Jan 24, 2017

A street girl's fight for a better life

TSL gives street girls opportunities to excel
TSL gives street girls opportunities to excel

Elena’s laugh is very contagious. At one glance, it seems like the 20-year old is a happy-go-lucky girl. She doesn’t care if her voice is too loud as long as she is able to lighten up the mood with her silly stories.

But deep inside, Elena is a fighter. She is determined to prove something: that a street girl can use her brokenness to change for the better, with the help of kind-hearted souls.

ESCAPE AND ABUSE                                           

Elena became a street girl because of choice, not circumstance. She was very young when her parents separated. She spent her early childhood days with her Lola (grandmother). Her parents eventually got back together and took her home with them. But she already resented her parents, and could not understand why they scolded and hit her. So at seven years old, Elena left her so-called broken family to go with her “barkada” (peers).

Elena was happy for she felt she belonged with her friends who understood her. They were children of the streets --- sleeping under bridges, on “nitsos” or tombs in cemeteries, along sidewalks, parking spaces, inside a jeep, practically anywhere.  Elena and her friends were begging for food and money, and when worst comes to worst, they would steal. Soon, she was also sniffing rugby and solvent and even tried shabu and marijuana.

“Na-addict ako sa bisyo. Gusto ko kasi pag-high ako nakakalimutan ko lahat ng pangit at masama. Nakukuha ko kung ano gusto ko (I got addicted. I liked it when I was high because I forget everything that’s ugly and bad. I get what I want),” Elena said.

Elena lived the street life for a year, scouring the areas of Monumento and Letre in Caloocan. She said she became miserable along the way, doing the same things all over again and feeling worthless and hopeless. Her experiences of abuse became an eye opener.

“High ako at nakatulog ako sa tambayan namin sa sementeryo sa may Letre. Pag-gising ko wala na akong damit, ang sama sa pakiramdam. Sinabi na lang ng mga kaibigan ko na na-abuso ako (I was high and fell asleep at a cemetery in Letre. I was naked when I woke up, and I felt really bad. My friends then told me that I was sexually abused),” Elena said.

“Isang beses sa overpass naman ako natulog. Biglang may dalawang lalaking tinutukan ako ng kutsilyo. Dinala nila ako sa isang abandonadong bahay. Buti na lang may nakakita at tumawag ng barangay tanod. Naligtas ako (One time I slept on an overpass. Two men woke me and pointed knives at me. They led me to an abandoned house. Lucky for me, someone saw and told the authorities. I was saved),” Elena recounted.

HOPE AND HOME

It was also out in the streets where Elena met Nellen, a social worker/ street educator for Childhope Asia Philippines. Nellen helped Elena learn about her rights and responsibilities as a child, and urged her to go to a center and leave the street life. Nellen also found out that nine-yeard old Elena was already sick with tuberculosis.

Elena found herself under the care of Tahanan Sta. Luisa (TSL), a recovery and rehabilitation center for street girls who have been physically and sexually abused. The center offers “caring, healing, and teaching” --- a holistic approach to help street girls heal and confront the abuses they have experienced.

But at first, it was too much for Elena to take in and adjust. Having been used to the ways of the streets, it was hard for her to follow rules and regulations. She always wanted it her way.

“Hindi ako sanay na madaming bawal, ayoko ng sinasabihan ako kung ano gagawin and namiss ko ang buhay sa kalye. Kaya madalas tumatakas ako. Wild ako noon. (I did not like it when people tell me what I can and can’t do. I missed the street life, so I did everything to go out of TSL. I was wild),” Elena said.

But for the countless times she tried to escape TSL, the social workers and house parents  always found a way to find her and make her come back. “Elena was one of the most difficult children we had. She was very emotional and expressive. But we know that healing takes time, and we could not leave her behind. It’s always about giving them another chance,” said Anna, Center Director of TSL who was a social worker at the time Elena came to the center.

