‘Educator’ weans street kids away from drugs

‘Educator’ weans street kids away from drugs

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:17:00 06/03/2008

MANILA, Philippines—On a humid summer day, street educator Butch Nerja pounds the garbage-littered streets of Divisoria, Manila’s chaotic merchant market district, to check on his wards.

He has just received disconcerting news that some of the children he has tried to help have again gone back to living in Divisoria’s maze of dark and pungent alleyways where they are prone to drug addiction and abuse.

A self-styled "scholar of the university of hard knocks," the witty and cheerful Nerja, 45, was a street child and gang leader himself with a profound experience of the city’s seedy underside.

"We have to check on the whole hacienda," Nerja tells Agence France Presse, as he heads onto a side street beside a stagnant canal choked with garbage which doubles as a bathing pool for children abandoned or living with their families on the streets.

The light joke belies the emotional burden his unique job carries — many of his hundreds of wards are too young to care for themselves, and without any money are forced to beg or steal just to survive.

Others simply vanish after a while, their fate unknown and their names and faces only remembered in Nerja’s personal logbook.

A teenage boy naked from the waist up and apparently still high from sniffing glue looks up suspiciously, but his eyes light up after recognizing Nerja with his trademark curly unkempt hair, and wearing his usual dark shirt and bright orange trousers.

"Tatay (Father) Butch is here," the boy shouts, and within minutes a horde of soot-covered smelly teens emerge from under the bridge, where they sleep on ledges just inches above the muck.

The boy gives his name only as Francis, and Nerja calls him the "guardian of the bridge" who leads the gang in collecting recyclable waste for money.

Nerja takes Francis by the elbow and leads him into a corner, where he gently admonishes him to stay off drugs and try to return to a shelter for homeless children.

"I will come back for you later to bring food," Nerja says, and proceeds to check on another group of teens sleeping on the footpath beside a rundown building.

Nomads in the city

Nerja’s wards are among the more than 222,000 children estimated by the social welfare department to be living on the streets in some 65 cities and towns across the Philippines.

Of that total, some 70,000 are believed to be in Manila, either alone or living with their families as nomads in pushcarts, according to the social welfare department.

Nerja says the number may be even higher, with more and more rural families streaming into Manila hoping for a better life but only to end up homeless. In many cases, the parents drift apart and the children are left on their own.

"These children are very vulnerable to the environment they live in," Nerja says. "Some are on drugs, and I try to establish connections with them on a personal level and convince them to get off the streets and into half-way homes."

Leader of a gang

Nerja never knew his parents and was in the care of relatives when he ran away as a child in the 1970s.

Eventually he found himself as leader of a small gang of boys who sold sex to tourists. They all eventually became addicted to drugs, and became fixtures in hotels around Manila’s red light district.

"I did not like to be pampered by my relatives. They always wanted things structured, with rules. I wanted freedom, so when I was maybe 10 or 12 years old, I ran away," Nerja says.

"I enjoyed the streets, travelled a lot. But I also met pedophiles and I later became a pimp. Those who were new to the streets went under my protection," he says.

When money dried up, Nerja took his gang to the parks, where they hustled for scraps.

Later, he met social workers who convinced him to join a shelter for boys, and a Catholic priest later took him in as a personal assistant and friend.

‘I was hard-core’

"It was a tough and difficult life. I came to a point where I was searching for something from the world, a meaning," Nerja says. "At first I did not want to go to a shelter, I was hard-core, but I later liked the direction I took."

He took special classes that enabled him to enroll in college, where he majored in psychology. He dropped out, however, and married while still young, before returning to the streets as a "street educator" for Child Hope Asia.

"I try to guide these children. There are many heart-breaking stories, but there are also success stories," he says, adding that one of the children he has helped is about to graduate from an exclusive university.

"I don’t want any rewards. I just listen to their stories and try to guide them. During my time, I had to fend for myself. No one was there to guide me," he says.

"I was a former street child, I know how it is to live on the streets. I was in conflict with the law often, I was a drug runner, user. But now here I am, just returning the favor to help these kids," he said.

Now a father to a young daughter and two teenage boys, Nerja lives in a modest home near Manila’s Chinatown district, where he is well-respected, even by the neighborhood toughs and petty criminals to whom he offers advice, and helps out with funeral and education expenses by raising donations.

The toughest part of the job, he says, is trying to convince the children to abandon the streets, which many consider a huge playground where they are free to break all rules, Nerja says.

Moving on

"In many cases they would stay for a few days at a sheltering facility, but run away again, lured by their friends and the drugs," Nerja says.

"Some would later approach me and ask to be returned, and that is the time you know they are prepared to move on."

Others who are in their early teens are likely to remain on the streets for a long time, he says.

"But what is important is they know you are there for them. They treasure that," Nerja says, as he dispenses sweets to the children tugging at his legs. "I can live and die with the thought I have helped."

A plump-looking woman shyly smiles at Nerja and grasps his hands to press on her forehead, a sign of respect in this Roman Catholic country. The woman used to be under Nerja’s care, but now has a family of her own.

On another city block, Nerja finds a 10-year-old kid wearing an oversized T-shirt, his eyes empty and cheeks hollowed out from days of hunger and scrounging the mound of rotting garbage nearby.

"Tatay Butch, please take me to a shelter now. I no longer take drugs, and I promise to behave," the boy pleads. Nerja hugs him.

Nerja promises to come back for the boy, who says he does not remember his parents’ names or where he is from.

"That is my payback. When they finally say they are ready to leave the streets. It’s a long process, but we get there slowly," Nerja says. "If a child changes his ways, that’s very rewarding for me."


Rescue or ruin in Manila?

Rescue or ruin in Manila?

