“Playing with friends, eating nutritious food, and being loved by my parents. None of these things were experienced by me.”
Graziela was just thirteen when she started working on the infamous ‘Smokey Mountain’, a toxic landfill site in Manila where thousands of desperately poor Filipinos pick through the rubbish every day to find items that they can sell.
As the second child of five siblings, the vulnerable young girl was prepared to do anything to help put food on the table. More often than not that food was rotten, the water contaminated, and the family would sometimes go without food entirely.
Graziela’s home-life was chaotic; her mother had been diagnosed with malaria and her drunken father was prone to violent outbursts. She would do everything she could to protect her younger siblings from these rages, but one day her father struck her in the shoulder with a knife. Bleeding and in a great deal of pain, her anguished mother could do nothing to help as there was no money to pay for hospital treatment. This terrifying episode toughened Graziela up and strengthened her resolve to make sure her siblings never had to experience what she did.
Graziela at school
One day when Graziela was working on the Smokey Mountain, a Sister approached her and asked if she would like the chance to study and change her life. Her heart skipped a beat and without hesitation she agreed to sit the entrance exam to the Sisters of Mary school in Biga which she passed.
On entering the school, Graziela said: “I was amazed by the surroundings, this was the first time I had seen a place with a wide area to play in and clean air to breathe.”
Over the last four years, she has flourished under the Sisters of Mary’s care: “They have changed me as a person, I have been moulded into a better version of myself. I have become a person who is well-driven and motivated in life.” She has found the love she was yearning for and a new family that has helped push her beyond what she thought she was capable of. She has found friends that supported and helped her surpass all the challenges she has faced.
She has worked hard in class and has been rewarded with becoming an honour student. “Being able to experience this event has made a big impact on my life. I am not just focusing on myself but I want to help my family with the best of my might.”
Graziela’s dream is to be a doctor: “I want to pursue this dream because I believe that I will be able to restore the lives of many people, not only those who are suffering from diseases, but also people who are penniless and poverty-stricken.”
He graduated in 2005 and with the help of the Sisters found a position as a culinary assistant at the Marriott Hotel in Cebu and soon worked his way up developing his skills along the way. With his wages he was able to support his family who were devastated by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in 2013, during which is father was tragically killed.
Melvin was born into a family of twelve living in one of the poorest communities in Cebu, Philippines. They were struggling to survive when the Sisters discovered them in 2000 and were able to offer Melvin a place at the boys’ school in Minglanilla. He thrived at school and was eager to learn a trade so he could get work to support his large family. He particularly excelled in the cooking classes.
After spending a period of time teaching culinary arts at the Sisters of Mary school in Biga, Melvin was offered a post at the Hilton Hotel Group in Saudi Arabia where he honed his skills in baking, pastry, and bread-making.
In March 2019, the Sisters contacted Melvin and offered him a position at their new school for girls in Tanzania. Now 33, this was a big decision for Melvin but he was anxious to support the Sisters and to repay them for their kindness so he accepted the position in 2019 to help teach cooking and culinary arts to the girls.
Melvin with our Tanzanian students
“My name is Edwin and I am 12 years old. I have a twin called Cleofe and two other younger brothers. My parents are simple farmers who till the soil for us in order to survive.
“In 2019, I tried to migrate to the United States with my father, hoping for a brighter future for my family, but it ended in despair. My mother, my twin and two other younger brothers stayed at home, and prayed for our safety.
“During the journey, I saw and experienced many difficulties; the shortage of money, hunger, tiredness, lack of shelter and many others. I feared for our safety too because some people had guns and rifles; I thought it would be the end of my life.
“When we reached the border of Mexico and the US, we travelled across the Rio Bravo by night in a plastic boat. After crossing the river, while walking, soldiers captured and brought us to prison. We were in one cell with many other migrants. The next day, they sent us back to Honduras by bus and returned home to my family. This migration experience took 22 days.
Edwin & Cleofe at school
“During my travels, I was informed that my twin, Cleofe, had passed the examination to join the Sisters of Mary school in Amarateca and that I would have to be parted from him.
“I worked together with my father over the last difficult year since he can’t afford to send me to school. I was working in the field, planting vegetables, harvesting and cleaning. I so wanted to be with my twin at school.
“Earlier this year that dream came true and I am now in Grade 7 and Cleofe is in Grade 8 – I need to catch up on all my missed studies to I can join his class.
“After my five years of education at the school I want to continue my studies in college. I want to be a mechanical engineer because I’m interested in cars and I want to have my own company someday. I thank God every day for all the people who have helped me reach my dream. After my traumatic experience of trying to migrate with my father, I hope that I can be a professional and be able to travel safe and sound and lift up my poor family out of poverty.”
