Joanna’s mother, Soly Sisracon still remembers the day her daughter’s life changed forever. Soly describes, in vivid memory, how it was supposed to be payday for her husband who had just come home on that fateful afternoon of October 27, 2003. Unfortunately, he returned empty-handed, forcing Soly to leave the home and pawn their gasul tank in her effort to put food on the table.
Soly had to entrust her five -month old Joanna in the care of her eldest son as she went out to try and get some cash. She shares how impoverished they were in those days, “Walang-wala kami. Hirap na hirap. Walang kuryente, kaya ang pang-ilaw lang namin ay ang gasera (We had nothing. We were going through hard times. No electricity, so our source of light was the gas lamp).”
Getting into an accident
While babysitting Joanna, one of their neighbors called to say that their farm animals had gotten loose. He rushed out and left the sleeping baby Joanna home alone. By the time he was on his way back to the house, he could hear screams and cries of a baby in excruciating pain. Upon entering the room, he witnesses the traumatic scene of his baby sister who was caught on fire. Soly details the helplessness their family felt upon seeing her daughter. The innocent baby must have crawled around and tipped over the kerosene and burnt herself.
Soly hurriedly commuted to a hospital, with her burnt and exposed baby in her arms. She tearfully recalls begging for the medical facility to take her in, but to no avail, due to their lack of financial capacity. Thankfully, Soly says they were able to secure a letter addressed to the local hospital from their then Vice Mayor Lamberto Bambao of Ternate Cavite to get Joanna admitted for immediate treatment. The left side of Joanna’s face was completely consumed in flames, prompting the doctor to cut off flesh from her legs to cover the affected parts of her head and save her life.
Dealing with bullies
Joanna was a generally happy baby growing up, until she started going to school and was teased for her appearance. Soly claims that their family had received the worst insults and vulgar names that would leave any person’s self-esteem in a dilapidated state. “Palagi iyan umiiyak kapag umuwi galing school (She would always cry when she comes home from school),” laments Soly.
It was a very challenging journey of self-acceptance, confesses Joanna who mentions that there were instances in her life when she engaged in self-loathing. She found herself questioning God about why she had to be in this situation, why she had to be the burn victim, and why people could be so mean and hurtful.
To protect herself from public scrutiny, she coped by learning to apply makeup on her own. She adds that the brand Ever Bilena had become a staple for her because of its affordable price points and high impact performance. Beyond color cosmetics, she would even wear wigs and double up her foundation to conceal her burn marks in order to blend in with society.
As much as makeup has boosted her confidence and helped with her coping mechanism, there are moments when she simply wants to be herself, and be loved and accepted for that. It was when she turned eighteen that she decided “maybe panahon na para ipakita kung sino ako (maybe it’s time to show who I really am), without filter or makeup.” She has lived 18 years of her life with her burn marks anyway.
Revealing on TikTok
Joanna had been on Tiktok as early as August 2020, but it was not until almost a year later, in July 2021, that she finally uploaded content revealing herself as a burn survivor sans the wigs and makeup. “Masakit man pero kailangan tanggapin… hindi niyo alam ilang taon ako naiinis sa sarili ko (It hurts but I need to accept it… you don’t know how many years I hated myself for how I look),” she posted on TikTok. This was then when her videos began to gain traction, attracting over 500,000 followers on the platform.
Her most viewed Tiktok to date has 31.8 million hits, where she asks followers to “stop bullying please” while showing the scars on her head. Joanna learned that it’s possible to be accepted for who she is after all. Tiktok has both kindhearted supporters and brutal cyberbullies, but she is blessed to be basking in the outpouring of love and support from the bigger majority. Ultimately culminating in a stronger sense of self-love for Joanna.
For some time, Joanna had felt tempted to quit college altogether after finishing high school and dealing with all the bullies, but because of her newfound courage and self-acceptance, she feels empowered to finish her degree in criminology and eventually pursue her goal of being either a cop or a coast guard in her hometown.
Opening a new chapter
I read about Joanna’s story on various media outlets when she first trended online. I also shared her inspiring journey with my dad Dioceldo Sy, President and CEO of Ever Bilena Cosmetics, Inc. Dad felt compelled to give her a kick start in her entrepreneurship journey by gifting Joanna with a generous direct selling business package worth P50,000 from our company.
The Sisracons made the trip to visit Ever Bilena head office in Caloocan City on Monday, November 22, 2021 where they were briefed about the limitless earning opportunities in the direct selling industry and received the business package in full. Joanna’s mom, Soly, was particularly emotional, as she tells the story of how she had been selling fish since she was 11 years old. Their fish business was able to provide livelihood for their family all their life, but they are excited for the new sources of income that they will be able to build and grow through direct selling and with mentorship and guidance from Ever Bilena direct sales manager Metong Baluyot, Luzon regional sales manager Thelma Valle, and brand and trade marketing manager Genesis Guerrero.
Simultaneous to the dealership package turnover, Joanna took part in a shoot for Ever Bilena’s “For Every Beauty” campaign to showcase how Filipinas come in all genders, shapes, and sizes, with various skin tones and preferences, with each their own narrative to tell, and most importantly, their own representation of beauty.
Soly remarks that she had always been told that Joanna is her miracle baby, and it feels unreal for her to believe that more miracles might just happen in their life as they start their new business with Ever Bilena.