Mayumi Burgos was just 2 years old when security forces in the Philippines seized her father
, Jonas, some 12 years ago. She never saw him again and was forced to grow up with barely any memories of him. Despite his absence, other family members say the young girl, who has her heart set on becoming a visual artist, shares many of his characteristics and passions, including his sense of humor and love of archery. Known as Yumi by her friends and family, she is naturally gregarious — another trait said to have been inherited from Jonas. But this is balanced by her more introspective side, which she said puts her in the best frame of mind to sketch drawings on her battered and aging tablet PC. She inherited her talent for drawing from her mother. Perhaps the American children's author Theodor Seuss Geisel — Dr. Seuss — put it best when he famously wrote: "Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than you."
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To a family like this where stories about human rights serve as their "daily bread," and related activities usually take priority over other matters, a joyful news breaker tends to be received with much jubilation. At the end of December, Yumi's mother, Mhe Ann, was delighted to inform the family that Yumi had received an honorable mention in the "Kids for Human Rights" international drawing competition. Among 17,000 entries from all over the world, Yumi's contribution was one of just 70 pieces singled out for praise in this way. Rhéal LeBlanc, chief of the press and external relations department of the United Nations Information Service in Geneva, wrote a letter to Yumi congratulating her. It read: "Dear Mayumi, on behalf of the international jury of the 'Kids for Human Rights' international drawing competition, I am pleased to inform you that you have received an honorable mention in the category, 'A human rights defender I admire.' "Please accept our warmest congratulations and sincere thanks for having participated in the competition. The contest generated more than 17,000 entries from children around the world, so your achievement is something to be very proud of." You can imagine the joy and pride her family must have felt on reading those words. The art work done by Mayumi, daughter of Jonas Burgos, a victim of involuntary disappearance in the Philippines, that was displayed in Brussels. (Image supplied)
Yumi was just a baby when her father was taken away by the military. I assume her memories of him are vague, at the very least. As her grandmother, I sometimes wonder where her knowledge and memories of him come from. Presumably it must be from the stories her mother, or me, or other people who knew him, like to tell. There are also a few pictures in the family home of the two of them playing together and having fun. Soon after Yumi celebrated her fourth birthday, I was holding her in front of her computer one day when a shadow appeared on the monitor, reflecting movement in the screen door of the verandah behind us. All of a sudden, she turned around as if recognizing the person at the door. I also turned around and saw the silhouette of a tall and slim man on the doorstep. He came inside and as the light fell on him, I recognized him as a friend of the family. Upon discerning this, Yumi immediately lost interest and went back to playing her computer game. "I thought it was my dad," I heard her mutter under her breath, with obvious disappointment. I was nonplussed. Indeed, our friend could easily be mistaken for Jonas in that half-light. The question is: How could Yumi possibly recognize her father's silhouette after so much time had elapsed and given her young age? In 2015, when she was about 10 years old, we took her with us to see Pope Francis during his visit to the Philippines. As we stood on a cement island in the middle of the road waiting for the pope to pass by, I could see her straining her eyes as she tried to make out a face in the crowd just a few meters away from us. "Do you see someone you recognize?" I asked her. She answered with a shake of her head. "I thought I saw father," she replied. Enforced disappearances
do not only affect the person who is spirited away by security personnel or other forces. It also victimizes that person's family, community and even society itself. The effects are wide-reaching. Oftentimes, they can still be felt generations later. Jonas' family was deprived of its breadwinner, a loving father to a young daughter, a devoted husband to a loving wife, a dependable and thoughtful son to an aging mother, a buddy to brothers and sisters. Those who work the land around our farm recall how his presence alone brought them cheer and hope, even in the middle of planting or harvesting rice, an arduous job. And if we reflect on the impact this has on society, I recall some of the comments made by my friends as they deliberated who to vote for during the last presidential election
. Common refrains included "There is no one to choose between" or "No candidate is acceptable or good enough." I would ask myself, why is this the case? Is it because generations earlier those who would have been ideal candidates were either disappeared or killed? Look at the country's leaders now. Meanwhile, Yumi is continuing to grow up and continuing to develop her artistic streak. For the joy and hope the news of her recent accolade brought to the family, I would like to praise the lord for bestowing on them this Christmas gift. Mayumi gratefully received her talent from drawing from Him who created all. For as He said, "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you." Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen, believed to be soldiers, abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.