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, one day her father stabbed her in the shoulder with a knife. Bleeding and in a great deal of pain, her mother could do nothing to help as there was no money to pay for medical care.
“Playing with friends, eating nutritious food, and being loved by my parents. None of these things were experienced by me.”
One day when Graziela was working on the Smokey Mountain, a Sister approached her. Moved by her difficulties she offered Graziela a chance to attend school and study to change her life. Graziela says her heart skipped a beat and without hesitation she agreed.
Over the last four years, she has flourished at school under the Sisters of Mary’s care: “They have changed me as a person, … 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 to push her beyond what she ever thought she was capable of.
Graziela’s dream is to be a doctor and to help others just like her: “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.”