Growing up without anything to see but darkness or blurry things is a nightmare for Calijan siblings, Rotchel and Ronald.
Rotchel was born with cataracts on both eyes and lived with it for 17 years. Because of the thickness of the cataract, her family has all but lost hope that Rotchel will be able to see.
Her younger brother, Ronald, also has cataracts on both eyes but not as thick as Rotchel’s. Still, he has difficulty reading and seeing his surroundings. He’s lived with this burden for 16 years.
Their 49-year-old mother, Arosela, admits that it breaks her heart whenever she sees her children struggle with poor eyesight. She also reveals that this is also the reason her husband has left them.
“My husband could not accept the fact that our children are disabled. He said that we are the cause of his bad luck. So, I told him that if he can’t accept our children, then he can leave us. But me, I will be firm with my decision. I am their mother, and I will never leave them for anything or anyone,” narrates Arosela
It was 2010 when the head of the family abandoned them. Since then, Arosela serves as both mother and father to her five children. However, her salary as a laundress could not sustain the needs of her children. As much as she wants to bring Ronald and Rotchel to an ophthalmologist, their money is just enough for their everyday needs.
The siblings’ struggles
Because of her condition, Rotchel does not know how to read and write. She also has not experienced being a student because she fears of getting bullied by her classmates. Only her mother serves as her teacher.
However, she still makes herself productive at home, “I am the one who wash the dishes. I also wash our clothes, and fold our clothes. Because for me, being blind should never become a hindrance for me to help my mother in doing house chores.”
“Deep inside, I really envy them because they can see the things around them and they can move normally. They don’t have to be guided by anyone,” adds Rotchel.
She also experiences being bullied by other people because of her condition, “Ever since I was a child, some people are bullying me because I am blind. They will call me blind Rotchel. They tell me to stay away from them because I do not belong, for unlike them, they are normal. I also get hurt every time that they will call me illiterate, because I don’t know how to read nor to write. They will call me ‘idiot’.”
Unlike Rotchel, Ronald comes to school because he can still use his right eye, though his vision is extremely blurry.
While Ronald is a hardworking student, he finds it hard to study. He has to bring his notebook up close to see what he writes. He also has to shove his face on book to read.
Asked to describe Ronald, his teacher Christy Joy Arellano only has good words for him.
“Ronald is really like a big brother to his classmates. When he comes to the school, despite his condition, he will get a book then he will teach his classmates. But what really amazed me about Ronald is his perseverance to pursue his dreams. He is really dedicated and determined to change his life. He really wants to give his family a comfortable life despite on his situation,” shares Arellano.
Most of the time, Ronald and his mother walk from their home in Taguig City to school in Pasig. They don’t have money to ride a tricycle or jeepney.
But according to him, he will not let his condition and their poverty to hinder him on fulfilling his dreams.
Journey to Tzu Chi
The Calijan family attends the weekly Bible study organized by Christ Jesus Our Life church in their community. At one point, they met pastors Onie Avante and Josana Pabalan, both well-known for helping the poor.
Avante posted the photo of Rotchel and Ronald on social media to ask for help for their eye operation. As of this writing, the post has earned 90 reactions and 1 share.
A doctor saw the post and referred to her husband who knew Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) ophthalmologist Catherine Macaraig. She advises bringing the siblings to the Tzu Chi Eye Clinic in Sta. Mesa, Manila for a checkup.
With hopes in their hearts, Arosela and Pastor Pabalan brought Rotchel and Ronald to the eye clinic on June 23. They were surprised when they found out that both children have the chance to see clearly.
“To be honest, we thought that Rotchel is totally blind, and we already gave up on hoping that she will be able to see again,” says Pabalan.
After a series of checkups, Rotchel’s left eye underwent surgery on July 12 and her right eye on August 30. Ronald’s left eye underwent surgery on August 9, while his right eye is scheduled for the last week of September.
Arosela is overwhelmed by the help that they received from Tzu Chi. She has no idea that a foundation that provides everything they need and not ask anything in return exists.
“I am very grateful to Tzu Chi Foundation because they are the one who helped my children to be operated. Because of this, I am no longer worried about their future even though I am no longer in their side. I know that they can carry their selves, regardless of my guidance,” says Arosela.
