By Lucille Talusan and Charlene Israel
November 17, 2006
CBNNews.com – MANILA – In the Philippines, more than 220,000 children live on the streets of its major cities.
Many spend their day begging for money to buy food.
CBN News met with some of the kids, who have become the breadwinners for their families.
It may seem like a breath-taking stunt for most of us, but for three-year-old Elsha May, it is her craft: begging for food.
Maritess, her older sister, says that Elsha May was barely two when she started begging money from Jeepney passengers.
The Jeepney is a local means of transportation in the Philippines. As soon as the stoplight turns red, Elsha may runs to the Jeepney, wipes the shoes of the passengers, and looks into their eyes until she gets the equivalent of two cents.
At night, Elsha May is at the train station, begging once more for money and food. When the train station closes at 10 in the evening, her oldest sister, Maricris, picks her up and brings her home.
Elsha May gives all her earnings to her family.
After a hard day’s work, she shares with her siblings a plate of noodles that she bought with her earnings.
Maricris is 14 yers old and has stopped going to school. She only finished first grade.
"I had to stop because we had no money to put me to school," Maricris said. "I have to take care of my younger brothers and sisters who are out in the streets. We need to beg so we can have money to buy rice."
On another visit that the CBN News team made to the train station, we saw Elsha May fast asleep.
But even as she dozed, she earned the much needed cents for her family. People walking by the sleeping child dropped money into her awaiting cup.
We were surprised to see that five of her seven siblings were there too, begging.
Maricris said that their oldest brother could not join them because he was arrested for sniffing glue the night before.
She said she is afraid that the social welfare will pick them up and bring them to the shelter for street kids.
Maricris’ father, Vicente, says he is aware of the dangers that his children are exposed to on the streets.
But Vicente also says he has not found a job yet, and so this is the only way his children will not go hungry.
Joan Luciano is a social worker and the head of the sidewalk ministries of Lighthouse Christian Community Church.
Joan believes that the "quick fix" mindset of street children and their parents needs to be changed.
"The children should be taught to look beyond their immediate needs…that God is able to give them a life better than scavenging or begging. These children should be taught to dream and to work towards realizing that dream," Joan said.
As many as 6,000 street children have learned about Jesus because of the Lighthouse Church effort. Volunteers go where the children are…in railroads, sidewalks, under trees, and on rooftops.
It is in Bible classes, held on the sidewalks, where the children find refuge. After being out in the streets for a week, they come here to learn, have fun and enjoy just being children.
On this particular Saturday, Maricris attended this sidewalk ministry class. She seemed dazed at first. Seeing other street kids like her come together and have so much fun was new to her!
The teacher, Paquito Grama, was himself a former street kid.
He said he was stealing and gambling at 10, but his behavior changed after he joined the sidewalk Bible class.
Paquito admitted that he was attracted to the food at first. But his hunger for food eventually turned to a hunger for Jesus.
Today, Paquito is the area coordinator of Sidewalk Ministries. And soon he will graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Education.
Paquito said, "I believe that, as the Lord is changing my life, He can also change the lives of these children…only if these children will believe and surrender their lives to Jesus Christ."
At the end of her first Bible class, Maricris’ face brightened but when asked about how she felt, she broke into tears.
"I remember my brothers and sisters," she said. "I pity them. I want to go back to school so I can help them. I don’t want to see them suffering."
Paquito says that the cry of Maricris’ heart is also the cry of thousands of street kids like her.
He says that, as his life has proven, no matter how desperate the situation may be, there is a brighter future for those who surrender their lives to Christ.