Shieng : A Testimony of Resilience

My name is Sheena, I am called  “Ate Shieng” in the School of Life. I am 34 years old, graduate of Commercial Science major in Management. I am currently based in Singapore and happily married.

I am the Director of Finance and Human Resource for Space+ Design Lab, a 2D, 3D and Design Presentation Outsourcing company that I set up with another Architect and Designers based in Cebu, Philippines. I am also helping to manage the Finance and Administrative side of my Husband’s company in Singapore, a boutique Interior Design Firm.

My childhood before I came in School of Life was unimaginable. I am 2nd to the eldest, among 6 siblings. My father was on that time a womanizer, an irresponsible father, violent and incapable of raising a family. There were times that he will leave us for weeks, months, and even years. The experience left us exposed, rejected, insecure and created such anguish in the family.

After some time, my uncle and his wife threw us out of their house. We haven’t got anywhere to go. There was an abandoned pig pen nearby and so my mother gathered some cardboard and woods and created a makeshift camp with plastic sheet as roof. On rainy days, we would be cold and shivering. Little by little my mother built the house out of spare woods and plastics. We worked and helped each other, my mother would find a way to find something to do to put food on the table, myself and my sister would be awake by 2:00 am to line up to a local bakery to get a box of “Pan de Sal” a Filipino breakfast bread and sell it to the surrounding neighborhood for a few peso commission.

Sometimes, my sister and I would gather plastic cups or junks in the stream or dumpsters so we can sell them for rice.  Other times, we would collect buckets of rocks and sands in the stream and sold it for a few Peso. I was also the youngest “Jueteng” bets collector in our Barangay. Jueteng is an illegal number playing in the Philippines. On desperate days when we really have nothing to eat, my sister Melody and I would hop at the back of a jeepney and go to Q Mart (large vegetable market in Quezon City) and scavenge the dumpsters for some bruised veggies to try to sell it or bring home for food.

My father came back. Unemployed. He is easily irritated at the slightest of sound, a sound of clanking spoon on a plate while we are eating quietly would send punches in the arms or legs. He beats my mother. He calls me the ugliest of his children, a jinx and says he should have strangled me when I was a baby.

My mother in all of these difficult situations, however much she wants to protect us can only do so much. She insisted that we should continue our education and encouraged me to dream. She instilled in us, that no matter how difficult life is, you should never cheat, steal and hurt other people. She was one of those people whose compassion is endless.

Coming from this background, you can imagine how I am as a kid. I am very “madiskarte” resourceful, street smart, bright with big dreams, studios, determined, I am also very insecure, full of angst, neurotic and has difficulty making friends, I was bullied, and would have difficulty connecting with people—I would be taunted “lutang” (floating, absent-minded).

Sure it wasn’t all easy, there was a time where I needed to dig within myself and come face to face with the ugliness of the trauma and shame that I tried to bury by filling my head with noises to drown the images. Even as I am writing this, my eyes would still mist.

I can be very tough on myself and on others, it doesn’t necessarily translate into being strong to be honest. The School of Life hammered a foundation to my fragile self. Over the years, with the patience and gentleness of a pot maker and precision of a builder, the Sisters, volunteers and staff helped build the reinforcements to my oftentimes crumbling confidence. With trainings, seminars, and life skills that they gave us. I can slowly see the future that I want for myself and family.

There was this one time during a family seminar in ACAY, where my parents and I have to talk. It was very difficult. I was so ashamed that they are learning about my vulnerabilities and my pains.

My father finally apologized for all the neglect we suffered. It was one of those breakthrough, I finally understood why my father is the way he is. “

Reconciliation with the whole family was freely expressed and accepted. My father changed for the better since then, and he even became the leader-captain of our Barangay (small town).

The School of Life has shown me so much beauty in humanity. That we can all be very different (culture, background, life status) it doesn’t matter, we are family. The School of Life gave me that secure feeling of belongingness, of being listened to. That I am worthy.. worthy of love and possibility of reaching my potential and live a life of purpose.

I know what I want in life, the seed has been planted in my heart long time ago when I was in the School of Life. I am going to be a successful business woman aspiring to create jobs for people so they can uplift their family and life. There is dignity in decent work.

And to our sponsors for believing this mission. You may or may never meet us in person – please know that you have been part of this movement that changed our lives and of so many other youths at risk.

Shieng – School of Life Program Alumna