Arts/Sciences student Cameron Sugden has been volunteering with the organization Bahay Tuluyan in Manila, The Philippines, which helps street children who would otherwise be locked up by authorities. He told ANU Reporter about the extent of the problem.

Cameron Sugden�s photographs show the strength of spirit of street kids in the Philippines

Cameron Sugden’s photographs show the strength of spirit of street kids in the Philippines.

How did you did you find out about Bahay Tuluyan?

I volunteered with Australian Volunteers International in 2006. Along with three other Australian students, I conducted research into the situation of children in conflict with the law within Laguna Province [in the Philippines]. Children of all ages were being arrested – – mostly because of minor crimes such as sniffing solvent, pick-pocketing, or breaking the curfew – and placed into jail cells for indefinite periods of time.  Not being separated from adult offenders who have committed serious offences, these children were often subject to abuse, neglect and exploitation from the adult prisoners. The report we produced was used by Bahay Tuluyan to gain some insight into what services and facilities were available to children in conflict with the law

Why are street children treated so poorly in the Philippines?

Because both the very rich and the very poor often need to occupy the economic centres of the Philippines, poverty is very much in view of the more affluent residents of Manila. Like all the other mega-cities of Asia, it’s common to see luxury residential quarters, office towers, hotels, and shopping malls sitting beside and above squatter settlements.

Generally, street children have refused to remain in neglected, hidden away areas of the city. We found that the majority of street children had staked out the most beautified areas of the city – squares, major highways, outside shopping centres, markets, fountains, tourist attractions, and near restaurants. These are areas of the city that are rich in resources: people to beg from, tourists to sell small items to, restaurants that hand out free food, grass to sleep on, fountains to wash in, and plenty of areas to play. But they are also areas of the city that the wealthier residents of the city would prefer to claim as their own – and to keep ‘beautiful’.

This situation has given rise to many uncomfortable encounters between the rich and poor. While walking along the streets or sitting in a restaurant, you’re often approached by snotty-nosed, barefooted, half-naked street children asking for food. Others can be seen tapping on tinted car windows, asking for money. Walking down the steps to the train station, you see mothers holding out malnourished babies. And in the parks or outside the local 7/11, street children can be found sniffing rugby (a brand of glue). This seems to have incubated a lot of distrust, frustration, and hostility among the general public towards street children.  Street children are often called ‘yagit’ by the general public – which translates as ‘rubbish on the street’.  

The wealthier residents of Manila seem to have engaged in a number of methods to remove unsightly poverty from view. Retreating to gated communities or spending great amounts of their time in one of Manila’s mega-malls provides one means if you have the money. Those who can’t afford to go to these extreme lengths – and so continue to experience uncomfortable encounters with the poor on a daily basis – seem to be the ones that are placing pressure on the government to remove unsightly street children, along with the uncomfortable emotions they evoke, from the urban landscape.

Until more recent years, the removal of homeless children from the streets of Manila has been conducted under the guise of ‘arrest’. But over the past decade, the Philippine government has been the target of much international and domestic condemnation for its mistreatment of street children. So the arrest of street children has become less and less common. In 2006, the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act was enacted, banning the arrest and detainment of children under the age of 15 for any reason.

In more recent years, there appears to have been a shift in discourse from ‘street children as dangerous and criminal’ to ‘street children in need of special protection’. Now, children are not so much ‘criminal’ and ‘dangerous’ as they are ‘neglected’, ‘abused’, and ‘malnourished’. Unfortunately, this major shift in discourse has only been accompanied by a minor shift in practice.

Street children are still being indiscriminately, violently and involuntarily taken from the streets and detained in prison-like centres. The only difference is that this practice is now called ‘rescue’, making it more resilient to criticism from those less concerned with details beyond summarized tables and colourful graphs (this includes people and organizations in the international community too of course).

In the end, our research quite clearly shows that the ‘rescue’ of street children in Manila seems to be motivated by a concern with urban hygiene and the protection of the more wealthy citizens of the city from the poor over and above any concern with the welfare of street children themselves. Of course, there are plenty of individuals and organisations who do prioritise the needs of street children above all other concerns, but these people are typically marginalised and starved of resources.

We are, of course, not against protecting street children. The risks that children face on the streets are profound and real. We were concerned with the indiscriminate ‘rescue’ of street children, the violent and involuntary methods by which they are removed from the streets, and the unnecessary harm inflicted upon them during their detention.

What are the conditions like on the street?

Terrible. Diseases such as pneumonia, cholera, hookworms, tuberculosis, gastroenteritis, bronchitis, typhoid, and tetanus are all common killers among street children. I can’t remember seeing one street child that didn’t have some skin infection – and they just don’t seem to heal. Inaccessibility to basic health facilities, which are now mostly privatised, ensures many of these children die of preventable and treatable illnesses.

What are the rescue centres like?

Often, street children reside in areas discarded by the more wealthy as disaster prone and dangerous. So injuries and accidents are common.

The welfare system in the Philippines is virtually non-existent. So in order to survive, Manila’s street children are often forced to beg and steal, making them especially vulnerable to being taken into custody. Addiction to glue (often used to quell hunger) along with anti-vagrancy and curfew laws also increases the risk of them being arrested by
police or ‘rescued’ by welfare staff.

Along with brutality inflicted by government workers (mainly police or ‘rescuers’), street children are often at risk of being victims of exploitation, sexual assault, traffic accidents, and violence. Many street children are run over by cars and jeepnees while selling items or begging on highways. Pimps often roam the streets at night looking for young girls and boys they can prostitute.

