Ex-street child testifies on life’s lessons at IEC
CEBU CITY—Maria Georgina “Maggie” Cogtas began scavenging for metal scraps and plastic bottles when she was 8 years old. She would sell the items and, with her earnings, buy food to be shared by her family.
Cogtas, now 21, and the youngest of seven children, had always thought being born into a poor family meant that material deprivation was the deepest expression of poverty. But growing up, she realized that poverty goes beyond what can be seen with the eyes.
“As a child, I sacrificed playing so we could survive. We had no choice but to fend for ourselves,” she told the 15,000 delegates of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress (IEC) during her testimonial on Friday that life became more difficult when their father left her when she was 13 and her mother went to Manila to find a job.
More than half her life, Cogtas had to deal with rejection, being unable to express herself, emotional numbness, a broken home and a disconnection from God and society. As a neglected street child, she said she had to deal with the “pathetic, cold stares” of pedestrians and the “mocking stares” of other children.
On edge of losing hope
“Back then, my posture was stooped and my head always faced the ground,” she said. She was at the brink of losing hope.
Cogtas, however, started to find healing in God when she was offered by a church-based organization in Cebu, Dilaab Foundation Inc., an academic scholarship in 2010.
She graduated at the top of her class with a degree in Psychology at University of Cebu in October 2015.
In exchange for her scholarship, Cogtas would do volunteer work for Dilaab for one year. She spends every Saturday with street children, exercising, teaching them about hygiene, catechism and other recreational activities.
The Saturday Street Children Encounter, as it is called by the group, is now approaching its fifth year.
“My involvement with the children helped me appreciate what I was ashamed of before,” she said.
Serving street children
Now, Cogtas is proud to say that she used to be a street child, scavenging for scraps to help her family survive.
She just wished that the close to 60 street children under her care would one day become public servants, policemen, teachers, nurses, doctors and even priests, who would also reach out to other underprivileged youth.
“Right now, all I can offer are my time, moral support and prayers. But slowly, many are responding to the need to help these children through the International Eucharistic Congress,” she said.
She said she hoped that more groups and individuals would reach out to street children, just as an organization reached out to her before.
Only when bread is broken, just as Christ’s body was, she said, that it can be shared.
“God allowed us to experience brokenness so we can be in union with our suffering brothers and sisters, to serve a greater purpose,” Cogtas said.
Material, spiritual poverty
John Cardinal Onaiyekan, Archbishop of Abuja in Nigeria, said in his catechesis before the testimonial that there is a link between material and spiritual poverty.
Spiritual poverty, manifested by selfishness and indifference, is the main cause of unhappiness in the world and a great obstacle to peace.
He said this explains the dramatic contradictions being experienced in the world right now.
“The Eucharist challenges us to see one another as brothers and sisters, children of the same father, who is in heaven,” he said.
Onaiyekan added that the Eucharist helps the poor and the suffering understand what they are going through.
It is a good source of encouragement to the poor to know that God is good and takes care of his own.
The prelate celebrated his 72nd birthday yesterday and as a gift, Cogtas gave him a portrait caricature.
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