Laura was born in Yucatan in Mexico. Only 2000 people in her village and most earned their living by fishing including her father. There is only one primary school and a secondary school whose only vocational training was teaching how to make fishing nets.
She used to wait at the harbour for the small fish from the catches each day to sell to get enough money to buy the things they needed like school supplies and clothing, particularly shoes.
She was introduced to the Sisters by her parish priest and was offered a place at the girls’ school in Chalco in 2001. The journey to school was 33 hours by bus and quite a challenge for a young girl who had never left her village - she also could not afford the bus fare and so the mayor paid this for her and six other little girls.
When she arrived at school, it was even better than she imagined. She remained at the school for five years and loved her time there, not just the schooling and the skills she learnt, but the friends she made and the confidence that grew in her abilities and hopes for the future. She graduated from school in 2007 with a technical specialism in accountancy.
Laura secured a scholarship at university and moved in with her grandmother. To help pay for food, fares and the course fees she worked at weekends teaching handicrafts. In addition, she took an office job working in an accounts department as an administrative assistant so she could help support her family while she studied for her degree.
When she left university, she secured the role of managing a candidate’s campaign for election as governor. After the candidate won the election, Laura was offered a role as an executive assistant where she worked for the next eight years.
Since graduating from school into work, she has helped her brothers with accommodation paid for education and supplies for studying. Since graduating, they are productive adults with families of their own.
Now that she is working, she spends all her free time in areas like Yucatan informing children in poverty about the Sisters of Mary and helping them with the chance of a place at school. She helps graduates to go and visit impoverished communities to help the poorest people, speak of their experience and show that there are new possibilities and a way out.
She has been doing this for three years and so far has sent six children to the Sisters school.
During the pandemic her father and other fishermen could not sell their fish - the supply chain being affected by lockdowns and curfews - so she drove a van and helped to bring the seafood to Mexico City in order to sell it to make money for her family and community. This initiative has now become a company that she runs in addition to her regular job in order to help these fishermen continue to make a living during this difficult period.
Laura at school
Manuel entered the Sisters of Mary school for boys in Mexico as a deprived and vulnerable young boy in 2002.
He thrived under the kindness and care of the Sisters and graduated from the school in 2006. He is now a qualified Lawyer, having graduated from the Law School at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM). He has practiced Law for 14 years in Mexico City and the Metropolitan Area, specialising in Registry, Real Estate and Family Law.
Happily married with a family of his own, he serves as Registrar within the Public Registry of Property and Commerce of Mexico City.
He never forgot the kindness he received from the Sisters and he now provides free legal support and advice to graduates of the Sisters of Mary programmes and since 2016, Manuel has led the administration and organisation of Gravini, the alumni association for children graduating from the schools in Mexico. Supported by a dedicated group of volunteer graduates from the programmes, Gravini helps new graduates leaving the school. They provide support to ensure graduates can progress, find scholarships for higher education and job vacancies that meet their skills and will help them feed their families.
The team at Gravini actively support the Sisters in seeking new relationships with organisations and companies that will provide vacancies and also with the practical processes of outreach community work to meet children with the greatest need.
These graduates and their actions embody the spirit of the Sisters of Mary programmes and facilitate the wide ranging impact on poverty relief generated by our funding.
A young Manuel, one of the first group at the school for boys
Manuel now with his wife and baby
31 year old Luis graduated from the Sisters of Mary boys’ school, Zona 13, in 2006 and he says that it ‘literally changed my life’.
After graduating Luis went on to study Business Administration and from there, started a master’s degree in Formulation and Evaluation. He was doing all this while being employed as a warehouse general manager at the headquarters of a leading car maintenance firm. There are fifteen employees in his team, four of whom also come from World Villages for Children.
Life would have been very different for Luis had he not been offered a school place with the Sisters. Born into a family of eight siblings in rural Guatemala, he was looking at a bleak future where he would most likely end up working in the fields, planting corn and beans. This was one of the only occupations available in his impoverished community. But Luis knew he wanted more from life and had a dream to study so he could fulfil his wish of helping his parents and siblings.
Luis at the warehouse he manages
After leaving primary school, Luis commuted by bicycle into the city from his rural home to earn some much-needed income for the family. Between the ages of ten to thirteen he took on a variety of menial jobs, from selling ice-cream, distributing propane gas to becoming a mason’s assistant. For the latter, he worked seven days a week without a break, often going hungry, for several months. This meant that Luis didn’t have the time to study which he knew would hamper his efforts to support his family. He says: “Ever since I was a child I always dreamt of academic study so I could have a better life”. In 2002, that dream came true when he joined Zona 13 after meeting the Sisters and successfully completing his entrance exam.
