THE HOMECOMING OF A MODERN DAY HEROINE – NELIA HOLGADO
Sad as it may seem but it was a stark reality for Nelia Holgado – only 6 to 12 months to live with her end stage of mestatic breast cancer which haas spread to her lungs and liver.
Nelia, after being informed that chemotheraphy and surgery did not work to heal her ailment, decided to quit her fight against cancer and expressed her desire to go home. All she prayed for was for someone to give her a plane ticket and a companion to bring her home safely to the Philippines. But she got a lot more than what she asked for. Yvonne Horneffer of the Bicol Association in Metro DC and a Fil-Am Nurse practitioner of the National Institute of Health brought Nelia's plight to the attention of the community.
The Filipino-American Community in Metropolitan Washington D.C. heeded the urgent call and wholeheartedly sent in their donations. The Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), spearheading the campaign, quickly organized fundraising events in cooperation with various Fil-Am organizations and Filipino church-based groups in the area. In a week's time prior to her scheduled Monday flight, the community raised almost US $ 6,500 dollars (includes airfare donation and some Philippine pesos) , which were handed to Nelia in those 3 fundraising events namely Filipino Mass at the St. Michael in Silver Spring, MD; the Despedida "Salu/Salo/ Dance" at North Star Party Room in Fort Washington, Maryland; and finally the Filipino Mass at the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington D.C. Various church-based groups did their own collections during their prayer meetings and mass while others sent in their donations in checks through Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC) and turned them over to Nelia as well. Nelia's former employer years ago , Mrs. Ratner, generously paid for the plane ticket. Businessman Carl Abella and Nurse Jeanette Calahong, also officers of the Migrant Heritage Commission and other organizations, offered to accompany Nelia in the long haul flight to Manila.
Nelia Holgado is indeed a "Modern Day Heroine". As a Filipino migrant, she exemplifies the positive Filipino human values of: self-sacrifice, hard work ethic, utmost love for family, and patriotism to her native land, the Philippines. The Ilongga left the Philippines to work as a domestic helper in the United States for more than 10 years. In those ten years, she was undocumented (TNT), yet she was able to provide financial assistance to many of her kababayans in the Philippines through her hard earned dollar remittances. With pride and courage, she is not afraid to go back and die in her homeland for she knew that there are a lot of people that love her and can take care of her specially those whom she supported financially for their school expenses and education.
As a domestic helper in the U.S, she is proud to have helped two family members in their college education: one earning a Bachelors Degree in Mass Communications, and the other Bachelors' Degree in Nursing. Now she beamingly smiles every time she recalls how her hard earned dollars prior to receiving them from her employer as already earmarked for a particular family who may have lost a house due to typhoon or who simply needs financial assistance. She is also counting support in the Philippines from those people and families whom she had sent balikbayan boxes full of goodies from the United States.
The National of Institute of Health doctors whom she was given free treatment under their medical trial programs gave her few months to live as her breast cancer has reached the end stage and all treatments possible given. But she faced this impending death with courage and bravado for she has shown deep faith in God always saying:" Diyos lang ang makakapagsabi kung kailan ako mamatay."
Nelia Holgado during her last few days in the United States is very thankful to the MIGRANT HERITAGE COMMISSION and all other individuals and organizations in the Washington DC area who helped her emotionally and financially . She was not ashamed to admit that she wanted to go home for the remaining days of her life and be with her family and that she has no money and no savings for she was unemployed during her cancer treatment. She prayed to God for help and she smiles when she intimated in mixed English/Tagalog at the St. Michael's event that: " I did not know that there is an organization like the MIGRANT HERITAGE COMMISSION who provides services to people like me even if they do not know me and that there are individuals in our community who have shown the sincerity to help their fellow Filipinos in dire need." At the 26 January's despedida, Nelia said "I hope that you continue your good deeds. I may not be able to repay you but God in her own ways will surely bless and help all of you."
