After accidentally losing his mom, a little boy thought he would never see her again. But after nearly 3 decades apart, his search for her came to an end. This is Joel De Carteret's remarkable story.
Lost in the Crowd
The Philippines' capital, Manila, is arguably one of the most populated cities in the world. From the streets to the markets, even back in 1985, when this incredible story first took place, it was very busy.
At the time, the densely populated metropolitan was known as home to roughly 6.5 million individuals. So we can understand how a young boy who found himself in such a hectic area can somehow end up disappearing into a crowd of strangers. And that's exactly what happened to Joel De Carteret.
Where It All Began
De Carteret was only 5 years old when he and his mom decided to head over to the local market that day to do their regular shopping for food, according to a podcast on the website World Nomads. The Munoz Market is typically filled with different vendors and many locals looking around for fruits, veggies, meats, and more.
The abundance of people was overwhelming, especially for such a little boy. And all of a sudden, De Carteret somehow lost his mom in the crowd. He was all alone. The lost child began to walk around trying to look for her, but sadly it was helpless. Joel had no idea where to go or what to do.
After searching for what felt like forever, De Carteret realized there was no way for him to find his mother. That was when a stranger caught sight of the little boy and became concerned that he was wandering the crowded streets without a guardian. The kind person then took the emotional boy to the police station.
One small moment would turn De Carteret's life around forever. In a split second, everything he had known before was all gone. He was now on his way to live a new life. Luckily these days, he is a successful filmmaker and business owner. But in the past three decades, his adventures were something out of a movie.
Filling In the Blanks
Back in the midst of all the chaos, it never seemed like things would eventually all fall into place for De Carteret. On that fateful day on July 25th, he was luckily spotted by a good samaritan who looked out for the lost boy's well being before taking him to the authorities.
De Carteret remembered that day almost perfectly. He explained to the World Nomads podcast, “I was headed into the police station, and when they asked what my name was, I couldn’t tell them, and when they asked what my parents’ name was, I couldn’t tell them either.”
From One Place To The Next
The police tried to help him out as much as they could, but eventually, they decided it wasn't the best place for a little kid to be hanging out. As they tried to figure out who De Carteret's mom was and where he belonged, they placed him in a detention center.
Nevertheless, this new location was also deemed unsuitable as he hadn't done anything wrong. He was just a lost boy in need of help. And although his name was placed all over the media, no one ever came to claim De Carteret. Instead, he was put into an orphanage home.
From radio stations to newspaper pages, the news that a little boy was looking for his parents was everywhere. But regrettably, it seemed like De Carteret's guardians never saw them. And as time went on, the law in the Philippines required that the boy would be labeled "abandoned."
In actuality, "abandoned" wasn't the word used. De Carteret explained to World Nomads how it worked in his home country when a child was all alone: "when a child is found with no name and or no identification in the Philippines, they are named as… [a] 'foundling.'"
New Life, New Identity
Being a foundling meant that De Carteret had no one in his family. But it also meant that he would be eligible to be put up for adoption by a new family. While all he wanted was to go back to his mom and home, this was a small silver lining for the lost child.
His life had made a 360 turn, and before he knew it, he also had a new name. The officials were the ones who named him Joel since he was unable to tell them what his given name was. They also changed his last name to Maselo, his birthday to August 4, 1985, and even named Quezon City as his place of origin.
Last Glimmer of Hope
De Carteret spent his days in the orphanage wondering what would happen to him. He had wished and hoped for so long that his mom would somehow find where he was and come and rescue him. But again, she never seemed to see the news outlet that broadcasted a missing boy.
Eventually, De Carteret came to the realization that the only way for him to get a real home and have the possibility of a lively and bright future was to be adopted. It was a devastating thought, but it also provided a newfound hope for the seemingly abandoned child.
A New Family
After more than a year had passed since that fateful day in the busy market with his mom, De Carteret was getting close and closer to getting adopted into a new family. Yet he was unaware, as he was still behind the walls of the foundling home, and things weren't yet official.
In September of 1986, a couple from Melbourne, Australia, were searching endlessly to adopt a child in need. Julie and George De Carteret found Joel during their search and decided he was the one that they wanted to bring home with them. And thus, Joel de Carteret was born.
Signed and Sealed
The Australian couple was ecstatic, but it would still be a few months until the little boy would get to meet his new mommy and daddy. But after patiently waiting, Julie and George got to fly out to the Philippines to connect with their adopted son for the very first time.
