Ministry to Street Children in the Philippines
Among the busiest places in Metro Manila are the streets. The automobiles, bikes and jeeps cross in front of and around each other to reach their destinations on time. Heavy traffic occurs during rush hours.
People are stranded and often very annoyed as they demand that the jeepney drivers find ways to get out of the congested traffic. Every Saturday I battled the bustling traffic going to and from Marikina City and the Columban House of Studies in Cubao for my apostolate. I worked with the street children living under the light rail transit (LRT) station at Santolan Bridge.
To reach to that area, I took the LRT heading to Santolan and then walked to the bridge. It was under the bridge that the street children would be waiting for me. Charlie Ponferrada, another Columban seminarian, and I worked together as volunteers at Kuya Center, a foundation that aims to bring street children in off the street and provide for their basic needs such as shelter, food and education if possible.
My first encounter with the children was on June 13, 2009. I didn’t have any idea what would happen. I did not know what to do. Since I was with Charlie and Richard, the social worker at the Kuya Center, I just observed the children and started by asking their names. Later on I played and laughed with them. I paid attention to their individual stories and their ambitions in life. I tried to make new friends.
These children do not have families to go home to. They live with other children with whom they sleep under the bridge. Many of the street children are able to eat once a day, but sometimes they are not able to eat at all. Some of them pick through garbage and sell it as their source of income.
In that way they can buy some of their basic needs. Some of them sniff a solution known on the street as “rugby.” In this case, rugby is referring to an inhalant such as a common household cleaner, cooking spray, paint thinner, aerosol adhesives or solvent.
Solvents are easily accessible to Philippine street children and the “high” helps them to forget their painful hunger. Among the children, I noticed that there was a girl in the group of boys. She was the mediator whenever there were disagreements over sharing their rugby for sniffing. She would facilitate in distributing it. The children also had a superior in the group whom they called mommy, as he was the one taking good care of the sick and hungry children. One time I asked one of the children why he decided to live in the streets and what made him sniff rugby.
He said, “I sniff rugby to stave off hunger.” Those were the most terrible words that I had ever heard from a child. My tears ran as he continued to tell his story.
Working for almost a year with these children taught me how to share my life with them. Sharing not only in material aspects but, most importantly, sharing my time with them. My being with them every Saturday was one of the greatest things to happen in my life; I felt their joy when they would see me walking towards them and it gave me delight to be their kuya.
(Editor’s note: kuya is the Tagalog term for older brother and is used as a form of address to someone seen as such, even if not related.) When they would call me kuya, it seemed that I really was their older brother.
I am very fortunate that my parents have taken care of me from birth. Sometimes I asked for my freedom, and so I worked on my own. Sometimes I took for granted the love that they showed me.
These street children are longing for the same kind of love that I experienced in my family. They want to be loved. They want to be valued and respected as human beings and treated with the same dignity as anyone else. I am very thankful that I had the opportunity to work with the community of street children. Many times, they helped me in my own journey. By spending time and talking with them, we were able to show them respect and God’s love for all.
Amidst the busy streets, the smell of the garbage, the sting of the heat of the sun, there are children living out their lives looking for value and needing love and respect as children of God. They only need a little attention from someone, a little respect, love and appreciation. They wait every day for the one who will notice them and share with them the value of life.
My challenge now is to continue the work that I began, but in another setting. In June 2010, I started working with newly ordained Columban Father Andrei Paz in Malate Church, Manila, as part of the youth ministry team. The children there are also street children but with different histories than those I worked with at Santolan Bridge. However, the universal truth of God’s love for all—the rich and the poor, the landed and the homeless—is what brings us together as a family of kingdom people.
The author, Michael Boctot, is a third-year Columban seminarian from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental. Michael is studying philosophy at Christ the King Seminary, Quezon City, and took his oath of membership in the Missionary Society of St. Columban on June 29, 2010, the 92nd anniversary of the formal establishment of the Society.