EDUCATION AND RECOVERY

Elena eventually opened herself up to the healing process. Through TSL’s program, Elena was able to understand and learn from her experiences, and to channel her emotions into something positive. She learned about God, prayers, blessings, and dreams.

“Naramdaman ko sa Tahanan yung pagmamahal na hindi ko naramdaman sa pamilya ko. Tinulungan nila ako sa bawat pagsubok at yun ang naging inspirasyon ko para mapatawad ang sarili ko. Para tanggapin na may pagkakataon ako para magbago and ituwid ang landas ko (I felt the love of a family in Tahanan. There, people were willing to help me in every trial and that inspired me to forgive myself. It made me realize that I have a chance to change for the better),” Elena said.

At 11 years old, Elena was not able to read and write. She participated in TSL’s alternative education sessions --- a special school set-up where street girls are able to learn the basics of reading and writing, values education, and skills training. Those who passed their ALS examinations can earn certificates and graduate in Elementary and High School. It seemed a long shot at first, but with determination and hard work, Elena was able to pass all her ALS examinations. She was qualified to go to college in 2015. With TSL’s help, Elena was able to enroll in a vocational course to study automotive technology. But this time, TSL taught Elena how to live independently --- she was also given the responsibility to earn for herself, and decide on her own.

Elena could not juggle the hardships of working and studying at the same time. So for the last time, she left TSL with a heavy heart but with a renewed and higher purpose.

FIGHT AND DREAM

Armed with her 10 years of learning in TSL, Elena is now out on a mission: to pursue her dream of showing little street girls that they will not be “nobodies” forever. She wants to finish college, and be a social worker someday.

She is now working for Messy Bessy Company, a line of natural, biodegradable, non-toxic home and personal care products, for the meantime. There, and through the help of Consuelo Foundation, she is able to earn and at the same time prepare to enter college. Elena is learning how to be independent, how to manage her money, and how to act as a professional.

“Lagi akong magpapasalamat sa TSL dahil siya ang nagbigay sa akin ng paulit ulit na pagkakataon na magbagong buhay and mangarap. ‘Yan ang nagiging kalakasan ko para hindi sumuko sa buhay (I will always be thankful to TSL because it never gave up on me and gave me many chances to change and dream. That inspires me not give up on my dreams),” Elena said.

Elena believes that she is now able to make better decisions, and that soon, she will attain her dream with the help of people sent by God to guide her.

TSL believes in street girls' right to education
TSL believes in street girls' right to education

Links:

Oct 26, 2016

Failing Forward: The Grace to Forgive

TSL is home where street girls heal and hope
TSL is home where street girls heal and hope

For nearly 20 years, Tahanan Sta. Luisa (TSL) has been taking care of street girls who have been physically and sexually abused. It’s no easy feat. But the journey, and all the struggles and challenges that come with it, is worth it.

We learn lessons the hard way. And from our experiences, we can say that frustrations bring out the best in us, but also change us for the best.

The caring, teaching, and healing framework keeps everyone busy at Tahanan Sta. Luisa. The street girls go to “school” – a special set-up at their home where a teacher gives them valuable lessons from the basics of reading and writing to the values they need to grow up to become better citizens.

But more than the education aspect, it is dealing with trauma that is at the heart of TSL’s work. Currently, the crisis, recovery, and rehabilitation center takes care of 15 street girls with harrowing experiences of physical and sexual abuse. Each one has her own tale of suffering and survival --- and everyone is brave in dealing with the pain every day.

The healing process is a journey, with many detours, stops, starts, and uncertainties. There’s no one size fits all approach. Everyone at TSL is always learning from their mistakes, and they hold onto the promise that what matters most is the best interest of the street girls.

Before, TSL was very ‘strict’ in dealing with the street girls. But at the same time, TSL also pampered them. The house parents, social workers, and teachers did their best to serve the girls and give them their needs. But when they do something bad or when they throw tantrums, TSL resorted to isolation or using psychiatric medicines.