One of their greatest fears is being rescued. When a rescue van would arrive, they would run away – often into heavy traffic. The rescue van can arrive at any time. The use of batons is common. The vast majority of children we interviewed were injured in some way during their ‘rescue’. Rescuers receive no training other than self-defence and are often former street children themselves (sometimes offered food to do the dirty work). Volunteers wear no uniform or ID. Sometimes they are drunk during the rescue operation. During one rescue we observed, a group of young men carrying batons roamed the streets like a pack of wolves finding street children they could ‘rescue’.

Children are literally being taken from their mother’s side. We met one homeless woman who had two of her three children taken from her three years ago. She hasn’t heard from them since.

Many children are rescued while sleeping (rescue teams admit that they do so because children often run away from them). One six year old girl said it was the last thing she thought about as she went to sleep each night in the park. So the majority of street children we talked to seemed to live in perpetual fear of being ‘rescued’, often because it meant being separated from their family. So there are long lasting psychological injuries being inflicted on children too – by the ‘welfare’ system!

The majority of children are taken to the Reception and Action Centre (RAC). The conditions in there are horrendous.

It looks very much like a prison. There are high walls and barbed fences. A security guard sits at the entrance, pistol, capsicum spray and handcuffs around his waist belt. Staff roam the courtyard, batons in hand.

During our visit, the rooms were very overcrowded, the boys had no toilet (and the girls only one), and there were no mattresses. Children were sleeping on the wooden floor.

So if street children are considered yagit, then RAC can certainly be considered Manila’s mass dumping ground for the poor. Obviously, the welfare of ‘rescued’ children is not the primary concern

What is required? How will your research help?

First, I think people need to know the obvious: indiscriminate ‘rescues’ are inflicting both immediate and long-lasting injuries upon Manila’s street children. This includes not only the general public who are placing pressure on the government to keep the city clean and to ensure they are protected from the so called criminal, contagious, and disorderly masses of Manila, but also those involved in the practice of rescue itself. I think that once people know what’s happening, the international and domestic communities will make a stand – just like they did with the arrest of street children.

As I said before, calling street-cleaning ‘rescue’ has proven a very effective away of making this practice more resilient to criticism. How can you argue against ‘rescuing’ children in need of special protection? So by demonstrating quite clearly that its harmful, you can challenge peoples taken-for-granted beliefs about the city’s treatment of street children. And part of this, I think, involves making people more aware of just how dangerous misleading discourses can be in shaping our moral stance on particular practices. It’s incredibly dishonest to call a practice which harms children ‘rescue’. So making people ‘honest’ is another major hurdle to jump.

The primary aim of our research was to provide evidence that indiscriminate ‘rescues’ are traumatic and ineffective for the children involved. We found plenty of evidence to demonstrate that rescues fail to take into account the unique needs, circumstances and experiences of street children. Our findings were based on interviews with over 160 street children, 140 people from the general public, numerous street families and former street children, and senior staff working for government agencies involved in the practice of rescue.

Currently, Bahay Tuluyan is holding meetings with senior staff from all the government agencies involved in rescue operations. Bahay Tuluyan, along with many other NGOs in Manila, are calling for an immediate suspension of all indiscriminate rescues in the city. There’s been more and more publicity about indiscriminate ‘rescues’, including a recent article in Manila Times.

A drama group from BT also performs a play about the harmful nature of indiscriminate rescues. Many of the children in the play have been rescued themselves in the past. They have been performing at various venues around the city and the target audience is the general public.

Street children need to be re-humanized too. By lowering street children to the status of garbage on the street, they are immediately placed outside society’s moral circle. Overcoming this may involve a combination of public education, challenging taken-for granted beliefs and stereotypes among those working with street children, and fostering more positive interactions between the general public, community workers, and street children. Some schools in Manila are starting to send students to squatter settlements to live with poor families for a week or so. I think that’s a great idea. It brings poverty back into the collective consciousness and allows people to weave their own life story into those of the poor.
There’s been way too much focus on short-term, quick fix solutions. The ‘rescue’ of street children takes months, years, even decades. NGOs around the world are producing some really practical and innovative programs that provide more durable solutions to the problems street children face.  We tried to include as many as these as possible in the recommendations section of our report.
The city’s concern with city beautification does not preclude the proper treatment of street children who inhabit public spaces in the city. If the government provides a shelter where street children feel protected, where they are provided with food, clean water, medical care, and education, where they can play and socialize, and where they are free to leave at any time, street children will be much more likely to voluntarily remove themselves from these beautified spaces and spend more time in shelters. And with a full tummy, street children will be less likely to ‘hassle’ the general public. So it seems obvious that city beautification and the protection of street children can be pursued simultaneously.

Actually, many NGOs like BT are providing the kind of shelters I described above. The government needs to provide centres like BT with more financial and technical support.

More: www.bahaytuluyan.org

Program up for street, working children

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Program up for street, working children
By Bong Garcia

THE Street Urban and Working Children Council (SUWCC) is readying plans and programs to help alleviate the plight of working children and those who are roaming downtown known as street children.

SUWCC Chairman Victor Liozo, who is also the administrator of the Philippine National Red Cross-local chapter, said the plans and programs will be focused on rehabilitating the children, especially the street children.

Liozo said the program will also focus on how to turn the children productive instead of roaming around and being subjected to exploitation.

He said they will tap some of the non-government organizations (NGOs) as well as the local government to help them in their programs.

It has been noted that the number of street children is increasing downtown and some of them could even be seen sniffing solvent.

Liozo said they have recorded so far 300 street children during the series of surveys in downtown Zamboanga.

Death squads roam Davao–UN, monitors

Death squads roam Davao–UN, monitors

DAVAO: Clarita Alia’s nightmare began after a man in a police uniform showed up outside her hovel in this southern Philippine city in July 2001.

Send your boys away,” the stranger warned, “or I will get them one by one.”

