Balay Consuelo Lights
a Path for Mai 

In Western Samar, Philippines, a runaway discovers her life's purpose in a caring shelter for girls Mai was 11 when she ran away from her home in a barrio in Samar, Philippines. The eldest of seven, she sought to escape further abuse from her father, a construction worker. "I got burned by cigarettes, got hit with a stick, was made to kneel on grains of rice, and harassed," she recalls. The last straw came when her drunken father assaulted her. It was typhoon season in Samar and she literally slept in the streets. "I had no food in the middle of a storm," she said. After three days, she met a concerned security guard who brought her to the provincial branch of the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The social worker assigned to Mai in turn led her to WESADEF (Western Samar Development Foundation). Mai found refuge in this nonprofit institution, which for the last 25 years has served the poor of Samar, specifically women and children who have been victims of violence. In 2000, Consuelo Foundation partnered with WESADEF and eight years later built Balay Ayupanan (House of Shelter) for abused girls of the province. But after receiving reports of abuse cases increasing in the area, Consuelo Foundation decided to build an even larger shelter to accommodate more girls.

Today, Balay Ayupanan has been transformed into Balay Consuelo, a two-story house with room for 32 girls. Each girl gets her own locker and access to a library, computer room, and a lounge area with a TV. With a big lawn in front and a vegetable garden for a backyard, the girls have space to heal and feel safe again. At the shelter, Mai gained valuable life skills. The girls are taught to distinguish between safe and unsafe touch, for instance, as a way to prevent future abuse. These lessons are age-appropriate and presented through child-friendly methods such as storytelling and animation. It took some time for Mai to gather the courage to file a case against her father, who is now in jail. While he awaits trial,  Mai has gained strength and hope in knowing that she can count on caring individuals to help her. "Someday I hope to become a police officer to help other kids like me," she said.