She was 11 years old and had been living alone, for the most part, on the island of Mindanao in the Philippines, an impoverished area, plagued by warring groups. Elena’s days were often filled with the sound of gun-fire.
But a knock at her door signaled a change.
A person from the Children’s Shelter at Cebu told her that she had a twin brother who was living at the shelter. The person asked if she wanted to go to the shelter too.
Her new home was the first good turn in her young life, and she has not forgotten that. It was especially clear in her mind on Nov. 10, when Super Typhoon Haiyan stormed ashore in the Philippines. The typhoon killed more than 5,000 people (nearly 2,000 others are still missing), injured 26,000 and left countless people homeless.
Elena, who was later adopted by the Totushek family in Barrington, knew she had to do something. So in late November, she held a fund-raiser for the Children’s Shelter at Cebu. The event raised nearly $6,500 for the orphanage.
“When I was following the news about the typhoon, my heart ached for all those children who were left without anybody to take care of them,” Elena wrote in a recent e-mail. “I know how that feels when you’re feeling alone, and I wanted to help out. I wish I can do more, I wish I was in the Philippines physically helping out.”
Elena organized a dinner and other people, including folks from Barrington Christian Academy, helped out.
“It was a moment of ‘It’s A Wonderful Life,’ when everyone showed up with donations. I didn’t expected it,” she wrote. “It was a blessing. I am very thankful for those people who donated for the Children’s Shelter of Cebu. The orphanage itself is already on the move helping all those people from Tacloban, Samar, Leyte and the northern part of Cebu that got hit really bad.”
Elena has not been in the Philippines for years.
Elena and her twin brother Henry were orphaned at a young age. Henry went to live one family while a woman Elena called the “Devil” took care of her. Elena lived a difficult life and experienced things “little kids should not see.”
But something wonderful happened when she was 11.
“At age 11 the orphanage, Children Shelter of Cebu, came knocking at my door, telling me that I have a twin brother named Henry (Hendre) and that if I want, I could be with him,” Elena wrote.
From age 11 to 15-and-a-half, Elena lived at the orphanage, and was happy. She came to know her twin brother and eventually the Totushek family, of Barrington, adopted her.
“Before I got adopted at 15 1/2 years old by the Totusheks, I was living ‘alone.’ My first 11 years, I had it rough. I had been through a lot. My life was hell,” she wrote.
With the Totusheks her faith in God grew. More and more she started to view the fortuitous turns in her life as small miracles, acts of God.
“I shouldn’t be here,” she wrote, “but God took care of me. … We have a creator who is bigger than anything and I believe that He was protecting me from any harm.”
The recent fund-raiser was Elena’s way of giving back, of not forgetting who she is and from where she came. She personally knows people who lost everything in the typhoon, all their possessions, their homes, their loved ones.
“It was a big deal to me, I never expected that much to be raised,” she wrote. “God truly blessed that fund-raiser.”