In May 2019, after 40 years, we the Social Work team, were able to move our case files and office to the building inside the compound of the residential shelter, where we were able to join the rest of the multi-disciplinary team, which has always held office at the shelter. Moving the office brought us hope of improving services by being closer to the children and the rest of the multi-disciplinary team.
When COVID-19 caused CSC to call for employees to be locked-in, two of our three Social Workers (Mardy and Glaiza) were able to volunteer to stay inside. Mardy and Glaiza saw this as an opportunity to continue strengthening relationships with the children, work more closely with the multi-disciplinary team, and dig into some pending files. Cris, the remaining Social Worker, worked from home.
This pandemic posed challenges in case management. We knew it was important to keep the children involved. During the annual Summer Activity Program given to the children at CSC, we were given time to have a "Short Talk" or focused group discussion on an overview of challenges in case management. This was conducted recently at the Medical Building. It was attended by 32 children, ages 10 and above. It was facilitated by Mardy and Glaiza.
During the Short Talk, the kids were observed to be engaged, listening, and interested in the topic as they discussed how the challenges brought about by the pandemic affected their future. The children learned that physical birth family visits were not possible with government-imposed travel restrictions and health safety protocols of CSC, but that connecting with birth family as approved, was to be done through telecommunication.
It was a time to affirm that the we and multi-disciplinary team were doing our best to continue to provide for the holistic needs of the children by adapting and learning new ways to deliver services. This could be seen by Cris calling houseparents and children on the phone, counselors providing telecounseling, and therapy services adapted to be home-based until therapists could be admitted inside the shelter after quarantine. Other staff, such as the nurses and teachers, were also locked-in to ensure that the service was available to the children. The children were encouraged as the social workers shared that they (along with the multi-disciplinary team) were always looking at the individual needs of the child and advocating for their best interests.
The children understood the challenges we faced to complete some requirements due to travel restrictions or safety protocols and that this affected other professionals and offices working on their cases as well. However, the children were assured that we were proactive in lobbying for them. Social workers were in contact with government offices, including the Department of Social Welfare and Development and Inter-Country Adoption Board. We were learning new ways to submit Child Study Reports and to keep connected with other professionals and agencies involved in case management. True to being advocates, it is at the heart of the social work department to steward time and services available for the benefit of the child regardless of the circumstance.
The rising concern among the older children at risk of aging out of adoption was discussed. They expressed concern about what their future would hold and if that would be together with CSC. It was explained that CSC had prepared for this by teaching the children at the shelter life and independent living skills. The Independent Living Program was still a residential shelter but with more in-depth training on these skills to help them transition out to the community.
We can imagine the inner turmoil social workers and case workers, nationally and around the globe, have at this time being unable to physically reach their clients or offices. Our heart goes out to the children and families who have lost this connection and keep them in our prayers.
Thankfully, at CSC, we have the option to be together with the children. We have options that allow us to continue in our ministry commitment to provide children a temporary shelter and case management. Being with them has allowed us to further think out of the box and see areas we can continue to serve.
This pandemic has highlighted challenges and blessings in connection. As social workers in service to the children at CSC, the time to be with them has been an encouragement to us. We are blessed to see how the children are growing, coping, and learning during this season. We are grateful for this opportunity to be able to connect and be readily available to them.
This week, Heather and I had a Skype meeting with two missionaries from Menomonie, WI. We had never met before, so we took the time get to know one another, talk about our respective ministries, and pray for each other. Before praying, they asked me, "what are some of your needs that we can be praying for at this time?"
It's not an uncommon question, and it certainly wasn't unexpected, but it's been rattling around in my heart ever since.
There are a lot of visible needs at the Shelter during this pandemic. There's the need for health and safety. The need for hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment. There's the need for food, clean water, school curriculum, clothing, and medicine. For those of us going around town, there's the need for documentation and preparation to ensure safe passage through checkpoints. By the grace of God, through the generosity of our supporters, all these things have been provided. The children can play games, enjoy full meals, and receive all the love, support, and care that we can muster.
Then there are those needs that aren't as visible. There's the need for strength and calm; for endurance, patience, diligence, and faithfulness. There's the need for friendships and encouragement. There's the need for prayer and time spent with the One who ultimately provides for all our needs. Thank you for praying with us. I can tell you firsthand that they are being felt as we navigate this pandemic together.
