An SOS mother like Mama Wilma (center) takes care of eight to ten children and looks after them until they become independent.
She has never married, but Wilma Papa has chosen to be a mother to 32 children. They are not of her blood--they are, however, “in every sense of the word, my life,” Wilma points out.
For more than 20 years now, Wilma has heeded the call of motherhood in SOS Children's Villages, dedicating her life to children who have been abandoned, neglected, or abused. What motivated her to do so can likely be traced back to her past.
Wilma and her siblings had to live with different relatives when they lost her father at the age of two. Wilma was entrusted to the care of one of her uncles, a surgeon, who also owned various businesses, including a sugar plantation, a pharmacy, a fish pond, and a pig farm. He treated Wilma like his own daughter, and he expected her to manage the businesses full-time after finishing college.
It was this expectation that led Wilma to take up a degree in Accountancy from Cebu Roosevelt Colleges (the only one among her siblings to graduate). But what she really wanted was a degree in social work, which would have put her in a position to help children in need. It was a desire that never waned.
That's why, after visiting her brother in Manila, Wilma never let go of SOS Children's Villages the minute she found out about it. She underwent years of training, and committed to become an SOS mom full-time in 1993. You'd think that someone who doggedly pursued this path of taking care of children would have a mother’s natural instinct. But Wilma recalled how challenging it was at the beginning, and she frequently found herself doubting the path she chose.
“My first few months were difficult. Some of the kids that first came under my care were either ill or undernourished, and as a mama, I couldn’t bear to see them like that so I really had to give them my all."
Wilma also struggled when it came to budgeting the allowance that SOS allots for her and her children. While it was not an easy journey, Wilma eventually adjusted and even found her own parenting style that helped her adapt to the varying needs of each son or daughter.
“Like any parent, I wake up in the morning to prepare breakfast for them. I help them out with their homework, support their extracurricular activities, and meet with their teachers at PTA meetings. I am also their constant cheerleader at every dance or sports competition, and their listener when there are problems with school and friends. I would sometimes lie at the edge of the bed to make room for them when anything scares them at night,” shares Wilma.
“I strive every day to provide each and every one of my children with a home filled with love, care, and understanding—one that would provide them with confidence and security,” she adds. Like any parent, her goal is for each and every one of her children to finish their schooling, pursue a career that they are passionate about, and find meaningful work.
Mama Wilma currently has 10 kids under her care, and through the years, has helped 32 children experience happy childhoods. At 57 years old, she currently has 27 grandchildren, and she will be retiring in a couple of years.
“I love them unconditionally like any mother would her own child and help them be the best that they can be.” Her grown-up children are now responsible members of society, each carving out their own paths to success. One of them lives in California.
“In my journey as an SOS mom, my children are with me. Even if other people say that they’re not my biological children, to me, they are my children, and I love them like they’re my own. I feel happy whenever they would thank me and appreciate things like the food I prepare for them, or simply tell me that they love me. When they would worry about me when I’m sick, that always tears me up,” reflects Mama Wilma.
Mama Wilma, at the age of 57, will be retiring in three years. Since 1993, she has provided motherly love and care to 32 kids and now has 27 grandchildren.