Two weeks later, Richard, 17, who like his siblings had dropped out of school and joined a gang, was knifed to death in the tough Bankerohan neighborhood of Davao City on the southern island of Mindanao.

Chistopher, 16, and Bobby, 14, met the same fate within 16 months.

By 2006 Clarita’s youngest, Fernando, 15 was also dead. No one was arrested or prosecuted for the killings.

Their 54-year-old mother, who hawks cigarettes and lives in a six-square-meter shack at the Bankerohan public market with two dogs, her remaining son and his wife and two children, swears the man who threatened her boys still lives nearby.

“I know God will be angry, but I feel happy every time I learn on television that a policeman has died,” she told Agence France-Presse. “I tell myself it’s only right that they also suffer.”

Independent rights monitors here say at least 583 persons, including 45 minors and 185 young adults, have been shot or knifed to death since 1998 by unknown assassins in a city whose local officials openly back a tough stance against drug dealers and juvenile offenders.

Philip Alston, a special investigator for the UN Commission on Human Rights, flew to the Philippines last year to investigate extrajudicial killings of leftist dissidents across the country and of minors in Davao.

All the young Davao victims lived on the street, had joined gangs, and many had police records for petty crime or were drug couriers, local rights monitors say.

“One fact points very strongly to the officially sanctioned character of these [Davao] killings: no one involved covers his face,” Alston wrote in his report.

Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, unavailable for an interview for this article, previously denied that the killers were executing his orders.

Alston, who also talked to the mayor last year, said Duterte would “perfunctorily deny the existence of a death squad.”

“This is a war against the poor,” said Father Amado Picardal, vicar of a Roman Catholic Church that caters to the Davao urban poor community of Sagrada Familia.

“The death squads are actually copying Brazil,” he said, referring to the wave of vigilante killings of street children in the South American country in the 1990s.

He recalled a wealthy parishioner venting his spleen at a group of street children after his car was broken into as he attended Mass in 2003. A week later a youth was shot dead outside the church.

Davao has a long history of political violence, and Picardal is alarmed that some of his flock approve of the killings.

“They said that this is a good thing for Davao. This is good for business because people feel safe, that the DDS [Davao death squads] is doing a service to the community—that they’re trying to get rid of the garbage,” he said.

Communist New People’s Army (NPA) rebels turned Davao’s slums into laboratories for urban guerrilla warfare in the 1980s until they were supplanted by anti-communist militias, some of them armed and trained by the security forces.

Rights monitors say the killers’ tactics uncannily ape those used by NPA gunmen who assassinated soldiers, police and government officials in the 1980s—two men on one motorbike, one acting as the executioner and the other as lookout and getaway driver.

Davao, a sprawling city of 1.3 million people, is the hub of Mindanao island’s industries, mining and corporate farms.

Massive labor migration from surrounding rural areas in recent years swelled its teeming slums and accounts for rising numbers of children joining gangs, said Carla Canarias, a case officer for Tambayan, a Davao halfway house that helps out street children.

“They actually have families. But when they moved into the city the parents have to look for work and the children are left at home,” she told Agence France-Presse. “Many of them are abused, physically or sexually,” she added.

Alma Loysabas, another Tambayan official, said a girl who sought refuge at the center suffered a nervous breakdown after one of her young male friends was murdered.

“She said she was tailed by unknown men who flashed their guns and showed her a hit list that included her name,” Loysabas added.

In 2006 the killers’ tactics shifted and they started using mostly knives.

Jesus Dureza, a Davao-based senior adviser for President Gloria Arroyo, said the government “does not condone extrajudicial killings” and added “no one can play God” in Davao or elsewhere.

Pilar town registers biggest number of street children, mendicants

Pilar town registers biggest number of street children, mendicants

By Gilda V. Llames

Balanga, Bataan (8 February) — Street children and mendicants rounded up by authorities in Balanga City last year originated mostly from the municipality of Pilar.

Yanaguia M. Benesa, social worker at the Bahay Panuluyan drop-in center in Balanga revealed that out of 39 cases received at Panuluyan in 2007, a total of 13 came from Pilar; five from Balanga; four from Hermosa; three each from Orion and Pampanga; two cases each from Mariveles, Dinalupihan, Limay and Olongapo City; another two kids with unknown address and one case from Sariaya, Quezon.

Of the 39 cases brought to Panuluyan, 14 consisted of street children and mendicants; 11 were sexually abused girls; five were diagnosed as mentally challenged; four neglected children; two physically abused; another two, abandoned girls and one emotionally disturbed girl, according to Victoria S. Sinon, administrative staff of the drop-in center.

Sinon explained that the rounded up beggars are provided temporary shelter at Panuluyan after which they are returned to their respective families. In cases when their families could no longer be located, the children are brought to Munting Tahanan, another institution in Balanga, where said children could live permanently and lead normal lives.

According to Dr. Ma. Luisa G. Atienza, chairperson of Bahay Panuluyan/Oplan Kalinga, objectives of the center are:

  • To provide home life services such as food, shelter, clothing and security to individuals who are under difficult circumstance;
  • To give initial and thorough assessment or diagnosis for short term psychosocial interventions such as restoration process of client’s self-worth that has been threatened due to abuse, inevitable dysfunctions from families, inability to cope with daily needs, and other stresses in life.
  • To prepare the client on the possible reintegration to his/her family and vice versa. If reintegration is not possible, the client must understand the possibility for referral to other institution where residential care and rehabilitative services are provided.
  • To ensure through coordination with the municipal social welfare and development officers that the after care and follow up services are extended to clients who have been reintegrated to their families.

    Bahay Panuluyan, Atienza explained, is for children while Oplan Kalinga is for old mendicants.

