The moment Ruel Ciubal saw his two daughters, Khryzelle and Jasmin, walk through the arrivals gate at Auckland Airport after an eight-year separation should be etched into his memory forever.
But the South Auckland father and Cadbury Dream Factory recipient can’t remember anything of the most poignant time of his life – despite moving everyone in the arrivals hall to tears.
“I was crying too much; I was overcome,” he says, a month after he and wife Johanna (both 33) were reunited with their two eldest children, thanks to the hit TV3 show. When I saw them it was like magic. I’ve never cried that much in my life, and I’ve never been happier.”
Due to financial issues, the Ciubal family had been separated by more than 8,000 km since 2005, when Ruel moved to New Zealand to forge a better life for his family.
Leaving behind Johanna and his two young daughters, he settled in Auckland and began earning as much money as possible in order to bring his family over.
Johanna followed the next year, leaving the girls with their grandmother. But, despite the hard-working couple being assured their daughters would be able to join them, eight years on, papers for the girls remained unobtainable.
The time apart, Johanna remembers, was pure agony.
"It was hard. Really, really hard,” she says as tears roll down her face. “I missed them so much.”
“It was terrible,” finishes Ruel.
But then their friend and Filipino community leader got in touch with Cadbury Dream Factory and the wheels began turning to reunite the girls with their parents and two-year-old brother, who was born in New Zealand.
“That’s why his name is Neo Zhanda – New Zealand,” says Ruel proudly.
The result is a family finally together, something many New Zealanders take for granted. The Ciubals call it a miracle.
Dream Factory co-host Guy Montgomery, who went to Baguio (the family’s home town) to collect Khryzelle and Jasmin, says it was tough seeing the girls say goodbye to their grandparents and friends.
“They were really shy at the beginning – they still are,” he smiles. “But by the time we left Manila, we were buddies. Taking them away from everything they knew was hard. But we knew what was waiting for them when they got here.”
Khryzelle and Jasmin (11) are slowly getting used to life in New Zealand after their overwhelming welcome, with Khryzelle celebrating her 14th birthday only days after arriving.
“I really like New Zealand,” Khryzelle says shyly. “There’s so much space and it’s really quiet. We’ve been to the zoo and to the beach, which was really cool.”
“That’s why we wanted them here,” adds Ruel. “In Baguio, there are many murders; lots of crime. We wanted our family to be safe.”
Now Ruel is working even longer hours as a gib stopper to provide for his family, and Johanna is equally busy at her job at a McDonald’s restaurant, but it doesn’t bother them – they get to come home to all three of their kids every night.
“We are so, so grateful,” Ruel says. “We thought being together might never happen. All of our money went to the lawyer to get the girls here, and there was nothing left. But magic happens. I believe that.”
Photos by: Helen Bankers.