6 November 1984 is inked on Simone Rota’s forearm. It’s the same date that he shares with his sister Valentina. They were born on the same day in two different places. But their lives suddenly became intertwined when they were sheltered inside the home of Franciscan nuns. “He was probably just about a week old. The stump of his umbilical cord was still fresh at that time when his young mother handed him over,” Sister May Memorial of Buklod Kalinga Para Sa Kapwa recollected. Six months later, Italian couple Marilena and Maurizio Rota adopted these two November 6 babies.
Sister May fondly recalls that Simone was a restless and well-nourished baby. Who would have thought that the restless baby will soon be an athlete playing for football teams in Italy and Switzerland? At first, his parents wanted him to be a swimmer when he was a kid. But at the age of ten, he fell in love with a different sport, and traded the waters with his newfound playground: the pitch. All he wanted to do was play football. He even stopped going to school in order to play professional football. “My father didn’t like football. He likes me to study.” The restless Simone continued his love for the beautiful game.
Football eventually drew him back to his birthplace. Last January, he returned to the Philippines for the first time since 1984. “I waited for a long time and I think it’s the right time to be here.” There were no traces of the first six months of his life — just the handwritten name and address of a young teenager and fragmented memories of two Franciscan nuns. He could have easily chosen to forget his first shelter, but this restless man yearned to retrace his country of birth. Together with the names Valentina, Maurizio and Marilena, and “6 November 1984,” he inked another detail on his right forearm: a drawing of the Philippine archipelago.
He has never really gone around the Philippines yet he proudly wore the Philippine flag colors on his uniform when he scored for the first time in the AFC Challenge Cup. “It’s an honor to play for the country,” is an automatic answer you’ll get from a national team member but the same statement bore more meaning for this young man. He grew up in Italy and he never knew any Tagalog word, but as his country of birth slowly unraveled its beautiful and simple life, Simone proudly calls himself a Filipino. Sister May said that Simone has surprisingly adjusted well in the Philippines— even his taste buds quickly adapted to Pinoy food.
For Simone, adjusting his taste buds is as easy as learning how to cook food for the kids. When Sister May taught him how to cook porridge for the kids, he asked if they could just order McDonald’s instead. Sister May chuckled and explained to him that ordering fast food for more than 1000 kids is expensive and unhealthy. Soon, he became fond of cooking and serving food. His latest tattoo is the kids’ prayer before meals and the name “Sister May”— her nanay in the Philippines who constantly teaches him about the relevance of service.
It's the simple life here that makes him stay and pushes him to serve kids every single day. "I like the simple life. They always like to sing and laugh every time. They don't care about their situation." His daily routine consists of football training, taking kids in the orphanage to school, helping in cooking porridge, feeding rice and bread to underprivileged kids, chopping wood, helping in carpentry, and going to the gym. His club team gave him a condo unit in Cubao, but he chose to stay in Parañaque, together with Sisters May, Adelaide and Faith, and 16 orphans of Buklod Kalinga. Trading your home in Italy for an orphanage in a third-world country may seem like a downgrade… but Simone has chosen to stay here. “For a very long time.”
"If they don't stay here, they go to the squatters’. And I don't want that…” “I was the same--- without parents. I would be in the same situation... That's why I want to stay with them."Retracing his roots has been easy, thanks to the lovely kids and nuns of Buklod Kalinga. They are Simone’s biggest fans on and off the pitch. They don’t know anything about football yet every time they watch their Kuya’s game, they give their loudest cheers. After playing football in Maldives for a few days, the kids welcomed their Kuya with a “Welcome Home!!! Kuya Simone” tarpaulin.
His Tagalog and English vocabulary are limited but through sign language, music and laughter, words weren’t really needed for these kids to get to know their new Kuya, idol, and football hero. Thrice a week, Simone rides Buklod Kalinga’s multicab in order to deliver lugaw and bread to underprivileged families living by the creek. Kids and mothers are already waiting, with their empty plates, mugs, cans and pitchers. Most mothers do not know who Simone is but they’re always thankful to see a smiling guy distributing their much-awaited porridge. Small boys, on the other hand, declare that Simon (without an ‘e’) is their idol. Every Saturday, these kids join Buklod Kalinga’s kids for a whole day of dancing, singing and games. It is like a real home full of angelic faces and genuine laughter. You would never guess that these kids are either poor or once abandoned by their parents.
We all have birth dates to remember. For most of us, it is just life’s way of letting us track our ages. For Simone, November 6, 1984 is the day he and his sister were born into this world. He might not ever have the chance to say hello to the mother who bid him goodbye 29 years ago, but this date will forever be remembered in order to give back to his country of birth and to the same refuge that sheltered him when he was just a baby."I told Simone that we couldn't find his mother. We tried to locate her but there's no way for us to check if she placed her real name and address.. He told me that it doesn't matter 'coz he's already blessed with his parents in Italy and a mom in the Philippines (Me)," Sister May shared with a smile.
Each day, it is like November 6, 1984 all over again— The "restless baby" is now finally home to rediscover his roots and celebrate the simplicity of life.
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