Buck Foundation. They have blossomed and have chosen to be social workers and counselors who help others. They now lead normal lives and are raising their young families.
The sisters and the “wounded healers” are all heroines. They give of themselves unceasingly, unconditionally. They deserve support and admiration.
When the original article came out, the late publisher and editor-in-chief Raul L. Locsin invited me to continue writing in the opinion page. “Beyond Brushstrokes” was born. RLL and the late editor Mike D. Marasigan were great mentors who encouraged and set a good example for writers and journalists.
It is a great honor to be a part of this prestigious newspaper. And it is still a challenge — to think of topics. “Write about what you feel strongly about,” MDM remarked.
In 1996, Bookmark, Inc. published the anthology Beyond Brushstrokes that featured my interviews of significant Filipinos. The book launch was held at the Ayala Museum with an exhibit of paintings.
It was a humbling and delightful experience to combine the articles with my artworks. The subjects have made a positive impact in the business and banking sectors. Two prominent, idealistic men entered politics and eventually became statesmen who served the country with integrity.
There are times when one needs to draw inspiration, ideas, and phrases from the past. There have been some articles and thoughts that people considered relevant now so they have requested me to recall and to rewrite a few.
On the personal side, there have been life-changing crises, some major storms that have caused more than the occasional creative block. This column has been an anchor through those hard times and a source of joy, too. It is still evolving.
One has to goes beyond the surface to find a familiar chord somewhere. Sometimes, the article resonates with the reader’s feelings, imagination and spirit. And that makes it all worthwhile.
Happy Silver Anniversary!
Maria Victoria Rufino is an artist, writer and businesswoman. She is president and executive producer of Maverick Productions.