Atty. Arnedo S. Valera Co-Executive Director of the MIGRANT HERITAGE COMMISSION thanked Nelia for the opportunity to serve her in the best way they can. "You are our inspiration and our model . For you have shown us the true meaning of respect for the dignity of every human being and the dignity of labor". Your life and the sacrifices you have made to give a better life to your family in the Philippines is the kind of heroism that symbolizes Filipino Diaspora all over the world , Valera said. "Through the MHC's Overseas Migrant Fund Program , we once more have shown that a concerned and united community can effectively respond to these types of dire situations affecting the Filipino migrants in the United States." Rendering services to the migrants, no more no less is a very challenging undertaking. Sincerity and full commitment will always be the guiding principles of the Migrant Heritage Commission. "TULUNGAN, DAMAYAN, KAPATIRAN" iyan ang pamantayan na dapat nating gabay sa pagtulong sa Migranteng Pilipino sa Amerika".
Ms. Grace Valera Jaramillo and Mr. Jesse A. Gatchalian, Co-Executive Directors of the Migrant Heritage Commission together with various community leaders presented Nelia a Certificate of Recognition attesting to her significant contribution to the Philippine Economy and to her family in the Philippines. MHC also announced the launching of MHC's 1-888-MHC-ll96 hotline for those who may need the services of the MIGRANT HERITAGE COMMISSION through its various programs.
The MHC and various community organizations and individuals representing the Fil-Am community in this emotionally filled occasion handed their fund-raising collections to our teary eyed Kababayan. The 3 fundraising occasions (Filipjno mass, dinner/dance, salu-salo) with the Fil-am Community allowed Nelia to spend her last week in the U.S. with mixed feelings of elation and sadness. She can hardly believe the overwhelming outpour of love and care from her kababayans who did not know even her at all and yet were more than generous to give her that much needed financial aid and moral support.
To Nelia's surprise, her close friends in the El Shaddai Charismatic group of St. Stephen gave her a final salvo of praise songs and blessings in her apartment which she shares with 4 other Filipino migrants. A volunteer from MHC and Mabuhay Inc,, Mr. Manny Lopez, Jr., took photos of her final sojourn with her friends and the Fil-Am community for this final week in the U.S. All these beautiful memories she will bring home and treasure for the rest of her life.
Among the many organizations/businesses who responded warmly and energetically to the MHC organized fund-raising events for Nelia were the Fil-Am Ministry and Mother Butler's Guild of St. Michael in Silver Spring,Mabuhay Inc., Alpha-Phi Omega Phils. District of Columbia Alumni Association (APODCAA), Filipino Community of the Shrine of the Most Blessed Sacrament in Washington D.C., Ilocandia Association, Boholanos of Greater Washington DC (BOGWAS), North Star Catering, Day-by-Day Christian Ministry, Mother Butler's Guild of St. Mary's in Rockville, El Shaddai Charismatic Group of St. Stephen in Washington D.C., BIMAK, Circulo Pampagueno, Ang Bulakenyos, Novo Ecijano Ass'n, Joy in the Spirit of the Lord Prayer Group in Baltimore, Association of Philippine Physicians in America (APPA), Metlife Securities, Philippine National Bank (PNB), Law Offices of Valera & Associates, Ang Bisaya Inc., Philippine-American Foundation for Charities, Inc. (PAFC), Ilocano Society of America (ISA), Alpha Travel, Professional HealthCare Resources, Philippine-American Community Partnership Foundation, Crystal Gardens Assisted Living, PMA, PNA, ABS-CBN News, Manila Mail and Pinoy Chronicle. DJ Jojo Baldonado also volunteered his services for free in one of the fundraising occasions.
Through arrangements made by Ms. Bing Branigin, the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) Chairman, Senator Richard J. Gordon, is meeting Nelia Holgado upon her arrival at the NAIA, Tuesday night. PNRC pledged to take care of Nelia Holgado's medical needs in the Philippines.
A great smile on her face as Nelia Holgado meekly accepts from the Advisers of the Migrant Heritage Commission, former Philippine Embassy official Grace Valera-Jaramillo and Businessman Carl Abella, the donation of the Fil-Am community of approximately US $ 2,400.00 raised during that night of Salu-Salo despedida at the North Star in Maryland on 26 January 2007. Within a week of campaign, a total amount of almost US $ 6,500.00.00 (including plane fare from her former employer ) was raised by the Filipino community prior to her departure.
It was an endless photo session with Nelia Holgado as various Fil-Am groups took turns in having a photo with her.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MANNY LOPEZ, JR.