The De Carterets spent two entire weeks with Joel. From eating time to playing time, every second they got to know him better and better before finally deciding to sign the adoption papers. After everything was sorted and filed, the couple took the little boy to his new home.
Full of Emotion
December 8, 1986, was a huge day for the De Carterets. Especially the young boy who was filled with confusion, excitement, and anxiety. He was about to leave the only life he knew to move all the way to a new place in Australia with new parents he had only known for a short time.
He had gone through so many traumatic events already, but once he landed in his new country, he took it all in happily. He revealed on his website, “When I first arrived in Australia, it was really overwhelming, but I was really just absorbing everything... things looked different, and even smelled different to back home.”
Taking It All In
All of a sudden, he was being shown all the new and wonderful things that would soon be his day-to-day life. Julie and George walked him through their home and his room and even showed him all his toys. De Carteret was also introduced to his neighbors, who instantly became his friends.
He recollected, “I remember that first day, I went for a nap, and when I woke up, I went to my neighbor’s place and just connected and played with David and Simone - without even knowing how to speak English, we miraculously communicated through play.”
"I Felt Safe and Loved"
Making friends in Australia wasn't the only thing that came easy to De Carteret. He quickly fit in with his routine and with his new parents. Things for the young boy seemed to finally be looking up - even though it was very different from the life he once knew.
The young boy was adaptable, and even though he missed his home country and his mom, he felt comfortable in the life and opportunities he was given. "I felt safe and loved in my new home and didn't feel I had any major difficulties adjusting," he confessed.
Not All Smooth Sailing
Nevertheless, there were a few hardships he had to overcome - especially when it came to his education levels in a new language. “The most challenging aspect was being in school and learning how to read and write, especially when we were asked to read out loud - that was really difficult for me.”
But the difficulties never deterred the young boy from continuing to try hard in school. He was persistent and never gave u until he finally got it right. De Carteret recalled that time, “No matter how long it took, I was determined to get to the end.”
New Form of Communicating
Through the years, he became a more blended member of society. In October 1988, he was named an official Australian citizen, and because of his young age, his English was beginning to improve tremendously. And before he knew it, De Carteret was getting ready to enter high school.
As a teenager, De Carteret took up hobbies related to the arts, such as singing, dancing, and acting. This new form of communicating helped him express himself more than regular talking in English. These activities were a way for him to find his creative self.
At first, De Carteret spent most of his days dancing. He wanted to improve his skills, so he decided to film himself to see where adjustments could be made. That was the first time his love for filmmaking sparked. Slowly he moved from dancing to the art of film.
Even today, in his adult life, De Carteret took those hobbies he loved in high school and turned them into a career. But throughout all of this success, he never forgot that young boy that was lost in the market and the life he lived previous to that day.
The Truth Comes Out
To help relieve and maybe understand his childhood trauma, Julie and George took their son to his homeland in 2000 to try and help him. And while this trip to the Philippines may have given him some catharsis, it wouldn't be until later that he felt at ease with his past.
It might have taken years to learn, but after De Carteret discovered what truly happened to his birth mom, his whole perspective on his situation shifted. He never forgot about her. He spent years feeling guilty that she lost her baby boy, who was busy living a new life elsewhere.
The Search for His Birth Mom
De Carteret confessed to 9Honey, “When I think about the years and the pain and the separation, loss, and grief that she’s gone through, you know, there is guilt to have had that blessed life at all.” He knew he needed to find where his birth mom was.
Thankfully, Julie was on board with her son's plan. The supportive mom explained, "I'm lucky to have him, but I'm really sorry that [his birth mother] hasn't been a part of his life. I'm sorry that Joel hasn't been part of her life as he's been part of mine."
Weighing His Options
He had a long journey ahead of him because, after all, he was just a young boy the last time he lived in the Philippines. Joel's memories were all a blur. But in 2016, he set out to do anything he could to find his birth mom. Yet, of course, there were many setbacks.
For one, De Carteret was anxious about what he might discover. What if all these years she intentionally didn't find him and wanted nothing to do with him? Or what if she had passed away? He was worried about the pain this adventure could cause - but he still continued searching.
One Step Closer
De Carteret knew he needed help to find her. And luckily, he was a filmmaker who knew how much the media could help. So he contacted a famous Philipphino TV star, Jessica Soho, who agreed to put a segment on her show about De Carteret and his birth mom.
Despite the last time his face being plastered all over the media not working, this time, the story caught someone's attention. And before he knew it, he was setting leads. One person sent the network a photo of a little boy with a woman named Herminia Rio. But they wondered whether it was really his mother.