“When I entered the school everything for me took a different direction. My life changed completely. It helped me to continue to prepare myself, both spiritually and academically. World Villages for Children opened up a new path for me. It prepared me to move forward in life and be able to compete on a level playing field.” Luis reflects.
Luis is now married with a son and they have their own house. Through his job, he has been able to support his family which includes financially supporting his youngest sister’s education and inspiring his brothers to become entrepreneurs.
He says: “Honestly, without the excellent education I had at World Villages for Children, I would not be where I am now with my job and my ability to help my family live a better life.”
“I grew up in a poor extended family in the Mexican countryside. School was always important to our parents and so they made it possible for me to attend primary school regularly. I was hardworking and always did well. At the end of primary school, my teacher introduced me to the Sisters of Mary and I sat an exam for the secondary school in Guadalajara.
“This was the beginning of the best time of my life without a doubt. I was hardworking and ambitious, but also enjoyed playing together and, above all, eating regularly. The Sisters helped me develop my character and appreciate values such as hard work, self-discipline and honesty, but also to lead a morally responsible life.
“I was one of the best in my year and won several trophies with the school's soccer team. I will never forget the day when our then President visited my school and I was able to greet him personally.
“But the time with the sisters came to an end and I began evening studies in business studies and earned my money in various jobs during the day. Later I received a scholarship and was able to study medicine at Cristobal University full-time. This has always been my dream. It was a great moment when I received my certificate as a surgeon in December 2019.
“I immediately found a job at the Tecolutla Health Department to improve medical care in remote areas of the region. It is my ambition to become a paediatrician to help those who are most in need.
“My thanks go to all the people who made my training with the sisters possible. There I was able to lay the foundation stone for my future path in life.
“Now, not every alumnus of the sisters will later become a doctor or engineer, but they all get the tools to lead a life outside of the slums.”
Eva was the youngest in a family of eight children living in the slums of Honduras.
Her father was a construction worker but work was unreliable and the family struggled to survive. Living in poverty, begging and scavenging on the rubbish dumps, life was harsh for them all. Instead of attending school the children were working long hours in danger to support themselves.
In 2013, the Sisters of Mary met Eva and, with the generosity of our donors, they were able to provide a place for her at school in Tegucigalpa in January 2014. Eva studied hard at school and in the care of the Sisters she excelled in her subjects. In June 2018, she was awarded the Gold Award for Academic Excellence by President Juan Orlando Hernández, an award for only 12 students in Honduras each year. In July 2018 she represented the school in the regional Maths Olympiad. She went on to win this and then the National Math and Physics Olympiad. Later in 2018 she represented Honduras at the Ibero-American Physics Competition held in Porto Rico.
When Eva first started school she wanted to become a teacher. Now aged 18 and with her new skills in Maths and Science she wants to help her family and ‘bring food for all the poor people in Honduras’ and she has won a full scholarship to Zamorano Agricultural University in Honduras, centre of excellence for agricultural studies in Latin America. She is a shining light at the University and destined for a future professional career that will be ‘of benefit to the most needy communities.’
Eva while she was still at school
“Where I am today could have been totally different had it not been for World Villages for Children” – Meet Junilo, graduate from Cavite boys’ school, Philippines, 1999
Junilo graduated from the Cavite boys’ high school in the Philippines in 1999. He went on to achieve a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science degree from STI College Makati in 2014. Having enjoyed a few job roles in technology, Junilo is now a software engineer in the Philippines.
Growing up in Quezon Province, Junilo’s family worked in farming which provided them with just enough basics to get by. However, he always dreamed of going to high school and was grateful when the opportunity came to study at the school in Cavite, which is run by the Sisters of Mary, an independent humanitarian institution who run and operate our programmes.
Junillo and his family
Junilo said: “Around ten of us from Quezon were chosen to attend high school in Adlas, most of us with only the shirts on our backs. Upon arrival we were provided with new clothes, shoes and school supplies. From the very first day to the last I loved my time learning and growing in Cavite, my memories of this time are filled with happy memories thanks to the generous benefactors who keep our school open.”
He continues: “From day one until our graduation day, each day was filled with memories, excellent memories. The whole stay was full of fun, learning and development - physical, mental and spiritual. There was never an idle or a dull moment for us - there was always something to do, something to keep us busy.”
Junilo loved studying, he particularly enjoyed the computer electronics lessons where he would assemble the hardware of the computer. As part of computer studies, Junilo also had typing lessons. He comments: “credit goes to our typing lessons. This has helped me a lot in my current job typing thousands of lines of codes for 11 years now and counting!”
