I am Mary Ann T. Guial, the youngest and only girl in our family. I have five brothers and the eldest died when he was in grade three. I was not yet born when he died. My mother has many stories about him. And my mother said that my nickname was his own name. My mother is Lanie Turla. She is a single parent, and she raised all of us by herself. Even though she did not have a regular job, she was able to support all our needs in school. She gave us all she could give to help us grow as a happy and normal family. My father is Pedro Guial, a construction worker. He is a loving and caring father. He is my best buddy, ever since I was young. But he separated from us because he got involved with another woman. I accepted whole heartedly the separation, and we forgive him. My relationship with my father has not changed at all. In fact, we are still very close and comfortable with each other.
I’m 18 years old now and currently studying at Pasay City East High School. I am an incoming grade 12 student this school year. I have past achievements in my grade 11 days and I’m looking forward to receiving some awards again in my grade 12 journey.
I never really thought about where my life was going. My life before was very uneasy and poor. There was a time when we ate lugaw, a type of rice porridge, just to fill our stomachs. This happened mostly during the rainy season. As I mentioned earlier, my mother had no job at all when we separated from my father. At that time, we were living in a cemetery where the dead are buried. At first I thought it was horrible living in a cemetery, but after a while I got used to it and was able to cope with it.
We earn money in the cemetery by taking care of the tombs. We clean the tombs every day and wait all day for the visitors to come. Our income for this is P50 to P100 (99 cents to $1.98 U.S.) a month but we are paid almost at the end of the year, half a year or every three months.
The relatives of the dead don’t visit every month. Our life was poor, and we worked very hard cleaning the tombs and bearing the pain and struggles that went with it. But these struggles made me stronger and courageous growing up, and I must say that these experiences helped me to be brave and to face challenges without fear.
Though we live in a quiet and scary place, I view life as joyful and wonderful. I have many friends in our place and also in school. My status in life didn’t become a hindrance for me to meet people, because I’m friendly by nature and have good social skills. I am a hard-working, God-fearing and simple person. And my life experiences seem to repeat over and over again each year.
I was in sixth grade when the Columban missionaries Sister Julie and Sister Bella came. They started a feeding program here in the cemetery, and lots of families came and benefited from it. When Sister Julie and Sister Bella found how much the community appreciated it, they continued the feeding program. My mother become one of their volunteers, and on weekdays my mother and I ate there. And when I graduated in grade 6, the Columban Sisters gave us opportunity to become scholarship beneficiaries. I was very young then so graduation meant a very big deal to me. It was very special and a memorable event for me, and Sister Julie made it more memorable for all the graduates by taking us all to eat at McDonald’s! We enjoyed the day so much, that Sister Julie “hooked” our hearts.
Out of hundreds of youth in our community, I was luckily chosen to be one of their scholars. The Columban Sisters support my school needs. They buy me school uniforms, school supplies and other school necessities every year. They let me experience good things that typical youth are experiencing like going to some beautiful places, having retreat or recollection days, eating at a restaurant and many more. They helped our parents in raising us. This benefits my mother, because she is a single mother and that’s why I’m very grateful to the Columban Sisters. I am also grateful to my friends who have supported me all these years. It’s just the beginning of my journey in life, and I can say I am prepared thanks to the Sisters!
I will treasure and remember all of the great experiences with Sister Julie and Sister Bella. There had been lots of struggles and hindrances, but I’m still standing with courage. They have taught me to be responsible, honest and humble, traits that parents usually teach their children. They support me and the other children in the cemetery community morally and financially. Whenever we need them, they’re always there for us. That is why we have grown to be men and women of Christian values. I just simply say that they have helped us live a good and decent life. They have helped us a lot and have given opportunities for us to become better people. They were able to bring out the best in us. However, I will not promise to pay back all the help they have given me, but I will strive to be good. I will make use of all the opportunities that will come my way to make me become a better person. I will look at the bigger picture and be a good role model for others. I’m looking forward to starting my new journey and to face the real world as I enter college. One thing is sure, I will pass grade 12. But the most important thing I have learned from Sister Julie and Sister Bella is that they loved us unconditionally. All the money and all the things they gave were beautiful, but to receive unconditional and warm love from them is heaven. Thank you for coming over to our community and spreading your love to all of us. Know that the love you have given us has given fruits to a grown-up lady now looking forward to becoming a better person in the future.
Thanks to the generous support of Columban benefactors, Mary Ann T. Guial and other “cemetery children,” have hope for the future.