    Directly under the supervision of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Panuluyan and Kalinga are also supported by the provincial government of Bataan, local government units and non-government organizations such as Soroptimist International and the Rotary Club of Balanga. (PIA-Bataan)

  • Stairway to a new life

    Stairway to a new life

    By Serena Gelb
    Philippine Daily Inquirer

    Last updated 17:51:00 02/05/2008

    MANILA, Philippines—Last week, I visited the Stairway Foundation. Founded by Monica Ray and Lars Jorgensen in 1990, it is a facility that helps former street children from ages 10-17 to attain a brighter future.

    Many of the children that come to Stairway have had difficult lives living on the streets. Some have been involved in alcohol and drugs, while others have been abused or come from dysfunctional families or juvenile prisons.

    The streetchildren have the opportunity to join a one-year program to gain practical living skills at the Foundation. In the first few months, their basic needs—food, soap and clothing—are provided for free. Then as they mature into the program, the kids are expected to start earning for themselves so that they can provide for their basic necessities.

    Through this, they learn to provide for themselves with honesty and self-respect. No more begging, stealing or gambling. For their livelihood, they are also taught various crafts such as creating dream catchers and intricately woven friendship bracelets. They learn tie-dye techniques and even henna-tattoo skills.

    Every week, the kids are put into groups and have dish-washing, cleaning and bathroom duties assigned to them. During my short stay I got to help clean the dishes and set tables.

    There are two classrooms for the children, divided into higher and lower learning levels. The classrooms are colorfully decorated, and each kid has his own desk.

    There is also a “high tech” room filled with computers where the children are taught computer skills. To help deal with the violence and trauma most of these street kids have experienced, Stairway offers regular workshops and seminars that deal with all forms of abuse and children’s rights.

    Hope and love

    Monica and Lars Jorensen both live on the grounds, and have two kids. Lars is Danish and when Stairway was being built, he went to his old high school to raise money.

    The high-schoolers painted themselves silver and gold and did pantomimes, baked hundreds of cookies and raised funds to give Stairway a headstart. The Foundation is an independent, nonprofit and nongovernment entity.

    The Stairway philosophy says that everyone needs love and hope. Without it, many street kids desperately turn to drugs to escape from reality. On day two, we were shown a photo gallery of children.

    We saw kids walking barefoot on garbage dumps and young girls with glue bags over their noses hanging around in cemeteries. We saw pictures of a boy with scabies in a pool of dirty water.

    In 2004, Stairway produced the animated film “Daughter, a Story of Incest.” It was widely distributed throughout Manila and translated into Khmer and Bahasa (for showing in Cambodia and Indonesia).

    In June 2005, “A Good Boy,” Stairway’s second animated film, was made. This one was about pedophilia.

    Both films stress that it is not the child’s fault when he or she is abused, and it encourages kids to go to a trusted adult if anything inappropriate is happening to them.

    These films are extremely useful, because many children feel guilty or feel as if it’s their fault when they are being abused.

    I watched the play “The Cracked Mirror,” a gripping portrayal of life on the streets and child sexual abuse. I was shocked to learn that the talented cast had also gone through these experiences.
    But now, they have the courage to speak up about it and teach others. Monica Ray also wrote and compiled a book of short stories titled “Black Angels, Street Children Realities,” which vividly depicts life on the streets for these children.

    Stairway provides a year-long training program. Then the kids must find a new home and transition into the larger world. They are faced with possibly the most difficult decision in their life. They can either move on to another organization or go back to their families. However, wherever they go they need to continue their education, so a social worker helps guide them through this process.

    Energetic performance

    It takes a three to four-hour bus ride from Manila, a two-hour ferry ride then a 30-minute jeepney ride to get to Stairway, which is located in Mindoro. When we arrived, my friends and I were greeted by the kids with an energetic performance called the “Rainbow Story.”

    All of them were dressed in sparkly clothes in different colors of the rainbow, which they had dyed and painted themselves. They sang and danced enthusiastically, making us feel at home immediately.

    Afterwards, we went to the beach and played icebreaker games such as tug-of-war. In a few hours, I had made some fast friends.

    During the short three days that I spent at Stairway, I got to know and befriend many of the kids.
    Chino always had a smile plastered across his face. Angelo, the cutest and most innocent-looking kid, was always obsessed with the number 21. Raysand was caring and so much fun. One day on the beach we were all joking around and we buried him in the sand. Jonathan was with me in team red. He, Kevin and I had a perpetual “bad fish/good fish” joke, which helped us bond with each other.

    Everyone was good at sports, and we played beach volleyball with them every day. A bunch of boys started calling themselves the “macho men” group, and every member was named “Raul” for them to sound manlier. It was hilarious. Whether it was hiking up a gorgeous waterfall or being taught how to braid friendship bracelets by the kids or how to make candles, I had an amazing time.

    It amazes me how, through all their troubles, these kids always keep a smile on their face. The Stairway foundation children are strong and resilient despite the tremendous early challenges they had experienced. I really admire them.

    On our last day with them, we signed each other’s shirts and celebrated the new friendships we’d made with slightly tearful good byes. In the end, we were all just kids, there weren’t any social or economical barriers or prejudices that got in the way of our friendship.

    This was one weekend that I’d treasure and remember for the rest of my life.

    Visit http://www.stairwayfoundation.org/Eng/ Black_Angels/blackangels_frame.htm

    Stairway away from Hell

    Stairway away from Hell

    At a peaceful beach in Puerto Galera, Philippines, the Danish organisation Stairways helps street children from Manila to a better life.
    Lars Jøregensen in his office at Staiways

    Lars Jøregensen in his office at Staiways

    Boys studying at the Stairways school

    Boys studying at the Stairways school

    In Manila around 100.000 children are living on the street. They do not got go to school, they are starving, many of them suffer from deceases and some are sexually abused. These are the children the Danish run Stairway Foundation aim to help.

