Homeless kids stay off the streets to party at PDI
The streets can be a playground, a workplace, but also sadly, a breeding ground for future criminals. Here hungry children do whatever they can to find something to eat. Without the guidance of parents, they steal, take drugs, hurt themselves, are reviled and learn to return the insult.
But one day each December, the kids take a day off of street work and join other street children in the annual Christmas party thrown by Hands on Manila, in partnership with the Philippine Daily Inquirer and other foundations for children’s welfare.
Carlo del Rosario, 15, has been attending Hands on Manila’s Christmas party for the past 8 years.
As a manonobre (envelope-singer), he stops and climbs into moving jeepneys and sing songs for a few coins.
“The hardest part of being a manonobre is running after jeepneys. I don’t mind people raising their eyebrows and telling me to stop asking for money,” he said.
“At least, I don’t steal,” said Carlo who claims not to belong to any syndicate.
Carlo makes about P200 a day, almost all of which he gives to his mother who works as a nanny in Baclaran. Of his daily earnings, he saves P20 which he dutifully turns over for safekeeping to Bridge Builder Foundation that takes care of him.
“By Christmas, my P20 will have grown to P700,” he says proudly. “I can buy gifts with this,” said the curly-haired Carlo.
Carlo does not deny that what he wants most is to stop working in the streets. “I don’t want to ask for money forever. I want to finish school. I want to step up to another level and help my family and other people,” he said.
“One day, things will change,” he said.
Genuine joy for a day
At the Hands on Manila party, there are parlor games, a comic magic show and gift packages for the children.
Carlo says the gift pack, which includes school supplies, toys and canned goods, could sustain him and his mother for a month.
He said attending parties like this made him happy. They allow him to dance, join games and enjoy himself and not think of anything else, just for a while.
Carlo, who is in the equivalent of third-year high school student, attends Bridge Builder Foundation’s out-of-school youth classes and has been trying to convince other friends to study as well.
“Most of my friends take drugs, but in school, there’s a session about marijuana, cocaine and other drugs. I learned to stay away from those,” he said.
Lourrenz Española, 16, is also under the care of Bridge Builder Foundation and Child Hope Foundation with 50 street children. He was 13 when he first attended the annual Christmas party.
For six days each week, Española drives a sidecar, earning P140 which he gives to his family. He saves P50 through the foundation so he would have spending money at Christmas.
His friend RJ Caninding, 17, said the foundation taught him to interact and get along well with other people.
Before he was taken in by the foundation last January, RJ admitted to being a bum and addicted to smoking. He said he just could not quit the vice.
“Nagyoyosi ako kasi feeling ko lagi akong busog. Lagi kasi akong gutom, (I smoke because it made me feel full. It’s because I’m always hungry),” RJ said.
After his parents separated, RJ and his two siblings joined the foundation.
“This party is the only place where I am not judged. One person told me that one should never judge another person unless he knows his whole story,” said RJ who complained of being belittled quite often.
Through the foundation’s theater company, he learned to dance and has become a more confident person. His dream, he said, is to have his own house in the future. “But for this Christmas, I hope my mother gets a job,” he said.
Olegario “Buboy” Saavedra, 38, said RJ and most of the other students are smart. They just need to be helped to develop their skills and talents.
Saavedra has been making the rounds of the streets of Pasay, Quezon City, Manila, Caloocan, Makati and Parañaque to teach streetchildren for free for the past 12 years.
This is something he does part-time as part of his mission to help the children. “My presence will only be used by someone greater than me. I am happy and proud serving these children,” he said.
What Saavedra teaches is not Math or Science but basic life skills like planning, values education, primary health care, decision-making, personal safety, protection behavior and financial education.
“I teach these kids to follow their instinct so they will not be exploited. When they feel bad or uneasy, I tell them to get out of the situation,” he said.
Hands on Manila works with the Department of Education on the Alternative Learning Program. According to Saavedra, as far as he knows, only 2 of the 50 students on the ALP have graduated—one an information technology graduate and the other in human resources from Earist College. “But that means a lot to me,” he said.
Not for show
“When we hold Christmas parties, it’s not unusual for some people to doubt the intent of the program,” he said.
Some may deem it superficial, a one-time big event for photo-ops, after which the children return to the same, old lives the next day.
But this is not how Saavedra sees it.
“Christmas parties like this allow street children to be exposed to good people, to be with a group who they know will not hit or curse them when they do wrong, mock them or judge them. Kindness is contagious,” he said.
“Being with good people allows them to have a sense of good and bad, to realize that there’s a community that can accept them and be happy for them,” he said.
According to Saavedra, he may not be rich but he feels fortunate. “My heart is on the streets. I’ll do anything to keep the children off the streets,” he said.
The story of streetchildren is very deep and complicated, that’s why they are a commonplace subject of indie films, said Saavedra. There are drug pushers as young as 10 years old, and drug users at 9.
“Think of all crimes, that’s what they are exposed to,” he said.
This Christmas, he advises people, never stop giving.
“To be able to really help, one should have an element of good,” he said. “This is the only way you can penetrate and help the children.”
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