Good Neighbor Fund: Safety has a price for the Kalihi family


Moving from the Philippines to Hawaii to live with her new husband in 2018 turned out to be a big mistake for Helengrace Cabasal and her two boys.

Her husband, whom she had met on visits to Hawaii, had a bad temper, but she felt she could handle it. It didn’t work that way.

In April, she filed a temporary restraining order against him, and although he asked to be reconciled, “I’d rather be homeless than be with him,” Cabasal said.

But the price for feeling safe in their home has been high. Cabasal struggles to pay rent and buy basic necessities even while working overtime seven days a week.

Her youngest son, Christoper Ortiz, 10, is “intellectually disabled” and needs constant supervision, she said, making it nearly impossible for him to get enough sleep.

“Even though I’m so tired, as long as I can get up and go to work. At least I have peace of mind without a husband, ”Cabasal said.

She has no friends or relatives to care for her son – “my special boy,” she calls him – and is not eligible for government assistance. Cabasal said she couldn’t pay the rent for an apartment after her husband left. So the family moved into a cramped old duplex in Kalihi in June. To make more money, she took on an extra shift for a chain of convenience stores, taking the cemetery shift seven days a week.

“It’s so difficult,” she said, but at least at night her eldest son Nichol Cabasal, 18, can watch his younger brother at night. She remembers having to sleep with one eye open to keep Christopher from sneaking out of the house and wandering around the neighborhood, although he hasn’t done so lately.

“Even though we lock the doors, he has his ways out of the house, he’s so smart!” she said.

On one occasion, Cabasal forgot his key and had to remove the blinds from the windows to get into the house; Christopher remembered how she had done it and fled through a window.

Although affectionate and gentle in nature, he knows how to push buttons on his mother and constantly harasses her to do things that he is able to do for himself, she said.

“He’s so dependent on me,” Cabasal said.

Christopher, who has trouble speaking, begs her every day for a bicycle, which he calls “big” or “ba-a-ba”, and she promises him that she will save money for a bicycle.

When he gets angry, he sometimes breaks things, throws his clothes away, slams the door, and even locks himself in his room. “I can’t rest,” she said.

It is difficult for Cabasal and Nichol to ensure that with their work schedules, one of them is available to supervise Christopher. Early in the morning, when Nichol has to leave for work before his mother comes home, he has to take Christopher to his workplace with him. And Cabasal, who doesn’t have a car, has to rush from work by bus to join the boys at Nichol’s work.

Nichol is also a part-time community college student looking to become a social worker.

Despite their daily hardships, at least her sons no longer have to hide in their rooms, fearing her husband’s temper, Cabasal said. When she recounts how miserable it was with her husband, tears flow again as she recounts the traumatic brawl that led her to call the police and file a restraining order the next day.

“It was my birthday, April 12,” when she finally realized, “If I don’t leave him, I might go crazy; I have to go out while I’m still whole.

Now she wonders how long she and her boys can survive in Hawaii under such pressure, knowing that she is unable to continue her education or vocational training, or work day shifts due to her special needs. son. She is unlikely to return to the Philippines as she quit a stable job there and her eldest son now feels settled in Hawaii.

“We are struggling,” she said, but “I give them my best; we are survivors, and I believe it will all happen.

For Christmas, they could all use clothes and shoes, and Cabasal would love some kitchen utensils and curtains.


The annual Good Neighbor Fund, a charitable partnership between Helping Hands Hawaii, Honolulu Star-Advertiser and First Hawaiian Bank, helps individuals and families in difficulty during the holiday season. This year, through the Adopt-a-Family program, more than 500 families are asking for help with food, clothing, toys and household items. Donations to the Good Neighbor Fund also help Helping Hands cover the operational costs of the non-profit organization’s Community Clearinghouse program, which helps people with basic needs throughout the year.

Individuals can deposit cash or checks into the “Good Neighbor Fund” at any branch of First Hawaiian Bank statewide until December 31st. To donate specifically to Helengrace Cabasal and her family, include code: DVAC-038.


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