    A taste of childhood
    By spending a year at Stairway’s idyllic location a few meters from the beach in the peaceful surroundings of Puerto Galera, the organisation try to give children hope for a better future. Through basic education, counselling and creative and physical activities Stairway aim to give 12-13 boys a year enough self-confidence to change their lives.
        “These children have always been put down. We want to make them confident enough to trust that they can actually do something with their lives in the future. We want to give these children a taste of, what childhood is supposed to be like, ” says Lars Jørgensen.
        Lars Jørgensen from Denmark and his American wife Monica Ray Jørgensen set up Stairway in 1990. The motivation came from a tourist trip to the Philippines where the problem of street children and child abuse became obvious to the couple.
        “We landed in the middle of the red light district in Manila and saw a lot of children with dirty old men. Then we came to Puerto Galera and were taken in by the beauty of this place. But also here we saw a lot of children with dirty old men. At that time Puerto Galera used to be the heaven for paedophiles,” Lars explains.
         “We were appalled to se the abuse of children, but at the same time extremely fascinated by the beauty of this country and the hospitality of the people. That was the right cocktail to create the motivation to do something,” says Lars.  

    Victims of Poverty
    The boys who are staying at Stairway are between 13 and 18 years old and from Manila. They have been living on the street either because they do not have a family or have run away from home.
        “Most of the children are victims of poverty and the consequences of poverty which are broken families, violence, drugs, alcoholism, and in many cases sexual abuse,” Lars explains. “It is a great decision for a child at the age of 10 to decide to run away from home. They will take a lot of beating before that. I think the sexual abuse is what really makes then run away,” he says.
        Stairway finds the children at so called detentions centres in Manila. “In reality these centres work like prisons,” says Lars Jørgensen. “In Puerto Galera we want to create a home for these children and make a family-like atmosphere in an environment which is totally different from what they have experienced in Manila,” he says. For the same reason, Stairway only takes in around 12 boys a year.
        Most of the children have had no or very poor education. At Stairway they are taught basic subjects such as math, English, their own language in small classes in order to give more attention to the individual students. Stairway also has counsellors who help the children to put a harsh past behind them. After a year at Stairway they children continue into other institutions or families, which can help them with more education and vocational training.

    Apart from academic, vocational training and physical activities, drama and music has since the beginning been part of Stairways philosophy. “When it comes to building confidence, art and creativity plays a big role,” Monica Ray explains. “It is a great way to work with children. You can give them a platform to speak from,“ she says.
        In 1999 Stairways set up the musical Goldtooth, which gives a strong and detailed description of what it means to be living on the street in Manila. The musical was performed in the Philippines and several countries in Europe such as Denmark, Finland at they UN in Geneva. This year Stairways has set up the play “Cracked Mirrors” which likewise focus on street life and sexual abuse of children.

    All over the world
    Apart from the 13 boys who are currently staying at Stairway, the organisation is reaching a far grater number of children and adults throughout the world. Stairways has produced two cartoons “Daughter” and “ A good boy” which both focus on child abuse. In 2004 Daughter won the ANNECY (International Animated Film Festival) reward for best educational movie “A good boy” has won prizes in Korea
        “Kids easily relate to the cartoons. It’s a good way of story telling for adults as well. You don’t have to articulate much, because the cartoon is doing all the work,” says Lars. Stairway is currently working on the production a third cartoon “Red Leaves” which focus on trafficking of children into the sex industry.
        Although the cartoons are treating controversial issues associated with a lot of taboos they have been well received in the Philippines.
        “When Daughter came out we had no idea how the authorities here would react. Maybe they would fell that we were exposing the Philippines. But fortunately it was very well received and we are today welcomes in to various places,” says Lars.
        A part from being a home for street children Stairway runs several other activities such as a scholarship program for children in the local areas. Stairway also conducts several workshops about children’s right and child abuse among others for teachers, social workers, student and police officers in order to create awareness about children’s rights.
        “Out mission is to create openness and to break the silence,” says Lars. And things have definitely improved since the foundation of Stairways. At least around Puerto Galera, which is no longer seen as a heaven for Paedophiles. Lars and Monica still wish their organisation to keep developing. “We hope that it will keep growing, -and that Stairway can attract and inspire people who will help to create and understanding of the problems of children and how to address them,” Lars Jørgensen finishes.

    For more information see http://www.stairwayfoundation.org/

    Created 2008-01-02

    Hapag-asa, Pugad, other efforts

    Hapag-asa, Pugad, other efforts 
    to make poor kids see Christ

    The Arroyo administration spends scores of billions on poverty alleviation programs, only a portion of which directly benefit the poorest of the poor—who are the children of poor families and children with no families at all.

    Without the charitable work of private organizations and churches, however, the incidence of hunger and extreme poverty would be a much higher figure.

    Not counting the Catholic parishes and Protestant churches that are generously helping provide for the poor in their territories, there are easily a thousand private organizations—besides Rotary, Lions, Kiwanis, Jaycees—that have their distinct help-the-poor programs. At the same time, these organizations collaborate with or give funds to renowned philanthropic institutions, like Caritas.  

    Business corporations also fund charity projects.

    Three of the more interesting and successful charity programs are Pondo ng Pinoy and its specific feeding program, Hapag-asa, the Salesians of Don Bosco’s Pugad Home for Street Children program and the Laura Vicuña Foundation’s annual “Parti-han” for 1,500 and more street children at the Museo Pambata.

    Hapag-asa Integrated Nutrition Program
    By Juliena Reyes

    In 2005 to 2006, a grand total of 76,030 kids were served in these first years of the program. Under Pondo ng Pinoy dioceses, 14,852 children were served; in other dioceses, 15,798 kids were served;  under NGO partners 16,623 kids were served; and under local government partners 28,757 kids were served.

