New International Exchange teacher in Redfield hopes to bring sons home from Philippines this month
By Shiloh Appel
Chisyl Joy Burger, the new music teacher at Redfield Public School this year, arrived in America from the Philippines in August of 2019. As an International Exchange Teacher on a J-1 visa, Burger’s goal has been to introduce her Filipino culture to her music students while simultaneously learning about American culture. However, it has been a rough road for Burger, who hasn’t seen her two sons in two years.
“Teachers in the Philippines do not have good pay. You cannot even survive if you want to have a quality education or send your children to a good school. So I wanted to give my boys a good future, you know?” said Burger. “I have to make a sacrifice. So I began working overseas.”
Through the International Teacher Exchange, Burger could stay in America for five years. She took out a loan in the Philippines to pay for her visa, plane ticket, housing and other needs. She now sends two thirds of her salary home to the Philippines to pay for the loan and support her boys, who are currently living with their grandmother.
“Before I came here, my late husband got sick in January and then in March he had a stroke. Because of the pandemic and because of the lockdown, there was a delay in bringing him to the hospital. He was not able to survive and he died,” said Burger. “It has been a hard time for the boys because I cannot also go to them during this time. Number one, it is [because of the] pandemic and I cannot travel and number two, financially.”
Burger’s sons, 17 year old Jonathan “Jejo” Carmine Cristobal and 12 year old Joachim “Jesyl” Carmelo Cristobal have been staying in touch with their mother through video calls as the months have gone by.
“So we were planning to bring them here last summer, but because of the pandemic and because it was more than a month that my husband was in the ICU, we were more down financially,” said Burger. In the Philippines, there are currently mandatory lockdowns, so it has been difficult for the boys to get permission from the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines to travel to America.
In October of this year, Chisyl Joy married Randel Burger, of Redfield, who is a retired military paratrooper. Randel has been helping with the paperwork to get the boys to America, and he plans to adopt them. Chisyl also plans to apply for permanent status so she can continue to live in Redfield with her husband and boys.
“My husband tried to help me by going to the State Department. So we were going to apply for emergency. As an exchange teacher, they are already part of my visa, but what they need to do is this: appear in the consulate and have the visa stamped on their passport. So I wrote personally to the consul and made my appeal,” said Burger.
The emergency request was finally granted, and the children’s passports have been stamped. Now, funds are being raised to bring the boys home to Redfield. Pastors Paul and Melissa Rowenhorst, of the Redfield United Methodist Church, have set up a GoFundMe account for Chisyl with a goal of $5,000 to pay for the boys’ tickets and for an additional ticket for someone to travel with them and endorse them.
Chisyl hopes to bring the boys home on February 19th, and she is very excited about embracing her boys again.
“That will be a great joy. It has been a hard time for us because of what we’ve been through,” said Chisyl. “These boys are really close to me. from now on, when they come here, we will not have to be separated anymore.”
In the meantime, Chisyl said she has also fallen in love with the community of Redfield during her time here, and she has introduced many new things to her students. She has convinced Redfield Public School to purchase 25 ukuleles for Redfield middle school students, who will be performing with their ukuleles in their Spring concert.
“The first day they got ahold of the ukuleles, the middle schoolers were so excited. They could not contain their excitement,” said Chisyl. “You have the choir, but sometimes it is a bit boring. So it is nice introducing a new thing and giving them the excitement of enjoying music.”
Chisyl said she hopes to add more strings instruments as the students progress.
“If they could play a double bass and some guitar, we can maybe have string ensembles for the first time in South Dakota,” she said.
She is excited about bringing her boys, who are also musically gifted, to Redfield Public School’s environment.
“The older one is very good in classical guitar. Both of them sing very well because it runs in their blood. They can play ukulele and [Jonathan] started to learn on his own the violin,” she said.
To support Burger’s family, visit www.gofundme.com and put “For Jejo and Jesyl” in the search bar, then follow the prompts to donate. The link to the GoFundMe page can also be found on the Redfield United Methodist Facebook page.
“Our church is kind of heartbroken for them and for her not being able to see her kids for two years because of the visa process and because of COVID,” said Pastor Paul Rowenhorst. “So we wanted to help them.”