Cecil Zamora could easily be a bitter person. Born in Cebu City, in the Philippines, she was abandoned by her parents when she was just 15 days old. But, she says, “I grew up and matured with a compassionate heart for others…” Now 53 years old and living in Taiwan, she shares her time, talent and treasure with others.
Since 2000, Cecil has been one of more than 100 volunteers at Ugnayan, a ministry whose name means “connecting.” It was started by Maryknoll Father Joyalito Tajonera to assist migrant workers in Taiwan with shelter, skills training, advocacy and the sacraments.
The volunteers at Ugnayan help the Maryknoll priest run the ministry. Many of them are migrants themselves who have been wounded by their own past experiences.
Cecil’s woundedness came not only from being abandoned but also from living on the street during her first 13 years of life. When she was reunited with her biological parents at age 14, she recalls angrily asking her mother, “Why did you abandon me?”
Her mother, she says, tried to explain that Cecil’s father was still legally married when she got pregnant with Cecil. “She said she was a public-school teacher and it would be considered shameful for her to have a child out of wedlock. Besides, her parents did not even know she was pregnant,” says Cecil, who was unmoved by the explanation and says she could not forgive her parents.
She became rebellious and got involved in drinking, smoking and substance abuse. She remembers telling her mother, “If ever I get pregnant, I will not abort or abandon my child. I will take good care of her because she is my child.”
Cecil had a baby girl when she was in her fourth year of high school. She married but the marriage failed. However, she kept her promise about caring for her child.
She traveled to Taiwan in September 1999 to earn money as a domestic helper to send back to her daughter in the Philippines. “I was drawn closer to God and to the church,” says Cecil, who shared her singing talent in a church choir in Taichung. When she heard about Ugnayan, she decided to volunteer in the ministry. She also got involved in the Legion of Mary and helping plan liturgies in Taichung parishes where Father Tajonera celebrates Mass for migrants.
Her constant connection with the church and living out her faith, she says, led her to accept the past and forgive those who hurt her. “I became compassionate and could relate with others. I dared to share my treasure—my income—to help my parents and even support the children my late husband had with other women because I believe they do not have any fault for whatever shortcomings their parents had.”
Cecil, who is fondly called Nanay (Mother in Cebuano), is looking forward to retiring from her work in Taiwan and returning to the Philippines to be reunited with her daughter and the rest of her family and start a new life with them.
Like so many of the volunteers, Cecil is grateful to Father Tajonera and the Ugnayan ministry for nurturing her spiritual life and giving her the opportunity to reach out to others in what Father Tajonera calls “a home away from home.”
Featured Image: Cecil Zamora welcomes Maryknoll representatives Deacon Matt Dulka and Father Robert Jalbert, visiting the Ugnayan ministry in Taichung. (Courtesy of Ugnayan Taiwan)