Ex-teacher brings love to abandoned kids
Meeting the love of her life has not only changed Flora Aguit-Izzo’s life but also the lives of 30 abandoned and orphaned children in Negros Oriental.
Flora and her Italian husband Francesco are the founders of “Bata ng Calabnugan,” a shelter home for parentless and girls at-risk in Sibulan town, Negros Oriental and the neighboring areas in Central Visayas.
For 11 years now, the non-government organization provides children with shelter, food, medical assistance and education, among others.
The girls, composed of street children, victims of sexual and physical abuse and physically and mentally challenged, were referred to the shelter by the Department of Social Welfare and Development.
“Why did their loved ones leave these kids? They’ve done nothing wrong to deserve this. The more I see homeless and abused kids, the more projects I make for them. They deserve all the love in this world,” lamented Flora, 39.
She used to be an elementary school teacher in Dumaguete City but after three years of teaching, she flew to Italy to seek greener pastures. There she met her Italian husband Francesco in the same government office she was working for and ignited her passion for volunteerism.
In early 2000, Francesco invited Flora to join a mission to India to help in a project for the physically and mentally disabled kids. In the community, she said, she saw a picture of extreme poverty.
“When you go outside, you can see the depressing state of the families. From then on, I made a pact to share my fortune—my time, energy, passion—with the unfortunate,” she said.
When they decided to settle in the Philippines, Francesco also saw the need to set up a project in Barangay Calabnugan, Flora’s hometown. In 2002, aided by the outpouring of donations from friends, they decided to build their center, and first opened its door to three rescued girls.
The center has spacious play and reading areas. Visitors are greeted with colorful murals of animals and kiddie designs. Whenever there are no classes, kids spend their free time playing or reading together with the housemothers.
“We aim to give these kids a home where they can be. When they arrived here, they know nothing. Education is a legacy they would take with them (later on),” she said.
Annually, the couple hold fundraising activities in Italy such as lunch for a cause, gift-wrapping, and selling olive oil, among others, to cover the expenses of the organization.
Also, starting this year, the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.–Dolores Aboitiz Children’s Fund has partnered with Bata ng Calabnugan in shouldering a part of the educational expenses of the kids.
“However, these are not enough. We still need more funds, especially for the education of the kids. We’re still hoping that donations would start to pour in soon,” she said.
The center currently has 17 staff members, including a tutor, a social worker, and a psychologist. Local and international volunteers also spend their time with the kids.
“We are struggling financially. This is especially when kids get sick. We only get our funds from our friends in Italy. We haven’t received any assistance from government agencies. Our financial sustainability is our biggest challenge since we started,” she said.
They are not giving up, though, not with the kids’ future in the line. She saw the 30 kids as hers. She treated them with the same care and love she gave to her 10-year-old daughter. Though there are many hurdles, she said, she felt blessed to be part of the kids’ lives.
“When the parents of these kids are ready to nurture them again, they need to go back to their respective families. It hurts, too, because you’ve seen these kids grow in your home,” she said.
The kids are currently enrolled in a private high school in Dumaguete City. As Flora and Francesco’s goal is to give the kids an enjoyable life, they also expose them to different places and fun activities like trekking and traveling. Some kids have already been to Sagada and La Union. These trips, however, depend on the availability of their funds.
“When I see them happy, it also makes me happy as well. It inspires me to do more for them. They give us a very fulfilling life,” she added.
On some days, she taught the kids how to plant corn, vegetables, and other crops at a farm area just outside their center, for them to understand the value of farming and food. The kids are also taught household chores.
“I don’t need material possessions. My dreams are not for me anymore but for these kids. We are leaving behind this priceless inheritance: good character and education. I also hope that a beneficiary of the organization would soon manage the Bata ng Calabnugan in the future,” she said.
She and Francesco took baby steps. They took risks. They learned every part on how to run an organization. But slowly, they fulfilled a bigger dream not just for them but for others as well.
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