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MANILA, Philippines – The smile that breaks on her face when she carries a toddler makes you think of how perfect a mother Erlinor Umali is.
Tita Erl, as her family and friends call her, loves children. But she could only wish she had one.
Now 47, Erlinor has been married for 23 years but she and her husband have never had a child.
Her husband worked as a seafarer for the longest time. The changing weather conditions affected his fertility, according to their doctor. Erlinor had her own complications as well.
She admitted that it was difficult for her to accept she couldn’t have a child. “Iyon naman iyong pangarap ng mga babaeng tulad ko.” (That’s the dream of women like me.)
Bur her passion for service opened doors for her to experience motherhood in other ways.
27 years in development work
Erlinor wanted to be a nun or a nurse. But her late father persuaded her to take up an engineering course, telling her these are not the only ways she can extend a helping hand.
She did graduate from college with a degree in computer engineering. But instead of working for the industrial sector, she took the path of development. Her career life was largely spent as a program officer for children’s rights organization Save the Children.
In her 27-year stint there, she worked mostly in programs on early childhood care and development. She engages with children and their parents through education sessions about children’s rights and the stages of their development.
Her favorite part of the job is seeing how children and even parents grow after their intervention.
“‘Pag nakikita ko iyong mga bata at the start of the school year na umiiyak ayaw magpaiwan sa mga nanay tapos ni hindi makasulat ng pangalan o hindi maka-recite ng alphabet, then after 6 months ng intervention… makita mo sila na nasa harap ng stage sa harap ng maraming tao tumutula, kumakanta, o nagre-recite ng poem, doon ako natutuwa,” she said.
(When you see the kids at the start of the school year, crying and not wanting to be separated from their mothers, and unable to write their name or recite the alphabet, then after 6 months of intervention, I see them on stage in front of a lot of people, reciting a poem or singing, that makes me happy.)
She also shares the joy that mothers feel when she sees the then-little ones who were once part of the programs she handled now graduating from college.
“Makita ko iyong mga bata before and then graduate na sila ng college ngayon, sinasabi nila ngayon, ‘O, Tita Erl, graduate na ko.’ ‘Ay, very good!’ sabi kong ganun,” she said.
(I see kids I handled before and now they’re college graduates. They tell me now, “Tita Erl, I’m already a graduate.” And I tell them, “Very good!”)
People often ask her why she doesn’t have kids but she proudly tells them: “Libu-libo ang anak ko. Nasa daycare center, nasa community na tinutulungan namin.” (I have thousands of children. They are in daycare centers, in the communities we help.)
Erlinor and her husband thought of adopting a kid but it never pushed through because she preferred adopting from a relative. Recently her husband again broached the idea of adoption but she said they are too old.
But even if they did not actually have a child to call their own, Erlinor said she has no regrets as she is perfectly happy devoting her time for service.
“Baka kung nagkaanak din ako, baka wala na ako dito kasi ang priority ko iyong famiy ko pero siguro nandito ako sa kalagayan na ito kasi mas marami akong natutulungan,” she said. (If i had a child, I’d probably not be here because my priority would be my family. But maybe I was put here because I can help more people.)
Motherhood is believed by many to be the essence of being a woman. But for Erlinor, birthing is not the be-all and end-all of being a mother.
“For me, it’s my responsibility to ensure that every child – be it my own, my niece, or nephew, or whoever child – will be given the chance to live a decent life,” she said in a mix of English and Filipino. – Rappler.com