In the early 1990s, Ilongga Teresita Sajonia moved to Singapore to work as a nanny, taking care of three little boys. Once, on vacation with the family, she visited a wishing well and wished that her wards would grow up to be decent men and they would not forget about her. Decades later, her wish came true and it was no less than a Cannes International Film Festival award-winning film that paved the way for the reunion between her and the boys she loved and cared for like they were her own.
Teresita was the inspiration behind “Ilo Ilo,” a film that received international acclaim and won the prestigious Camera d’Or prize at the 2013 Cannes. Set against the 1997 Asian financial crisis, it chronicles the relationship between a young Singaporean boy and his Filipina nanny. It is also the feature film debut of Singaporean filmmaker Anthony Chen, one of three boys that Teresa took care of as a domestic helper in the Lion City. After the success of the movie, Cebu- based public relations agency Selrahco PR contacted Chen and his siblings, and offered to help them reunite with their former nanny, whom they fondly called “Auntie Terry.” While this proved to be a challenge as they knew only her first name and hometown, Selrahco PR’s Iloilo-wide search ended in an emotional reunion, when Chen and his youngest brother Christopher flew to Iloilo to see her again after 16 years. “I was very happy to see them and just hugged them tight,” recounted Teresita in Filipino. “They were still young when I left, and now they have become so big and handsome.”
Teresita worked for the Chen family for eight years, but had to return home in 1997 due to health issues. Since then, she had lost touch with the family but still carried photos of the three boys with her. “They were very nice kids; they could be mischievous at times, but they’re really very sweet,” she shared. In late August, “Ilo Ilo” will be shown in Singaporean cinemas and Teresita will be there to attend the premiere screening, through the help of the movie’s official airline partner Cebu Pacific. This will be her first time traveling to a foreign country after 16 years.
Teresita said she could not believe that Chen would make a movie inspired by their story and that he and his brothers would come looking for her. “I’m so touched and thankful,” she said. “It must mean that they loved me as much as I loved them.”
“’Ilo Ilo’ is a story about love, family and relationships, and we could never have imagined that a little film like this could reach out, connect, and re-connect those ties that we thought were long lost,” the filmmaker posted on the movie’s official Facebook page after the reunion. Chen is the first Singaporean to win a top award at Cannes for a feature film. (Malaya)