Rawan Radwan and Marie ‘Ning’ BernardoJEDDAH : SIRAJ WAHAB
When Saudi freelance journalist Rawan Radwan set out to locate her childhood nanny, she never imagined that her search would become an international news story, warming hearts around the globe.
Three years ago, the 29-year-old Saudi woman and her sister, Hadeel, discovered a deeply touching personal letter written to their mother by a woman from the Philippines 22 years ago.
“The discovery of that letter sparked my curiosity to find this person,” said Radwan. “She was our nanny, and her full name was Marie ‘Ning’ Bernardo. Many of our happy childhood memories are associated with her.”
With time and distance working against her, Radwan was frustrated time and again in her quest to locate the long lost nanny.
“I wanted to know where life had taken her,” she told Arab News. “She was very caring; it was she who instilled a sense of discipline in us; she was the one who read bedtime stories to us; she was the one who taught us English.”
The then-youngsters were particularly attached to Marie because of the nature of their parents’ jobs. “My father, the late Mohammed Jamil Radwan, was a diplomat posted in Jakarta; my mother, Fatma M. Zain, was a lecturer in Jeddah. Both had very busy work schedules, and so we were left in our nanny’s care most of the time at that formative, impressionable age, and so everything good that she did for us remained deep within.”
Radwan said she and her sister may have had 10 nannies after Marie, but “no one could replace her in kindness and goodness, and that is why I wanted to reach her.”
Armed with the nanny’s name and that letter, Radwan scoured the Internet. “I went to every single social networking site — Google, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. I would enter her first name, her middle name, her last name, and the name of her city and her country — everything … I searched her with every possible permutation and combination, but I drew a blank,” she said.
After three years of off-and-on search, Radwan had almost given up when two weeks ago she Googled “Quezon,” the province from where the letter had been posted.
“I came up with the province’s official webpage. On that website was a telephone number. I dialed and spoke with Eva Palma, an assistant in the governor’s office. I told her my purpose and gave her the address that was mentioned in the letter. She took down my contact details and promised to call me back. I even e-mailed our nanny’s picture to her.”
It seems Palma was not able to find the address, so she contacted Danny Estacio, a journalist at Manila Bulletin newspaper, and passed on all the details to him along with the photo.
Sensing a brilliant story, Estacio ran a piece in his newspaper along with Marie’s picture. “Our nanny saw her photograph in the newspaper and came to Palma’s office with three albums full of photos that connected her with us,” said Radwan. “All those pictures that are now in the Philippine newspapers and television stations are from her.”
The nanny was then approached by a Philippine television station. GMA News TV’s “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho” got the nanny into the studio, and Radwan was connected from Jeddah. “The two of us saw each other for the first time after 22 years,” she said. “It was an incredible, fascinating fairytale.”
Marie is now in Candelaria, a town in Quezon Province.
Radwan, her mother, sister and a brother, who was very small when Marie left them, are over the moon. “Good people have a way of weaving their way into our hearts. She was extremely nice to us, and the things that she wrote in that famous letter were extremely heartwarming. There was a special note for my younger sister. I was six at that time, and she was four. She doesn’t remember her a lot, but from the letter it was pretty evident that Hadeel was Marie’s favorite. She called me Roona affectionately and my sister Looli. We called her Dada.”
On the television program, Radwan said to Marie: “Dada, we missed you; we love you, and I hope you are good and happy. I hope you finally found the love of your life and the life that you always wanted. I wish you more blessings. And, I hope to see you soon.”
Radwan wants to thank all those who helped her locate her nanny. “I would like to express my gratitude to Eva Palma for accepting my offer to help find my nanny. I wouldn’t have been able to start my initial search without her. I want to thank Estacio for publishing my story and making my voice heard, and lastly I would like to also thank the team at the ‘Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho’ television show for taking the time to tell my story and making my nanny the star that she deserves to be.”
For Radwan, all is well that ends well. She wants to meet her in person. “There are so many things that we have planned for her,” she said. “She was our role model, and she will continue to be one — forever.”
Rawan Radwan meets Marie Luningning Bebit in the Philippines.Saudi journalist in emotional reunion with Filipino childhood nanny
MANILA: RIMA AL-MUKHTAR
A Saudi journalist who was on a quest to find her childhood nanny has finally reunited with the woman who left the Kingdom 22 years ago.
Arab News’ sister publication Sayidaty magazine sponsored Rawan Radwan’s trip all the way from Jeddah to Manila.
“At first, I thought it was a joke when the magazine informed me that they would fly me out to the Philippines,” she said.
Radwan said: “I was very excited and counted the hours until I finally flew into Manila’s airport. Even then, I still couldn’t believe I was actually in the Philippines.”
She said: “The next day flew by fast as we toured the city, but I was extremely excited anticipating the meet between us.”
“Seeing her face as I walked toward her, I could see genuine love and I felt the same way,” she said.
“It was great to surprise her the way we did. It was an epic moment that I will never forget.”
Local Filipino show “Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho,” English for “one at heart,” organized a ceremony to recognize the accomplishment of Marie Luningning Bebit, now the only female town police officer, in combatting violence against women and children.
“I was given a great opportunity when I got to see the child that I helped raise over 20 years ago. I think I am being rewarded for my volunteer work,” said Marie.
“I am grateful for everything Rawan and her family had given me before and are giving me now. I will always remember them and will surely keep in touch,” she added.
It’s always great to meet people who are kind to their domestic workers, Jessica Soho, host of the leading news-magazine show in Philippines, told Arab News.
“Many of our countrymen work in Saudi Arabia and we usually only hear the negative stories. This is why it was very important for me to bring this positive experience to my audience.”
She said: “I think it touched and inspired a lot of us and it also somehow highlighted the heroism of our countrymen, especially mothers who leave their children behind and go to Saudi Arabia in search of a good job to provide for them.”
Radwan’s story went viral on Filipino social media sites, where people shared their positive thoughts and comments about the issue.
“Appreciating what ‘dada’ (Arabic for housemaid) did for them is the heartwarming story of the night,” said Arvin Castro, the show’s Facebook page administrator.
“We are really proud of this family and, of course, of overseas Filipino workers who are spending their time working abroad for their families,” he added.
Touched by the story, Saudi Arabian Airlines offered to sponsor the tickets to help Rawan reach her destination non-stop from Jeddah to Manila.
Rawan was also given a complimentary stay at the luxury Fairmont Makati Hotel in Manila.
According to Rawan, Marie still looks the same, only with shorter hair.
“I can see the same smile, the same kindness in her eyes and I still see the nanny who has lived with us for years under one roof,” she said.
“This trip was not only an amazing gift, but was also a learning experience for me. I was able to learn about Filipino culture by experiencing the local cuisine, attire, language, different landscapes and most importantly, the area where she lives. I got to see how beautiful and close-knit her community is,” she added.
Rawan and Marie pledge to continue communicating and reconnecting to make up for the years they were apart.