At only 21, Gabriela seems much more mature than her age. Her rounded, regular featured face smiles to her surroundings. At a very young age, Gabriela was beaten by her alcoholic father, the latter was suffering a psychological disorder. Gabriela lived an instable childhood, growing within a family where respect and authority were absent. On the weekends, Gabriela had to work so that she could support herself and her schooling. At 9, Gabriela was reported to CAMELEON and stayed three years in our shelter – a moment of her life she remembers with delight. Children’s laughters echo within Passi’s walls as well as recreation times fill the daily routine: a world unknown to her till then. At the end of her stay, Gabriela reintegrated her family, who did its best to keep contact and strengthen their family bonds during her absence.

The life at CAMELEON

“I arrived at CAMELEON when I was 9. A social worker realized my situation required special assistance after several inspections at my place. The first moments were hard for me since I was far away from my family: I missed my siblings. Adapting to this new life was tough. I felt alone and I did not want to socialize with the other girls. But the staff demonstrated warmth and comprehension. They told me to not be afraid. The other girls were also very kind and they helped me to overcome my difficulties.

I suddenly became aware of the smiles, the love and the feeling of acceptance that exuded from the shelter. I no longer felt isolated. Later, thanks to CAMELEON I learned life’s important values as well as I became a better person. The social workers would invite us to take part in one-on-one or group therapy sessions, which gave meaning to my life. I know that I am lucky to have lived in CAMELEON. All children did not have this privilege. Some girls definitely need this help.”

The reasons why I left my family

“After I finished high school, I left my family once again to go live in a student apartment in Iloilo. CAMELEON supported me. I took this decision because I thought it was best for everyone. Moreover, I needed a good environment to study, what I could not have by staying with my family. When I was in high school, family quarrels affected me a lot; they made me sad and put stress on me. A complicated, daily situation to handle, which impeded me to move forward.”

If CAMELEON was not there…

“I think I could not make it. I was young and my future prospects were limited. I used to wake up only to eat three times a day, to sleep and do the chores. CAMELEON opened up my mind thanks to all the activities I did there and the moral support I received from the staff. It gave me enough strength to complete my studies.

Nowadays, whatever may happen, even without CAMELEON’s support, I know I can make it happen. Before CAMELEON, I had a bad behavior since I did not know how to tell apart the right from the wrong. I now fully realize everything that CAMELEON brought to me. The Gabriela of yesterday is significantly different from the Gabriela of today. It is not the same girl anymore!”

My experience after CAMELEON…

“Leaving CAMELEON’s shelter was a challenging moment because I had built close relationships with the staff as well as I had made friends. We had established strong links and I would miss our moments of complicity. It was heartbreaking to be separated from them and to readapt to my family. Even if I had kept contact with my parents, I had no news coming
from my siblings all this time.

The days following my return, I felt alone in their presence. It was not as in the old days. I was also a bit ill-at-ease since I had learned how to distinguish the right and the wrong at CAMELEON, but once at home, I realized to which extent my family’s perception was different. My sisters would often offend, and I would explain to them how bad it was, yet they would get angry at me. They used to answer: ‘Who are you to tell us what we should do or not?’ I know I was doing the right thing but I no longer knew where my place was among them.”

My new life…

“Before, I used to seriously ask myself why my family would act in such a way. I did not know which path to follow, I did not know where to go, but now I see clearer. I reflect on my future, I have a goal and I know I’m on the right track. I just graduated from the university. Completing my curriculum was fundamental in order to be able to help my family.

These last two years, I lived in a CAMELEON’s student residence in Iloilo. It is an appropriate place to study. Now, it is time to move forward, to start a new phase of my life, to look for a job and to live on my own. I did internships and I have already applied for several offers, and so shall see what happens. I have hope and I am an optimist.”

A life lesson… thanks to CAMELEON!

Thanks to CAMELEON, I had the opportunity to change my life prospects. Before, it was as if I looked through a narrow window; but the window suddenly widened. I learned a lot and, now that I am back to the ‘real world’, I can afford dreaming about my future. I completed my studies and it is my turn to help others – paying back what CAMELEON gave me. It is the reason why I study Community Development; also, I know I have real competences in communication.

At CAMELEON, I met many people. I have discussed and lived with various characters. This experience and my own past naturally lead me to assist others. CAMELEON does not only bring us financial support, but also the ‘knowledge’, skills and talent we need to succeed. There are uncountable things I appreciate about the association. First, the links I created with the other girls, the staff and the volunteers. Then, CAMELEON helped me to uncover my talents and develop them.

I am now a stronger woman! And yes, I could say I owe a large part of my success to CAMELEON!”

Gabriela, a former girl sponsored by the Rehabilitation Program, has graduated from a Local Development Master Degree.