    For 2007, as of this (December 15), a total of 147,763 children have been enrolled in the program since January. This is 123 percent of the yearly target of 120,000 kids to be served.

    Under Pondo ng Pinoy dioceses, a total of 10,479 kids were enrolled for 2007 from 12 dioceses (involving 139 parishes). There were 3.090 kids who graduated in 2007 (they completed their six-month feeding program. Feeding is going on for 7,389 children.

    In 2007, for other dioceses (not under Pondo ng Pinoy), a total of 4,785 kids are enrolled and still going on with their feeding program. Involved are 103 parishes NGO partners in 2007: a total of 67,691 kids enrolled from 97 barangays/schools, 7,461 kids graduated and feeding program for 60,230 kids ongoing.

    LGU partners (mostly with DepEd), in 2007 a total of 64,808 kids are enrolled and still ongoing with the feeding program. These are from 108 schools.

    The parents of these children, usually the mothers, are encouraged to be involved in the daily program activities together with the volunteers.

    From 2005 to 2007, there have been a total of 2,920 volunteers who were trained in implementing the program. These are parishioners, teachers, nurses and laypersons.

    These volunteers are training new batches of volunteers.

    Besides the supplemental feeding activities of the program, this year focused on helping the mothers have income-generating opportunities, as part of the livelihood program under the education component of Pondo ng Pinoy/Hapag-asa.

    Some of the skills training held for the mothers include Tesda’s training on meat processing and soap making.

    In line with this, DSWD-NCR’s SEAK (Self-Employment Assistance-Kaun­laran), a capability-building project to enhance socioeconomic skills of poor families for entrepreneurial development through organized groups, fits together with what the Hapag-asa beneficiaries are looking for.

    This church-based partnership is a first for DSWD-NCR, piloting in 3 parishes under 2 Pondo ng Pinoy dioceses (Cubao and Novaliches) who were given capital-loan grants after undergoing the requirements and registrations.

    Some of the major events for this year:

    Hapag-Asa Caravan—an event where Pondo ng Pinoy implementing dioceses came together to increase awareness on the program as well as to raise funds.

    Fast-Feed envelopes—donation envelopes distributed in parishes during Lent giving a call to “Fast” in order to “Feed” a hungry child by donating the money intended for a snack (such as one value meal).

    • TV Masses on Channel 4 and Channel 5

    • Featured in TV Patrol World’s “Gabay Kapamilya” segment hosted by Karen Davila last January 3.

    • 2007 Christmas Gift-giving party- by the LRP Foundation, Inc. held this year for the Hapag-asa beneficiaries in the diocese of Pasig. Even the volunteers were given gifts at this event.

    • 2nd day of Misa De Gallo (December 17)—a Pastoral letter will be read during Mass in support of the program. With this, Hapag-asa envelopes with flyers inside will be distributed.

    All collections will be for the benefit of the growing number of malnourished children being fed through the Hapag-asa program.

    The Pondo ng Pinoy Community Foundation, headed by Archbishop Gaudencio Rosales of Manila with 12 other diocesan bishops, launched the HAPAG-ASA, an Integrated Nutriti
    on Program for the poor and malnourished children. According to the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI) study 3 out of 10 children, aged 0 to 5 years, are suffering from chronic malnutrition and are underweight, under height and stunted in growth.

    The Hapag-Asa Program is the flagship program of Pondo ng Pinoy. It is a medically supervised nutrition program that aims to alleviate extreme hunger among poor Filipino children and to improve their overall health condition. It has two major components: supplemental feeding program and education classes with topics on Spiritual/Values formation, Health and Nutrition, Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods, and livelihood/skills training.

    Under this program, each malnourished child is fed with Vitameal, a scientifically prepared lentil-rice mix, power packed with carbohydrates, protein, fats and 25 vitamins and minerals, to be mixed with local ingredients (rice, chicken, potatoes, etc.) to make each meal appealing and palatable.

    Children who are between 6 months and 12 years old (considered as the critical stages of development) and are suffering from moderate to severe malnutrition are eligible for enrollment in the program. A batch of enrolled children will be fed once a day, five days a week for six months.  Vitameal-enriched meals come in the form of viand and rice or heavy snacks (like soup or spaghetti) served on designated feeding sites. 

    For the parents, an education program in the form of classes/seminars is simultaneously implemented. These classes provide the parents basic knowledge and skills that will improve their capabilities and expand their opportunities (e.g. income-generation) thus improving the quality of their lives and ensuring the continuity of the well being of their children after completing the 6-month feeding program.

    Don Bosco Pugad

    By Rizza Jane Francisco

    This is the Salesians’ project to give a home, Christian formation and vocational education to street children and migrant youth (young men from the provinces).

    Besides the Pugad in Makati, the Salesians have similar projects in other venues.

    Since Pugad began in 2001 (superce­ding Tuloy Foundation’s work which started in the early 90s), 1,800 street children and their families and 321 migrant youth have benefited from the program.

    All graduates, some of whom have found jobs abroad, say what Mark Jayson, 18, a migrant youth from Negros Occidental, says: “I learned that poverty is not a barrier to success, If you really want to progress, there is a way.”

    Before being admitted to the other programs of Don Bosco Pugad, the youths have to undergo an adaptation Program to help them adjust to living with other boys in the center. They are taught how to live by a set of rules and to follow routines in a safe, secure and loving environment.

    Drop-In program

    Pugad serves as a 24-hour temporary residential facility for children aged 11 to 16 years old who are rescued from the streets. These are boys who are lost neglected, abandoned orphaned, physically abused, victims of child abuse, or children in conflict with the law.

