Saving Cebu’s street children
CEBU CITY—Eight-year-old Anita (not her real name) wandered around Fuente Osmeña Circle in the city’s commercial area before New Year’s Eve, hoping that someone would give her P10 so she could buy a small sachet of milk for her little sister.
“People these days are selfish. They seldom give P5. They only give P1. Or they won’t give any money, just bread, the hard bread that doesn’t taste good,” she told the Inquirer in Cebuano.
Wearing faded clothes and worn-out slippers, Anita was oblivious to the festivities while standing near a towering Christmas tree past 7 p.m. Just a few feet away was her mother, sitting on the stairs of the skywalk that connects General Maxilom Avenue to F. Ramos Street and opening small plastic bags of cooked rice and vegetables.
A baby, about 3 months old, was in her mother’s arms, wrapped in dirty white cloth and sound asleep.
When asked where they came from and if they had relatives in Cebu to spend the night with, she pointed a finger and blurted out an angry stream of incorrigible words.
“She doesn’t like people asking questions. She hates people with cameras. You only use us so many people would watch television,” Anita said later when her mother calmed down.
They do not live on the sidewalks, she said, but move from place to place where they can find food. That night, it was near Fuente Osmeña Circle.
Parian Drop-in Center
About 3 kilometers away, street children were feasting on spaghetti, fruit salad and cake for their Christmas-New Year party. It did not mean, though, that life at Parian Drop-in Center is any better.
The center has been the refuge of many children who are abused, neglected and abandoned in the last 25 years, according to house parent Nemesia “Nanay Meme” Cabarrubias. It is being run by Children of Cebu Foundation Inc. and its operations are funded partly by several organizations and government agencies, including the city government.
Councilor Margarita Osmeña, wife of Mayor Tomas Osmeña, is one of the prime movers of the project.
The children are lucky to have received many blessings, presents and food year-round, Nanay Meme said. But she added that they would not be there if they had no problems. “My role as house parent is to take care of them and listen to them,” she said.
Nanay Meme, 55, never married and has no children.
“I’ve been a mother to more than a thousand children. It cannot be avoided that I become part of their lives,” said the woman, who has assumed the role for the past 17 years.
She hails from Malitbog in Southern Leyte province, and came to Cebu to study. She earned an education degree at University of the Visayas, but did not have a license to teach. Instead, she became a mother to children who need the love and care of a parent.
Therapy for kids
“Some of them have fathers or mothers who are in prison,” Nanay Meme said. The parent left at home cannot take on the responsibility of taking care of all the children, she said.
“Others leave home because they are physically abused. There are cases when their mother remarried and they don’t feel safe around the stepfather,” she said.
Some children come from homeless families and live on the streets but still prefer spending time with their mothers, fathers and siblings on Christmas and New Year.
Still others have families, so on Christmas or New Year, they spend these special occasions with their loved ones.
Children can stay up to one year in the center as they undergo therapy sessions. Social workers assess their cases and recommend shelters or organizations they will be transferred to for permanent care.
About 35 children now live in the center. Only boys, aged at most 10, and girls up to 18 years old are accepted, Nanay Meme said. “We avoid situations where teenage boys and girls develop romantic relationships,” she said.
The children follow a daily routine, including doing household chores. The older children help give the younger ones a bath. They also also help in cooking and washing clothes.
“My wish for 2017 is for these children to be happy … that even with their situation they will still feel joy in the little things that happen in their lives,” she said.
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