Three years after the life-changing surgery in Taiwan, former conjoined twins Jennylyn and Jerrylyn De Guzman have begun their first step in the long road of education. Even though their case has since been closed, Tzu Chi continues to nurture their growth with supplies and spiritual support.
Jennylyn and Jerrylyn are the third case of conjoined twins separated with the help of Tzu Chi. After learning about their case in 2014, Tzu Chi Philippines arranged for their surgery at Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in 2015. They returned to the country three months later as two separate bodies but still joined in spirit.
The noise of over 30 under-five children resound amidst the crop fields of the town of Bautista, Pangasinan. Another bustling day at the local daycare center has its students color a papaya green with a hint of yellow. Their parents watching from the sidelines, the children complete the simple task with eagerness.
Among the class are the twins Jennylyn and Jerrylyn De Guzman. Once joined at the hip upon birth, they enjoy life as separate bodies but still joined in spirit. They have grown so much since then that it has become more difficult to distinguish one from the other.
On that day, July 17, a familiar face returns to check up on the twins: “a-ma” or “grandma.”
Tzu Chi volunteer Conchita Tan, who has been the twins’ second mother for the longest time, sees them all grown up and healthy. Jennylyn and Jerrylyn came rushing out of the daycare center, joyous to see her after a year. Tan is equally happy to see the twins starting their long road of education.
“I’m glad that they’re already going to school like normal children. They know how to color and what color to use,” Tan narrated.
Three years ago, Jennylyn and Jerrylyn underwent surgery at the Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital in Taiwan. It was a pivotal moment, as the challenges of separating sisters sharing some organs were prevalent. But as soon as they became two healthy bodies, it gave the family—and Tzu Chi—a cause for celebration.
Even as the case of the De Guzman twins has long come to a close, Tzu Chi hasn’t forgotten about them. Every year, through rough farm roads, Tan comes to visit the De Guzman home bearing gifts for the twins. This year, the family received a care package that consists of new clothes, new shoes, school supplies, powdered milk and chocolate, biscuits, and 20 kilos of rice from Taiwan, among others.
“Even though their bodies are all right, it’s still important to support them spiritually. We still have to nurture their growth toward the right path,” Tan added.
Such an insight reflects Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s wishes of alleviating not just the physical but emotional affliction of people. She envisions a world where people can become a productive member of society, not just in skill but also attitude. Children like Jennylyn and Jerrylyn will form the foundation for this new society.
The playful and the diligent
Jennylyn is the more playful of the twins, describes her daycare teacher Lilibeth Bernabe. She’s more active than the more diligent Jerrylyn. Tzu Chi volunteers saw this distinction at their home when Jennylyn expressed her excitement over the new clothes and toys she received.
“But when it comes to school work, Jennylyn joins in on her sister’s diligence,” Bernabe added.
Education might not have been possible if the twins are still conjoined to this day. Their mother Ludy, in fact, faced problems more pressing than finding a good school for them when they’re still joined at the hip.
Their parents, with their low-income jobs (the father as a farmer, the mother taking laundry jobs door-to-door), cannot offer much in terms of comfort. Their hopes for the twins rest on their long road of education, starting from the daycare center.
“Education is the only thing we can provide them. I hope they finish their education and land a good job for themselves,” said Ludy, who only finished Grade 5. Her husband graduated from elementary but never stepped foot into high school.
Only time can tell what the future holds for the De Guzman twins. This is why, as early as now, they have to be nurtured the best way their parents—and Tzu Chi—can.