With experience, TSL realized that isolation does not help as it only pushes the street girls to do wrong. Psychiatric medicine will be good for some time, but is not a long-term solution and should be a last option.

Street girls who have been abused are wounded, and they should be given every opportunity to heal and confront the abuse. From a strict and do’s and don’ts type of system, TSL tried a more open and understanding environment. It’s like a shift to a “natural” way of healing.

The key is to connect to the child from within. At TSL, social workers, house parents, and teachers do their best to make sure the street girls feel they are loved and taken care of by a family. A goal is to make them experience how it’s like to grow up like a normal child --- young and carefree.

But with freedom comes responsibility. At TSL, the girls are trained to be independent. They are tasked to do household chores like washing the dishes, washing their clothes, cooking, and the like. The girls also enjoy sewing sessions where they are taught simple cross-stitching and embroidery.

With the new approach, the street girls feel they are important and have roles to play. It’s about striking a balance between making them feel free and not tolerating their wrongdoings at the same time.

Every day, it’s all about adjustments for the social workers, house parents, and staff. They exert effort to know everything about the street girls --- their character, attitudes, and behavior --- so they can deal with them properly.

It’s no secret that the street girls can get very unstable. They have a lot of insecurities and mood swings. They seek a lot of attention, and worse, they lie and manipulate to get what they want. They are very smart and strategic --- skills they learned from living in the streets for a very long time.

The challenge for social workers and house parents is to outsmart the street girls. They have to be caring yet they must be an authority to earn the girls’ respect. They must always be vigilant, keen, and sensitive to the girls’ behavior to better understand them and help them.

The social workers, house parents, and teachers try to be strong because dealing with the girls can be very difficult. It pushes them to their limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. They get to a point when they question their methods, until they realize that sometimes, no matter how good your intentions are, there are just some things you can’t control.

But then there’s always faith, and hope that things will eventually turn out right in the end. Every day, the people at TSL experience the grace to forgive, and the struggle to love someone who is hard to love.

No matter the difficulties and challenges, the social workers and house parents will always overcome --- because the end goal is to love. They will always work hard to make sure the street girls learn from and appreciate life at its fullest. They will find ways to affirm the street girls, and assure them of their skills. Because at the end of the day, what matters most is the street girls feel they are loved by a family.

TSL’s social workers, house parents, and teachers work to give the street girls the caring, teaching, and healing they need --- but they realize they also get the same from the girls. They may fail in some ways, but the fact that the street girls are trying their best to regain their worth and dignity is enough reason for them to try again. TSL will always fail forward in its journey of healing --- but it is in failing forward where TSL learns the grace to be strong, to forgive, to hope, and to love.

The girls enjoy making colorful bracelets
The girls enjoy making colorful bracelets
The girls of TSL gear up for learning in 'school'
The girls of TSL gear up for learning in 'school'

Links:

Sep 7, 2016

Tahanan Sta. Luisa Updates for Jul-Sep 2016

TSL's new home, soon to arise
TSL's new home, soon to arise

 

Half of the year has already passed - and the girls and staff of Tahanan Sta. Luisa continues to seek out opportunities for the center to grow.  A lot of friends and organizations (old and new ones) visited the center to meet the girls and share informative activities and lessons; and last July, the center celebrated its 'Nutrition Month' - for the girls to know more on the importance growing vegetables and the nutrients that we get from it.

 

One of the dreams from the board members to the staff is finally coming true - to give the girls an adapt "home", as Tahanan Sta. Luisa recently conducted its Groundbreaking Ceremony to their official center! This was made possible because of YOU! =)

The staff would not have done it without the guidance and help of the board of directors and friends of TSL who never stopped helping the girls for years.

 

With the help of friends who continues to believe in the advcacy of the center, the staff and the girls are forever grateful for the support.

 
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