A Woman In Charge: Auntie Emily Leads A Children’s Village To Recovery
“My fellow women, don’t be afraid to take the lead. We have a vital role to play for our families and our society. We have an equal right to decide, lead, and contribute to make our world a better place,”voiced Auntie Emily, Village Director of SOS Children’s Village in Calbayog.
Emily Torculas is the only woman taking the lead to nurture a whole SOS village in the Philippines. Auntie Emily, as everyone calls her, has been in the service of SOS children since 2001. From 2001 to 2010, Emily worked as a Social Worker in the youth house and eventually became the Youth Director, guiding young adults to independence and self-sustainability. Now, she’s the Village Director of SOS Calbayog, taking care of 84 children and 41 youths.
Caring for 125 young people is alone a big responsibility for Emily. Adding a pandemic into the equation makes it unbelievably more challenging even to the experienced social worker. “I felt restless, thinking about the lives under my watch. The supply of basic commodities for the village was the first thing I had to secure at the onset of the pandemic,” she recalled.
Apart from the SOS children directly under the village’s care, Auntie Emily is also supervising the Family Strengthening Program (FSP) in SOS Calbayog which provides educational, livelihood, and financial assistance to underprivileged families. In the photo, Emily (second from the right) together with the Rotary Club of Calbayog is handing over 12 fishing boats and 24 baking kits to FSP beneficiaries.
Taking responsibility in the most difficult times
The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly affected the village. SOS Calbayog had to make drastic adjustments to keep everyone safe and healthy, especially the children. Since the start of the pandemic last March 2020, gatekeeping guidelines were established to ensure that the health protocols set by the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF) are being followed. Handwashing areas, foot baths, and temperature checkers were placed in various parts of the village, including the guardhouse and family houses.
Emily also had to impose a stricter protocol to regulate the mobility of the people in the village. Play areas for children and work areas for the co-workers were designated to limit the interaction of those living in the village and those working in the office. SOS mothers are also advised to limit their visits to the market. They can buy groceries once or twice a month, and before entering the house, they must take a shower and cleanse in the designated bathroom outside.
Despite the challenges, Auntie Emily managed to deliver the needs of everyone under her care. “We promised to give them the best care we can provide because we know how much they need it. These children are most vulnerable, especially in these times of crises, so I need to work harder for their best interest,” she said firmly.
Rising above the adversities
The ongoing health crisis did not hinder SOS Calbayog from reaching more children who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care. Since 2020, Auntie Emily welcomed 21 new children to the village. She observed, “due to the rising deaths and devastating financial crisis brought by the pandemic, more children became orphaned, abandoned, and neglected.”
Before joining their new family, the newly-admitted children undergo a 14-day quarantine in the village’s quarantine facility approved by the Calbayog IATF. During the quarantine, an SOS auntie takes good care of the children while their soon-to-be SOS family is already preparing their meals for them every day. “The children are usually very excited to meet their new mother and siblings! The smile on their faces is what really inspires us to keep going and continue the work we do for those in need,” Auntie Emily smiled.
Auntie Emily welcomes Princess* from her 14-day quarantine. The new child will finally meet her SOS family.
Leading the way to recovery
Deciding and taking on the first next steps is crucial to the betterment of a village. Emily plans for SOS Calbayog to continuously adapt to the new normal and carry on with its day-to-day life while following the health protocol. Virtual conferences and meetings will always be preferred whenever co-workers need to communicate. The new normal setup in education will continue to be a village effort in guiding the children, and more psychosocial activities will be carried out to support everyone’s mental health. “Currently, I am emphasizing the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine here in the village. I look forward to vaccinating most if not all of my 125 children and youths, 36 co-workers, and 3 retired mothers as soon as the vaccines are available in our area,” shares the female leader.
Caring for all these people is no easy feat. Whether there’s a pandemic or not, this woman will never back down, and she’ll do her best to provide the quality care these children so deserve. (Photo taken before the pandemic)
“Anyone, men or women, can take the lead and make a difference one way or another as long as you set your goals, act on your chosen mission, and become a good example. And with prayers, I believe we can move mountains!”– Auntie Emily