By Myrna S. Bermudo
The Hablondawani Integrated Services for girls and Women in Crisis(ISGWC) and the Good Shepherd Sisters (RGS) of Naga gratefully celebrated, through a Eucharistic celebration, their Pasasalamat ng Hablon sa Biyaya ng Tatlumpong Taon on August 19 at the Old Shrine of Our Lady of Peñafrancia. It was followed by an exhibit of art works made by the girl-residents, a short program and launching of a coffee table book.
“Sana dai hilingon an buhay na half-empty but to always see it as half-full. Three things na kaipuhan isabuhay: prayer, trust, humility and surrender,” Most Rev. Rex Andrew C. Alarcon, DD, Bishop of Daet, said in his homily. He was the main celebrant in a concelebrated mass attended by some Caceres clergy.
It was with prayer, trust and surrender to the God that the RGS sisters “with their fourth vow of Zeal, started counselling in Naga City. From Dagos Tabi Counselling Center, it was given a new name, Hablondawani Counselling Center and built a temporary home to serve the Archdiocese of Caceres in August 19, 1993. The sisters discovered that most of the problems brought by women clients were related to domestic abuses. Thus, a temporary shelter care program was added to help pre-pubescent girls in difficult circumstances get over the trauma of their painful experience as well as to help them get justice for themselves. With the influx of girls, a Good Shepherd Home was opened. Hablondawani became a temporary shelter of so many young girls who were entrusted to the RGS sisters,” said Sr. Ma. Francia Blando, RGS, the program coordinator RGS Naga community. “On this 30th year of Hablondawani, many have contributed a color strand in the weaving of hope of each girl we accompany.”
Hablondawani, rainbow in Bikol, is the home of the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS) located in Green Field Street, Peñafrancia Avenue, Naga City.
It offers and is continuously offering hope as a temporary home or shelter for girls and women at high risk and vulnerable to exploitation because of their life situations, especially the experience of domestic violence. Counselling and therapy services are given to girls who seek shelter through Hablondawani.
At present, there are twenty girl-residents in the shelter, aged 9 to 19. Four are studying in senior high school, the rest are in junior high school and elementary school.
In the Old Testament, a rainbow is a sign of God’s promise that gives people hope and assures human beings of God’s loving presence.
“As the girls stayed in the shelter, they slowly experienced healing, hope, and peace. The presence of the Good Shepherd healing their wounds with compassion and great care has been very significant to them. Many miracles happened and are worth sharing so that others may gain inspiration from their stories and people will be encouraged to look to their future positively and with hope,” said Sr. Myra Atian, RGS, Hablondawani therapist.
As part of community awareness program, the Naga RGS community went to the towns of Buhi, Del Gallego, Magarao, San Fernando, Garchitorena, Tigaon, Bombon and Pamplona. Two barangays from each town were visited and were given orientation program on Personhood, and Human Dignity, Basic Women Orientation, Gender Sensitivity and Laws on the Protection of Women and Children. Participants were parents and students who are especially vulnerable to abuse considering the proliferation of various schemes in social media. Twenty-five to 28 women from each barangay participated in the sessions. All barangays have a core group of gender advocates. Many mothers are grateful for these sessions.
“The sisters and mission partners took the challenge of continuing the holy work by sharing the congregation’s mission of mercy and compassion through outreach service in several towns. Advocacy and preventive sessions were given to encourage women to learn and better understand that their rights and their children’s must never be violated and that all are equal in God’s love,” Sister Blando, RGS, explained.
A five-member core group of women- gender advocates in barangay Penafrancia and in the barangays where the RGS sisters have visited in several towns in Camarines Sur have been created. As a result, partnership with these barangays has been formed. They became Hablondawani’s extended hands and feet in sharing its vision to share “compassionate shepherding.”
Sister Blando recalls that “the services of the RGS started in counselling. Much of those who came, however, were abused inside the homes and had experienced domestic violence. There was a need for legal assistance, kaya dai puede ipuli an aki sa harong. Mayo pa kaidto nin community-based response. This shelter was created as a response to the need. This is also the reason why we are strengthening a community –based approach so the community will become a part of the re-integration process of each girl. Then there are also rising cases of sexual abuse in Camarines Sur. The pandemic was also a big factor in the rising number.”
The temporary shelter has a 20-bed capacity. But Sr. Blando said that the number of beds is no longer enough due to many requests and are seeking shelter. “So we just give them counseling and therapy. Walk-in lang. We are now building a counselling and therapy room which is separate from the shelter.”
Sr. Susan Montano, RGS, Unit Leader of Philippines-Japan Province, congratulated Hablondawani ISGWC, Inc. on its 30th year. She said: “We offer our thankful praise to our Shepherd God for three decades of journeying with the girls and women of Bicolandia, under the mantle of our beloved Ina, Our Lady of Peñafrancia! Our Mother Foundress, St. Mary Euphrasia reminded us that those we care for are often tempted against faith and hope, and so must never tire of ‘inspiring them with unshakable hope in Divine Mercy’. It is God’s merciful love that enabled each child and woman who has found a home in Hablondawani to continue and face life with hope despite the difficult times they went through. We are privileged to have been witnesses of God’s work.”
The following are excerpts of the reflections on the Hablondawani experience of some of the girls. These are published in the coffee table book.
“Ang Hablon ang nagturo kung papano maging Malaya; kung may problema man ililipad ko lang. Dahil kasama ko ang Hablon sa pagtahak nito; hindi ako magdududa, di ako mangangamba.” (Mayla) “Ako’y naging malaya na, ako’y nahilom na. Nawala na ang sakit at galit; ang nananatili ay pagpapatawad at pag-ibig.” (Sophie) “Ako ang kahoy, ikaw ang mayamang lupa; pinalago mo ako, binigyan ng malaking pag-asa. Hanggang sa ako ay matutong magbigay sa iba. Ang Hablon, ang kahoy, tayo ay iisa...” (Rizza) “Natuto akong magtiwala muli sa mga madre at sa Diyos. Dahil sa kanila, unti –unti akong nahihilom sa aking mga sugat at pagkabasag.” (Trishia)