She also narrates the changes that she observes on her children after their surgeries. Ronald no longer shoves his face to read or write. Meanwhile, Rotchel can move without supervision and perform chores around the house. Ronald is also extremely happy and grateful to the foundation. He promises to be a model student and a good son.
“Now, I am more participative in class recitations and my penmanship got better. I can now read properly, with enough distance from the book,” says Ronald.
Meanwhile, Rotchel has only good thoughts and word of thanks on all of the happenings in her life.
“I am really thankful to all the people who helped us, to the doctors, most especially Dr. Macaraig and to Tzu Chi Foundation. I hope that you will continue to help a lot of people like me,” Rotchel says.
“And my message to all the people who are also experiencing the struggles that I experienced before: do not give up and do not lose hope. The Lord will guide you,” she adds.
She plans to resume her studies on the next school year.
Ronald and Rotchel serve as an inspiration to other people, living proofs of enduring hope and a struggle worth fighting for.
Christ Jesus Our Life Church Pastor Onie Avante posts the photo of Rotchel and Ronald Calijan on social media to ask help for their eye operation. Both of them have cataract on both of their eyes. Calijan family is a regular attendee of their religion’s Bible study. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Arosela Calijan, together with her five children lives in a shanty house in Barangay Napindan, Taguig City. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Here’s a closer look to Rotchel Calijan’s eyes. Because of the thickness of the cataract on both of her eyes, her family considered her as totally blind. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Despite of her condition, Rotchel still make herself productive, she folds the clothes that her mother washed. According to her, she doesn’t want to be a burden to her mother that is why she wants to help even in little things. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
She is also in charge in organizing their kitchen utensils. Rotchel feel happy whenever she do house chores, according to her, she feels normal whenever she do it. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Here is a closer look on Ronald’s eyes. Both his eyes have cataract also but not unlike Rotchel, he can still see things but not clearly. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Ronald is a hardworking student, however, he finds it hard to study because of his eye condition. He really needs to get near on his notebook for him to see what he writes. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
He is also reliable when it comes to doing household chores. He is in-charge on getting water for their comfort room in the pit near their house. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Arosela and Ronald have to wake up at 4:00 in the morning to prepare for Ronald’s class. Arosela assists Ronald from taking a bath up to wearing his school uniform. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Arosela brings Ronald and her youngest daughter, Amy, to their school every day. And because no one will look at Rotchel if she will stay in their house, she brings Rotchel with her wherever she goes. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Christy Joy Arellano, Ronald’s teacher, is the one who guides Ronald whenever he is in school. She assists Ronald whenever he can’t read the writings on the board or on their books. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Despite of Ronald’s condition, he proves that he can still be a leader to his classmates. They perform a song and dance number lead and choreograph by him for their project in their music and arts class. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Rotchel, together with Ronald and Arosela, go to Tzu Chi Great Love Campus to have their eye check-up. She undergoes an eye ultrasound to check the condition of her eyes before she has a clearance to have a cataract operation. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Rotchel do not forget to ask for the Lord’s guidance before his operation.
Dra. Catherine Macaraig and her assistant nurse talk to Rotchel a minute away from her operation to make her feel comfortable and calm. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
The cataract operation of Rotchel starts at 1:47pm and ends at 2:30pm. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Ronald Calijan undergoes IOL Master for his lens measurement. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
The eye operation of Ronald Calijan starts at 2:00 pm and ends by 3:00 pm. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Arosela shows her concern for her son after Ronald’s operation and her excitement as her son will soon be able to have clear eyesight. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
After theiroperation, Tzu Chi Foundation’s volunteers go to the house of Calijan siblings to check their condition; they ask the siblings about how they feel now that both of them have clearer vision. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
The volunteers also check if Rotchel can now distinguish colors and letters. Ronald also assists his sister since this is her first time to learn how to read and write. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】
Rotchel and Ronald Calijan proudly smiles in the camera to show their newly operated eye. According to them, Tzu Chi Foundation does not only give them vision but also hope, hope to have a better and bright future. 【Photo by Chloe Dela Cruz】