Local manufacturing companies were aware of the quality education children received at the WVC school, so children were invited to interview a few months before graduation. This is where Junilo landed his the first job as a CAD Operator.
Junilo said: “I am very grateful of where I am today. Looking back, I can definitely say that I cannot be where I am today had it not been for the school and the Sisters. I was given a free high school education which taught me skills and values and opened doors for more opportunities.”
Arturo - Arturo’s early life in Monte Blanco, near Cordoba in Mexico was very hard. With no money for food, the family was always hungry and from the age of seven, Arturo was expected to work every day in the fields harvesting coffee and sugar to earn a few pesos to support the family.
In 2005 when he was 12, the Sisters of Mary heard of his difficulties and were able to offer him a place at the school for boys in Guadalajara. At school he was well cared for, properly fed and finally had access to education and healthcare. He was a keen student of English and he taught himself French in his spare time. He also thrived on more practical subjects like bookkeeping, geography and biology.
He graduated from school in 2011. He is now fully qualified as an accountant and after working for IBM has progressed to a role as auditor for Technicolour Film services. He is based in Mexico but travels extensively through Europe on behalf of the company and in October 2018 the charity were thrilled to catch up with him when he visited us whilst on business in London.
Arturo is now the sole support for his mother, father, and other members of his family, providing funds for food and healthcare and lifting them out of their lives of poverty. His family rely on him completely.
"Before, due to the poverty of my family it seemed as an unattainable dream to be able to keep on studying after elementary school, until the Sisters Of Mary came to the town to change my life...I shall never have enough words to thank the people who make possible the mission of the Sisters of Mary, as I am the living proof of how their donation can transform lives" - Arturo
Arturo picking coffee in the fields before he came to us
Arturo (Right) receiving his university degree
In the Philippines Irenea was the eldest of eight children. Her parents had a very basic education, there was little paid work to be found and the family were living a difficult existence, undernourished and vulnerable in the slums of Batangyas in 1990 when the Sisters met them.
With the kindness of our donors, the Sisters were able to provide a place for Irenea at their girls school at Biga, near Cavite. With proper nourishment and access to healthcare and education Irenea thrived. She graduated from school into work, pursued a business degree and has now grown into a confident and accomplished young woman. She is talented at languages and works as an executive at the Brazilian Embassy in Cavite.
She has supported all her brothers and sisters through college and into work and continues to support her mother and father on a daily basis. She has lifted her entire
family out of poverty.
“I’m so grateful for all that I’ve learned in this school. May many many more poor children and their families be helped by World Villages for Children and the Sisters of Mary.” - Irenea
Irenea at work in the Brazilian Embassy in The Philippines
Vanessa attends our school in Brasilia and this her story in her own words: “My name is Vanessa and I´m 14 years old and come from Xinguara, state of Pará. I am the second child. I don´t know my eldest sister since she was adopted before I was born. When my mother got pregnant with me she was taking drugs and drinking alcohol. I was born premature and had to recuperate in an incubator. After four days, she abandoned me in the hospital. Nobody knew where she was.
“My father had no experience of taking care of a baby so he paid a baby-sitter, then he gave me to my uncle and then I was given back to my father again. That´s how my life was, being tossed from one to the other during my early childhood life.
Vanessa at school
We were living in a simple house on a farm, until my father met my step- mother, a wine drinker. Many times she was so drunk she used to beat me and threw me on the floor. Since then, I was afraid to be with them. Many times, I was hungry and left with no food to eat. At times I was left to sleep outside because they wouldn’t let me in. For this reason, I ran away from them as it was too much. In the end they gave up taking care of me.
“It was so painful to grow up without experiencing the parent’s love of a child. From then on, I transferred from one house to another, from one relative to another. Finally, my aunt shared her home for me. My father and step- mother were living in another state.
“My aunt is very poor but she is generous. I love her and treated her as my mother, but many times but her husband was quite cold and indifferent to me. Many times he spoke harsh words and he was always telling that I didn’t have a future and that I would grow up to be just like my mother. It made me think of running away again but I had nowhere to go.
“In 2017, the Sisters of Mary arrived in our town and I took the entrance test and thanks to God I made it. Now I am in Grade 8 and I love my school. The sisters are very loving. Here I feel what it is to be loved and I have learned how to love. I am learning many things and am gaining more confidence. I realised that I have many talents and I am now learning how to play the guitar.
“This is the brief story of my life. I want to do my best to help my needy neighbour. I hope someday I will become a police-woman so I can work for peace and order so that children can live safely.”