The Story of My Host Family and My Road to Empathy

By Gareth Leung

I stay in the house of Mama Esing and her daughter Lala. The house is in Guimaras which is a small island in the center of Philippines. Mama Esing has seven children. Lala is her eldest daughter. Dion, Sebastian and I live on the side of the house where Mama Esing and her husband live. While Rachel, Kate and Peggy live on the other side of the house where Lala and her six beautiful daughters live.

Mama Esing’s house is approximately as large as a basketball court. The house is huge compared to the average house size in Hong Kong. We can feel their hospitality when we first entered the house as we were welcomed by sausages, breads, hot water and mangoes.

Mama Esing is a responsible mother who has raised up seven children. She has nurtured a bank officer, a business owner, an architect consultant, an engineer and also the next generation of responsible mothers. One of the responsible mothers she has raised up is Lala. Lala who is now an foreign worker agent and a teacher has six daughters. She was a singer in a famous band before. We knew how good at singing she is when we had a karaoke together in Lala’s house one night. She sang a Philippines song about life being a wheel, having ups and downs. The song tells us to enjoy when we are experiencing the ups and persevere when we are experiencing the downs.


(We were singing karaoke!)

Lala lost her husband in October last year. Her husband was the captain of a pump boat driving people across the Iloilo Strait. It was a sunny day but there were some dark and thick clouds far away from the wharf. When he was sailing the boat with his crews, the thunder storms came very fast and hit the boat. The boat sunk eventually. Most of the people on the boat including Lala’s husband died. It was a tragic accident which hurt many families.

Notwithstanding her loss, Lala is still very strong. Indeed, I was amazed by the perseverance of Lala. Since all of her daughters are very bright and intelligent, Lala wants to provide them the best education. Thus, Lala has to quit a job in the government to become a foreign worker agent so as to earn more money to pay their tuition fees. I could only imagine how hard it would be for Lala to raise up six daughters as a single mother.

Lala defends her family as fiercely as her husband would do. Lala went to the local government to complaint for the garbage dumped in the river near her house again the day before yesterday. The garbage may be the reason why one of her daughters got dengue fever. Therefore, Lala went to the government office many times to request the officials to remove the wrongfully dumped garbage. Her persistence won. The local government promised to remove the garbage this week. That night, she joyfully shared this news to us. I know that she will keep succeeding at protecting her family in the future when I see her smile.

Being sheltered by the comfort in Hong Kong, we may find it difficult to be empathetic to people who are suffering from misfortunes far away from us. Sometimes, we may pay too much attention to the difficulties that we have. We may thus forget that other people also have their own problems and difficulties to deal with. This is a classic example of the availability bias. Since we can recall every details of our personal problems easily, we tend to pay unproportionate amount of attention to them, ignoring the challenges faced by other people. This may hinder us to become empathetic.

We may know the hardship faced by other people but we can only understand it when we are willing to broaden our heart and put ourselves into the shoes of people who may be less fortunate than us. As said in the book “Road Less Travelled“, personal growth is about enriching one’s heart by paying less attention to “I” and caring more about “we”. By genuinely caring about other people, we may realize that our problem may only be one grain of sand. We may also be amazed by human’s perseverance and realize that life can never defeat you without your permission.



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