In Bacolod, youth-led project gives hope to child offenders
BACOLOD CITY—Nick (not his real name) was brought to the city’s Social Development Center (SDC) here more than a year ago. Then 17, he was one of the minors sent to the center for processing after committing an offense, such as involvement with illegal drugs, sexual assault, acts of lasciviousness and robbery.It was because of Nick and those like him, tagged as children in conflict with the law (CICL), that the Turning Point Project was born.
Launched in September, Turning Point is a youth-led initiative that aims to push the reintegration of troubled youth to their host communities through livelihood and skills development training and mental health and psychosocial support programs.
The project is the brainchild of Junbert Pabon, a 22-year-old Bacolodnon, who saw firsthand the gaps in the management of young offenders when he volunteered in the SDC in 2016.
Since then, he has made it his advocacy to push for education and rehabilitation of child offenders rather than punishing them.
Pabon conceived Turning Point during his residency as one of the 12 Changemakers of the Koffi Annan Foundation, an international nonprofit organization that focuses on democracy and peacebuilding through youth leadership.
His advocacy secured a seed grant from the Koffi Annan Foundation to launch Turning Point.According to Pabon, the project started from the Holistic Development Program for CICLs at SDC, which he and his peers started in 2017.
The program mainly concentrated on values formation, although Pabon and his team would soon realize that values alone was not enough.
“We conducted a needs assessment and consultation with the heads of the SDC. And yes, over the years, what we have been doing is good but not practical,” he said.
“When the kids go out of the center, they find it difficult to earn, apply for jobs or go back to school, so we opted to create a separate project which is focused on livelihood training and psychosocial support,” he added.
Turning Point has partnered with the City of Bacolod’s Cooperative and Livelihood Development Office (CLDO) to provide free training that will earn the children certifications.
On Sept. 20, Turning Point, CLDO and other partner organizations conducted a souvenir-making activity, which produced items like keychains. It was the first of the series of livelihood and skill training planned for children so they could generate income inside, and later, outside the SDC.
Unfortunately, they were able to sell only 30 pieces of keychains at P60 each. For each keychain sold, P20 went to the project’s sustainability fund and P40 to the children.“Since the MassKara keychain was our first livelihood project, we were just learning how to do it. There were many lessons along the road that we have to experience and learn the process,” Pabon noted.
They were not able to foresee that the children needed more time to hone their skills to be able to come up with quality products. The constant trial and error cost them materials. Several items failed quality control.
Some of the raw materials were sourced outside Bacolod and took days to arrive.
Severe Tropical Storm “Paeng” (international name: Nalgae), which hit in late October, disrupted production schedules that have been worsened by the lack of manpower and experience.
Pabon said that they were rethinking their marketing strategy to generate more sales.
Aside from producing keychains, Turning Point had planned to hold a massage therapy and haircutting training among the children. The livelihood and skills training would be complemented by mental health and psychosocial support activities.
To help children with anger management issues and mental health problems, Pabon said they would be doing a “trauma-informed and individualized psychosocial support tailored to the individual needs of the children.”
Turning Point is putting together a pool of volunteers to be supervised by a mental health professional, like a psychologist, to conduct activities to address mental health issues.
As part of the psychosocial support initiative, Turning Point introduced scouting to the children.
In cooperation with the Boy Scouts of the Philippines-Negros Occidental Council and the Good Samaritan Helping Hands, Turning Point taught children basic knot-tying and survival skills in October. Children from the SDC were registered as a scouting unit called the Bagong Buhay Unit.
A boy scout himself, Pabon believes that scouting offers a great framework for establishing belongingness and a sense of community among the children.
As of Oct. 21, there were 27 children in Bacolod’s SDC. The youngest is 13 and the oldest is 21.
Thirteen were involved in illegal drugs, while the remaining were charged either with sexual assault, acts of lasciviousness or robbery.
According to Jennysan Lazarito, SDC head, the center is only a processing facility.
Ideally, CICLs are only meant to stay there for two weeks while awaiting court orders, sentence or trial which would determine the appropriate intervention and facility for them.
Due to the limited capacity of family courts in processing cases and the scarcity of lawyers, some minor offenders stayed in SDC for two to four years.As such, the SDC welcomes every help they could get, like that extended by Turning Point, to ensure the welfare of the children while housed in the SDC.
Lazarito said livelihood and skills training and psychosocial support were especially helpful for their wards.
“It prepares them for their reintegration with their own families and communities,” she said.
The SDC head observed that the children’s reception of the project was very positive.
Nick, who has been in the center for more than a year now, said he was learning a lot of skills through Turning Point.
He learned crafts, like making bracelets, which he said he could use to generate income on his release.
“We feel blessed. We did not expect that someone would be helping us while we are here; to teach us what to do so that we can earn in the future. We really feel blessed,” he said in Hiligaynon.
Pabon said that by the first quarter of 2023, he and his team would conduct research and review Turning Point to determine its impact.
Backed by their research findings and assessment, Pabon said they were hoping to persuade the local government to institutionalize the program at SDC.
Pabon acknowledges that their funding is limited and their vision of transforming the lives of the troubled youth can be best sustained with the active support of the government. INQ