Flustered but still completely beaming with pride that one sunny Tuesday afternoon, 56-year-old Yolanda Pascual carried Joseph Schooling’s seemingly 20-kg backpack robustly while we both stepped out of Joseph’s, Singapore’s first Olympic Gold Medalist, press conference and as we make our way just outside the Black Box Sports Hub Auditorium to find an ideal spot for my short interview.
The red athletic backpack she was carrying the whole time contains tons of Joseph’s personal items, including the nation’s medal of pride and honor.
She exhales a deep breath of relief upon sitting on a plant box as if it was her first moment of rest for the entire day. Needless to say, her past few days have turned out to be an exciting, crazy ride as she needed to tag along with the Schooling family while gracing back-to-back events and press conferences for an entire week.
Auntie Yolly, as she’s fondly called nowadays, agreed to do a one-on-one interview with me (in behalf of GMA 7 News) and she slowly loosened up as the minutes passed by.
With her hair down, loose pink long sleeves shirt, and unassertive tone, the meek lady narrated her colorful life in a jiffy — a quintessential Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) story whose sole aim of leaving her home country is to help raise her family.
Born in Cagayan Valley, her family eventually moved to Muntinlupa City where she took up her primary & secondary school. Prior to Singapore, she also has lived and worked in Cyprus back in the early 90s, and in the last 20 years, she has dedicated her life to the Schoolings. Joseph was still one year old then when she stepped in to assume the future champ’s nanny.
With two daughters of her own (Aleli, 35; Angelica, 30), it was a challenge for her to personally take care of her growing kids. “Minsan, nagseselos na nga mga anak ko kay Joseph, dahil tinuturing ko na rin siyang parang tunay na anak. Dahil malayo ang mga anak ko, na-devote ko ang time at pagmamahal na para dapat sa sarili kong mga anak… pero kahit ganun, mahal na mahal ko sila.” (My children sometimes get jealous of Joseph because I already treat him as my own son. Since my own children are far away from me, I’ve devoted my time and love to Joseph instead of sharing it to my own kids. But despite that, I still love them dearly.)
Asked whether Joseph eats Filipino dishes, she enthusiastically replied: “Paborito ni Joseph ang Pinakbet. Kumakain din yan ng tuyo na may kamatis at sibuyas” (Joseph’s favorite is Pinakbet. He also eats dried fish with tomatoes and onions.)
While waiting at the press area, I was just standing in a little corner engaged in a banter with Auntie Yolly when Joseph’s dad, Mr. Colin Schooling, saw and approached us. Fully aware what has been happening around online and the criticisms Auntie Yolly has been getting these days, he unabashedly said to me being the online Filipino media person in the room: “Yolly has been with us since Joseph was a baby. We treat her as our family, not just any nanny. Please tell all Filipinos that.”
At that moment, I felt really ashamed — why do Filipinos need to bash her at all? To begin with, it wasn’t her fault to be an Olympic gold medalist’s favorite nanny. And when all these happened, it wasn’t her personal idea to be popular online either anyway. It just so happened that she’s Filipina and that her ‘alaga’ is a popular champion, and people wanted to hear her stories.
Auntie Yolly has very good memories of Joseph growing up. Now that Joseph is based in the U.S. for school and trainings, she misses her little boy so much. These days, they make the most out of their time together by casually chatting at home, dining out, or watching movies. Just the other day, Joseph invited her to see a late night movie together, “Jason Bourne,” in a Gold Class cinema house.
“Joseph told me — I miss these… I miss you Aunt,” she says while reminiscing all their bonding times together.
Watching Auntie Yolly mingle with Joseph, his family, and the crowd made me extremely proud of her.
Yolanda Pascual is the face of a modern OFW; she’s the epitome of a hardworking Filipina nanny working overseas.
I don’t doubt it why the Schoolings fell in love with her for over 20 years now. Auntie Yolly radiates with warmth and care — I was hugging her myself just 20 minutes into our conversation.