Edmonton children help daycare worker reunite with her daughters in the Philippines
'I'm so happy. I'm still floating. I'm counting down the days, ' says Leila Cayaba
After four years of painful separation, Leila Cayaba will soon be reunited with her daughters.
It's a gift from the children she cares for everyday at Little Einstein's daycare, inside Mount Royal Elementary school.
"I'm so happy. I'm still floating. I'm counting down the days, " Cayaba said during a Friday morning interview on CBC's Edmonton AM radio show.
"I want everyone to know how grateful and blessed I am."
When Cayaba made the decision to move to Canada four years ago, she was forced to leave her children behind. Her husband died years ago, so the girls stayed with family. Watching them grow up from afar, waiting for their visas to be approved, was heartbreaking.
At one point, it became too difficult to even look at photographs.
And she couldn't help but think of them — 13-year-old Sharela and 15-year-old Shaireen — when she showed up for work everyday.
The children at the daycare noticed.
"The kids saw that Laila was upset," said Bryer Hocken, a member of the daycare staff who works alongside Cayaba, tending to more than 30 children ranging in age from 5 to 12 years old.
"It's clear to see when a mother misses her children, and the kids asked me: 'Why can't we just let Laila go see her kids? Why can't we just give her tickets?'
"I had to explain to them that the Philippines are very far away. And that we would need to fundraise for that," said Hocken.
The children, apparently unfazed by the prospect, got to work on a bottle drive campaign, and gathered donations.They managed to keep the effort secret.
"All I knew was that we had this bottle drive, and all I knew was that it was for a field trip," said Cayaba. "All these parents were bringing in carts and bags, and I had no idea."
Then, on Valentine's Day, the children gathered around Cayaba, and gave her a card; inside was more than $900, all the money she would need to make the trip home.
"The moment that they gave her the tickets, and just surrounded her with hugs, and you could see tears in their eyes," said Hocken. "Kids are smart, they know how blessed they are, that they get to go home and see their parents everyday."
"When I saw it, the tears were just flowing. And I said 'Oh my god,' " said Cayaba. "I was looking at Bryer, and asking 'What is this? Is it real? Is it real?' "
When she goes to the Philippines at the end of April, her daughters will be coming back with her, for good.
After three years of bureaucratic red tape, her daughters visas were approved, just days after she booked her tickets.
"I really can't explain it. I really want to go because it's been three years that I haven't seen them," said Cayaba. "It's a just a lot of blessings that are coming through."
With files from Trisha Estabrooks