A DNA Match
With more digging, De Carteret learned that Herminia Rio lived nearby the Munoz Market, where he was lost so many years ago. It seemed to add up. But to ensure it was her, a DNA test needed to be done. And lo' and behold, it was a match: She was his birth mom.
Immediately after learning the good news, the mother and son were filled with endless emotion. De Carteret recalled on the Australian TV show 60 Minutes, “She just started sobbing and hugged me. After about five or ten minutes I started to feel it... this is my mum. This is who I’ve been looking [for].”
Reunited, At Last
De Carteret wasn't alone - his adoptive mom Julie had also taken the trip to Manila to finally meet who her son's birth mom was. It was a happy day for all. After so many years away from her son, Herminia got to reconnect with him and meet who his adoptive parents were.
Although some may expect Herminia to be saddened she wasn't the one who raised her son, she was happy to meet the kind woman who did the job. They hugged the second they met, as seen in 60 Minutes. "I can't believe it, I am seeing my two mothers together: I never thought this day would happen," De Carteret gushed.
"Welcome to Australia"
The reunion was so good that it continued all the way over in Australia. Herminia traveled to the Land Down Under to get a glimpse at the life her son lived. She saw his childhood home, met his friends, and got a deeper understanding of how he was raised.
Yet again, the entire event was emotional for everyone. Once De Carteret's mom landed, he was beyond happy to see her, as caught on film by 60 Minutes. He gushed, "Hey mum, welcome to Australia." Alongside him was Julie, who also welcomed the emotional mother to her home.
A Dream Come True
De Carteret never thought this day would come. He spent so long in that orphanage waiting for his mom to show up and find him, but she never came. Eventually, he gave up hope and assumed that he would never see her again. He moved on and lived a full life in Australia.
It was a lot of emotions to process for the filmmaker. He opened up about his experience to the 60 Minutes crew. “It’s surreal, it’s really surreal... Six months ago, I never thought my biological mum would be sitting next to me, and we just get to hang out.”
After so many years without Herminia, and such a tedious journey to finding her, De Carteret wasn't going to give her up so easily. Although he had a loving and full family with his adoptive parents, that didn't mean he couldn't have enough love for both his birth mom and adoptive mom.
Especially since he had so much to update Herminia on about his childhood in Australia and how he ended up there. He also wanted to share his experiences with filmmaking and much more. Their mother and son relationship was only just starting to bloom.
Even after Herminia left Australia and went back to her home in the Philippines, she stayed in contact with her long-lost son. She had spent so much time missing him and wondering where he was and what he was doing... and now she finally had all her answers.
Herminia felt grateful that her little boy had finally found her. And she also felt blessed that he ended up in a loving home with two parents who took care of him. Who would have ever known what would happen to De Carteret had Julie and George never adopted him into their family...
A Happy Ending
De Carteret and Herminia weren't the only ones filled with joy over the happy occasion. Julie was so happy to see her son get to reunite with his birth mom. She knew the story of how De Carteret ended up in the orphanage, so she was eternally grateful that everything worked out.
Julie explained her emotion during the family's episode on 60 Minutes, "It's incredible to find somebody among all those people. It's wonderful. It's a happy ending. Everybody loves a happy ending." It's not so often these types of stories end with a heartwarming final chapter.
His Birth Dad
With a population of over 100 million individuals living in the Philippines, it's remarkable to know that De Carteret was able to find the one person he was searching for. Perhaps it was truly meant to be... Either way, the things he had to go through to find Herminia were not easy.
Throughout the process, he almost gave up many times - but something inside of him told him to keep going. He explained, “There were so many times I wanted to give up.” But his persistence proved to be worth it in the end. That same persistence also helped De Carteret also find his birth dad years later.
Julie knew that she had to let her son go through the search, even if it meant he might have stumbled upon something he couldn't handle. Because she knew that finding his birth parents would "make his life complete." Yet she also had her doubts about the possibility of actually finding them.
She admitted, "I was worried about how he would be able to move on when he didn't find his mother." Luckily for her (and her son), that wasn't the case. And today, he has a relationship with both Herminia and Ritchie - his birth dad, who moved to the United States shortly after he was born.
Coming Full Circle
From being lost in a crowded market to finding his birth parents, De Carteret has lived one adventurous and traumatic life. His unbelievable story has touched the hearts of many people all over the world and has inspired many to adopt children of their own.
But unfortunately, not all of the children who live in orphanages end up getting the opportunities that De Carteret got. Nonetheless, after experiencing a painful first couple of years of his life, we can't help but be happy that Joel got his happy ending after all.