A Refuge for Orphans – and Bug Hunters

Story and photos by Babylene Bocayes, Philippines Field Communications Specialist

Toto, a bright, curious child rescued from a life of poverty as an orphan in the Philippines, is discovering what he will become in this world through the help of his Child Champions at Haven of Hope Orphanage.


Toto plays basketball at the orphanage.

Toto* loves the outdoors.

The thought of being outside excites the 8-year-old so much that even sweeping fallen leaves on the basketball court is a favorite chore.

The court itself is a treat, too. It is not a big court, but it’s the right size for a young boy like Toto to develop a love for basketball.

But something else about the outdoors excites Toto most. It’s discovering little creatures jumping, hopping, crawling, and flying around the garden where he lives.

Toto is fond of catching frogs and bugs like grasshoppers, dragonflies, and spiders. It’s a world that satisfies a boy’s adventurous heart.

Joining Toto in his little adventures is Jo, his Child Champion at the Haven of Hope Orphanage Philippines in Davao del Sur.

“He loves to show them to me,” she says.

Encouraging a child to dream starts by allowing them to explore the unknown. Like a baby who starts to learn about the world around him by getting messy and sometimes hurt from falling, the process can be scary.

But with the help of somebody who will guide him and open opportunities for him, anything is possible. Fortunately, Toto has Child Champions like Jo to guide him.

A Difficult Beginning

Toto has lived at Haven of Hope Orphanage for five years now. He was born to an impoverished family in a remote area of Davao Occidental on Mindanao Island. His home was three hours away from town, and life there was not easy.

Toto talks to Jo, his Child Champion at the orphanage.

Toto’s parents had a difficult life providing for their family. And it was especially hard to access basic services like health care and government assistance because of their location.

Sadly, both of Toto’s parents passed away while he was still a baby. Toto has no memory of what happened to his parents. But it affected his life, nonetheless.

Cycle of Poverty Lives on

According to Jo, poverty is a significant factor in why many children in Mindanao are orphaned.

Some children, like Toto, lose their parents because of poverty-related illnesses, or sometimes parents separate and abandon their children to escape from their responsibilities. Most of the time, children are left in the care of relatives who are unable to provide for all their needs.

Although children have access to education in public schools, many of them end up marrying or working as day laborers like construction workers or house helpers as early as 16 or 17, mostly after graduating from high school.

The Haven of Hope Orphanage.

“There’s not much work for high school graduates here in our country,” Jo says, “So, the cycle of poverty continues. How we wish we could help those children, but we can’t help them all.”

Rescue and Reunion

But they can rescue some.

Toto has two older sisters. When their parents died, the children were rescued by their local social worker who brought them to Haven of Hope Orphanage.

Since Toto was still too young to be admitted to the orphanage, he lived in a foster home for a while. When Toto turned 3, he was transferred to Haven of Hope and reunited with his sisters.

Toto puts on his shoes as he gets ready to go catch some bugs.

Jo has always had a burning desire to give orphaned children from poor communities a safer home and a hopeful future.

“Ever since I was a kid, I have this in my heart, but I did not know how to go about it,” she says. “But you know God. In His perfect time, I married someone who has relatives who had been orphans as kids.”

With the help of family and friends who share the same vision as hers for helping orphans, Haven of Hope Orphanage Philippines was established in 2006.

A Refuge for Orphans

Haven of Hope Orphanage is a Christ-centered home environment for orphaned children. Its mission is to break the cycle of poverty in southern Mindanao by providing children like Toto a safe place they can call home where they are provided with nutritious food, clothes, medical attention, education, and spiritual and skills training to help them become successful in the future.

Not to mention people who will take the time to go bug-hunting with them.

The orphanage is a bungalow-style building built by Jo’s husband, with several rooms for boys and girls, an office for the staff, and other facilities like a kitchen, dining, and laundry area.

Child Champion Jo always makes time for Toto.

The home has learning spaces for the children as well. There is a computer room for kids to do research and other technology-related projects.

In front of the building has beautiful foliage with a playground, a basketball court, and a lawn for children who want to be active or have some quiet time to dream.

Or search for frogs.

They currently have 20 children in their care who are dreaming of becoming doctors, pastors, teachers, soldiers, and pilots someday.

And they are praying to increase their capacity and make the home bigger so they can take in more children.

“We are grateful for the support we receive from our families and churches here and in the U.S., and also from individuals who give donations both monetary and in kind,” Jo says. “Locally, we have two churches who are helping us, and one is Oikos Theou. I am amazed at how the Lord has provided for us.”

More Hope Through Partnership

Oikos Theou church has partnered with OneChild since 2018. Jo says the church helps them with the educational and medical needs of the children. They also provide musical instrument tutorials.

Toto loves to run and play outside on the lush grounds of the orphanage.

“From time to time, they give us food like sugar and milk,” she adds. “Those things are a lot of help for us.”

On a special day such as a birthday, children receive a cake.

“They look forward to it,” says Jo.

Through the partnership with OneChild, seven children from Haven of Hope Orphanage, including Toto, are also connected with sponsors who support them, not only financially but with love and encouragement through letters.

Toto is thankful for his sponsor who has been a big encouragement to him. At Christmas, Toto receives a gift from his sponsor.

“Christmas makes me happy,” Toto says. “Thank you for the gift that you gave me. I am very happy. Thank you very much.”

Exploring and Dreaming

Toto dreams of becoming a soldier or a pastor someday.

“Or he can be both,” Jo says, encouraging him to dream big.

Haven of Hope Orphanage is a perfect place for Toto to start dreaming and exploring the world.

Anything a Child Champion does for a child today will be instrumental in what they become someday. And Jo and the Child Champions at Haven of Hope Orphanage are there for Toto — from the heroic act of saving him from a life of uncertainty as an orphan to the ordinary love of pursuing tiny creatures with him in the garden.

So while he is still young, Toto will catch more frogs and bugs until he finds his place in this world.

*Name changed for child privacy.

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