There is a need I fear may go unnoticed, forgotten, or neglected by the world at large ...
But the one need that's been rattling around in my heart is one that I fear may go unnoticed, forgotten, or neglected by the world at large. This pandemic has strained governments and the systems that we have in place to help the vulnerable; to help the widow and the orphan—to help the least of these (Matt 25:40). Since the start of this pandemic, we have not had any children placed with adoptive families, and only a handful of our children have been presented for regional, national, or international matching (that is to say, the processes that governments use to match children with prospective adoptive families, both locally and internationally, has been severely hindered due to the coronavirus pandemic). What makes this reality even more difficult to face is the fact that quite a few of our children will be aging out of adoption in the coming months; meaning, they will reach an age where adoption is no longer allowed.
This is a video of an extremely long line that formed in Guadalupe, Cebu City when the local government announced it would be disbursing aid to impoverished families during the quarantine. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), which we work with for referrals and placements, is also tasked with handing out this aid.
We knew this day could potentially come for our older children, and we've been doing our best to prepare all our kids for whatever life has in store for them, including independent adult life in the Philippines. We will prayerfully continue to do so, hoping to launch our older children into a healthy and beautiful adulthood.
But I would like to ask all of you to please take some extra time to pray. Pray for these kids who will be aging out in the coming months. Pray that they will be able to cope emotionally, and pray that all of us at CSC are able to provide them with the love and support that they need to be launched into a beautiful future without an adoptive family.
And pray for a miracle. Some of our kids have less than a few months before aging out. Pray that domestic and international government agencies will be able to process the needed paperwork, and that the right families will be searching at just the right time. Thank you for praying with us.
I had breakfast with a CSC donor today. He and his wife have been very generous to CSC over the years. He had previously owned a business in the Twin Cities and he mentioned how glad he was the he didn't have to be trying to run a business during this pandemic. I think we all have things in our past that we are glad we don't have to deal with during this challenging and difficult time. Although I miss being on the Leadership teams in Cebu so much, I don't really miss some of the difficult discussions and hard decisions that need to be made almost on a daily basis. The thing that makes them hard is that they affect lives, and we don't have a grand blueprint for success in navigating this pandemic. None of us has ever seen anything like this so we have no data base of proven methods to bank on .
I am so glad that our new Field Director, Roberto Atienza, is so talented and enthusiastic to embrace the challenges of leading CSC in Cebu during this time. I'm sure he would rather be leading under different circumstances but he has stepped up and taken on the challenges with vigor and tireless effort. His term of leadership began when the pandemic was already upon the Philippines. While still learning some of the basics about the ministry, getting to know our leaders and deciding on a management style he was suddenly leading meetings about quarantines, supply chains, manpower crises, lockdowns, mobility limitations, and the financial, social work, educational, medical, HR and spiritual issues that this crisis presents to CSC. And these have been oom meetings, not face to face sessions where it is easier to share feelings and interpret ideas and reactions. I am thankful that he is not wishing he was someplace else or focusing on the negative parts of ministry in a pandemic. His faith in God is strong, contagious and encouraging to the people whose pictures are on the Zoom screen and who rely on him for direction, support and spiritual leadership.
Am I glad that I am not having to lead CSC at this time? Well, that is a complicated question. We left Cebu in part because of concerns because of our age and health issues, and we don't second guess that. I miss the interactions with our great Leadership Team, watching them rise to the occasion every single day. I miss consultations with Roberto on a wide range of issues and watching the child care workers and other lock-in staff doing an exceptional job. But I don't miss some of the pressure packed meetings that are necessary, of having to come up with fresh ideas when I don't feel like I have any more, and facing the sobering realities every day of a deadly disease lurking just outside our CSC campus that it is our job to keep out. I know that at 66 years of age I don't have the same stamina I used to have.
I am glad that God worked out a transition of leadership in Cebu and that Roberto is clearly His man for the job. Stepping aside and letting him lead was a seamless transition for me because of who he is as a man of God and a leader. I know that Stateside is where we are supposed to be, even if we miss the kids and workers so much it hurts sometimes. In that respect I'm glad to be where I am.