    Pugad helps them transfer to a government or private facility best suited to meet their special needs.

    Community Based Extension Program

    Pugad reaches out to the children of urban poor families by supporting their elementary to high-school education. Most of the beneficiaries of this program are the street children who have been reunited with their families.

    No Merry Christmas for street children

    No Merry Christmas for street children

    By Sherryl Anne G. Quito

    Diding is a familiar face in the Basilica of the Black Nazarene in the noisy, throbbing heart of old Manila, Quiapo. Three times a day, this volunteer cook for the church’s feeding center prepares porridge (lugaw) for 200 to 400 hungry and homeless families who patiently line up outside the gates off Plaza Miranda. For many, Diding’s lugaw will be their first—and last—meal of the day.

    A retired teacher, Diding is well-loved by both young and old in the area for her genuine kindness. Her humanitarian efforts give a glimmer of hope to the needy, knowing that there is someone who is willing to make life easier for them. Diding says she will never get tired of cooking lugaw. It’s a wonderful feeling when you know you’re doing something right, she says. Without Diding and the other volunteers in the feeding center, the poor won’t have anything to fill their empty stomach. With Diding around, the poor are assured to have a “Noche Buena” (Christmas eve) feast of at least lugaw.

    For five-year-old Christian Alvarez, Diding’s lugaw is already manna from heaven. Whenever he takes a spoonful of Diding’s lugaw, he thinks of his favorite food—tinola and fried chicken—saving him from his gnawing hunger. This Christmas, this frisky peroxide blond street kid will be enjoying Diding’s lugaw in a different light—spaghetti and hamonado langgoniza (pork sausage with ham).

    For Christian and the other street children around the Quiapo area, Christmas is just an ordinary day. Some say Christmas is for children—but not for these street kids. The gap between the rich and poor children is heavily noticed during the holiday season. A 2005 National Statistics Office (NSO) survey commissioned by the International Labour Organization-International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (ILO-IPEC), estimated that 3 out of 20 children in the Philippines or some 3.7 million, mostly 5-17 years old, are working children.

    While children of well-off families enjoy suffering from Noche Buena overindulgence, street children suffer from hunger or food shortage. For Filipinos, Christmas is a season for family reunions and gatherings. Parents have their children in tow and are confronted with a heavy plate of pasta, ham, morcon, fruit salad. Street children are forced to beg for alms while singing Christmas carols or scavenge for food just to bring home something for the family to share on Christmas Eve.  Some are young criminals—with a gang boss. 

    Instead of family reunions, these children are reunited with their comrades in juvenile prison. SPO1 Alfred Tenorio of the Manila Police District said their records show that the number of children put in jail increases as the holiday season approaches. The most common offense committed by these children are bag-snatching and pick pocketing, especially in the Divisoria, Binondo and Quiapo districts areas flooded with shoppers.

    SPO1 Tenorio reveals that most children they take in for questioning say they really don’t want to commit crimes.  Most of them are forced by their parents, bullied by older kids or instructed by syndicate bosses.

    Government has responded to this problem by ratifying ILO Convention 138 and strengthening its monitoring of businesses that employ children. There have been rescues of children employed as laborers. Government and police efforts to bring down syndicate use of kids have to increase.

    Despite the bright lights surrounding malls and middle- and upper-class homes, street children are blinded to the joy of Christmas brought to mankind by the birth of Christ the savior and redeemer. For these poverty-stricken children have never experiences how it feels to celebrate Christmas the way better-off families do.

    Mark Anthony Gañedo, 9, one of Christian’s playmates, sleeps on a milk carton as do his parents and four siblings. He said he has never experienced opening presents under a Christmas tree or sitting down around a table to enjoy a decent Christmas dinner. The best Noche Buena he ever had, he said, was a leftover Jollibee Chickenjoy he found in the garbage, which he had to share with his siblings.

    Mark Anthony says he always makes more money during the Christmas weeks, begging and peddling cigarettes and candies. However, he said he wants to experience what it is like to have some money not by begging but to get it as a gift from a ninong or ninang  who really cares for him.  Instead, he struggles to have enough money to buy simple meals for his parents and siblings. If he is lucky he will take home a plastic toy handed out by a Catholic or Protestant charity worker.

    The street children in the Philippines have long been a concern of the government. Many government efforts fall short for lack of money.

    These are supplemented by the charitable works of mainly church organizations, foremost of which are Roman Catholic initiatives by Caritas, those of the dioceses, like Archbishop of Manila Gaudencio Rosales’s Pondo ng Pinoy and Hapag-asa, and individual parishes and religious orders, like the Salesians of Don Bosco whose Pugad Home for Street Children programs.

    Private foundations and international clubs like Rotary, Kiwanis and the Jaycees have also funded and participated in charitable works for street children.

    DOT-10 to tour street kids

    DOT-10 to tour street kids

    by DOT

    The Department of Tourism (DOT)-10 will once again hold an educational tour for the street children and child laborers on December 12 in the top tourism destinations of Cagayan de Oro City.

    Charlita Ladera, DOT-10 focal person on child trafficking/child labor committee said that the educational tour has been done for the last two years as part of the agency’s contribution as member of Child Trafficking/Human Trafficking, Child Labor and HIV-AIDS Council and as partner in the advocacy of community education against child trafficking.

    Ladera said that the tour is set on the date which is declared as Day Against Child Trafficking in the country with the theme "Uphold and Protect the Rights and Dignity of the Trafficked Child."

    She pointed out that through the activity, the children will be given opportunity to see the beauty of the different tourist spots in the city and it will be an early Christmas party for them.

    The children will start the day with a mass at San Agustin Cathedral then proceed to Mapawa Nature Park for some activities then to Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism for swimming, lunch and gift giving.