Please keep Roberto and the Leadership Team in your prayers during these tough days. I can say from experience that they feel your prayers, your love and encouragement and need it very much. Thanks!
A few months ago we were planning our trip back to Minnesota to start our retirement. Because of the pandemic our flights were canceled and we were put on "enhanced community quarantine." Basically , we have had to stay inour home for the past 100 days, unable to go to the shelter or the office or the Children of Hope School to see the kids and workers. Needless to say it has been a challenging time for everyone at CSC. During our extended quarantine we have been checking to see if there are any flights out of the Philippines, preferably Cebu. We were happy to be here, helping out Roberto and the Leadership team in helping assure that our children are receiving the best care possible during the lockdown in Banawa. We have attended regular Zoom meetings, discussing manpower and financial issues, keeping our US office appraised of the situation here and dealing with logistical issues of moving people and goods around during times of strict measures that limit mobility.
Just the other day we heard of a flight to the U.S. via Korean Airlines and Delta. In order to make this flight we needed to secure a Travel Pass to get to the airport, health certificates andbarangay and immigration clearances. Jill from our US office helped a lot as did our Administrative Assistant, Vanjing and Jerry Salgo, the person who has coordinated all the security and transportation matters for CSC thr0ughout this crisis.
So we are leaving Cebu on July 4! Its Wait and Hurry Up. We are trying to organize our possessions, the accumulation of 41 years of living in Cebu, in just a few days. Some things were are selling, some we are shipping to MN and most we are giving away. But arranging all of our emotions has been more challenging. The thoughts of walking away from the ministry that has been our life for 41 years had been on the back burner for a long time as we weren't sure how the pandemic was going to play out. We had been emotionally prepared to be here in Cebu until Christmas if necessary.
So now we are scurrying to get ready to leave. So many CSC and other people are helping us. One of the nicest gifts to us was an amazing farewell party at the Shelter this morning. Although we weren't able to actually hug or be near the children or workers, we did go inside the CSC compound. We sat on the area outside the conference room of the Gleddie Building and heard the kids sing, give tributes and give us a ton of love and appreciation. It was the first time we had seen them in more than 100 days. Lots of tears were shed. It wasn't the party we had imagined months ago when we were preparing for retirement, but it was a wonderful party and we are so thankful to the Leadership Group for planning it. We were humbled. It made leaving Cebu, although still difficult, seem somehow more manageable because we were able to see and hear the kids we love so much.
In the book of Esther in the Bible, Haman wanted to bring destruction to the Jewish people. The account was able to outline his motives and plans to harm them.
Her thoughts must have been racing, considering each option of salvation for her people and consequences of each one. I imagine that she looked back at her experiences to find insight and answers that could be useful. Esther saw where she hit dead ends and made mistakes; and yet, she also saw how she was able to overcome her challenges and thrive by using her God-given gifts, skills, and abilities. Esther was able to see situations where she was celebrated and favored by both God and man.
From being a humble commoner, she had risen to become a queen. I can imagine Esther struggling with the knowledge that this evil was attempting to annihilate her tribe from the face of the earth. "Lord, thank You for Your love. Please give me clarity of purpose for this season," she must have prayed. "How do I use what You have placed in my hands?" All of these life events and God, her HOPE, prepared her for such a time as this (Esther 4:14) to advocate for salvation even at the cost of losing her life.
In the same way, this pandemic, the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), threatens our families, relationships, peace of mind, way of living--our very existence. Some of us are called to be at the frontlines. Others of us are asked to cooperate by staying at home. Either way, we can take this time to worship Him and ask for clarity of purpose for this season. I believe that God has given to each of us gifts, skills, and abilities that were created for His glory for us to steward for such a time as this.
This blog post is dedicated to all the frontliners here in the Philippines who work for vulnerable children and families. Thank you for your courage and embracing your purpose today, working for our benefit and welfare. You are a blessing. Thank you for the good work you are doing.
Lord, into your hands we commit the frontliners. Please keep them safe and provide supernatural strength and wisdom for them to carry out their tasks. I also pray for their household that You bless and hold them in Your hands. Amen.