Divisoria is home to some of the busiest streets in Metro Manila. It is the go-to place for those looking for clothes, accessories, gadgets, and all sorts of cheap bargains sold in bulk. People flock to the area not only to shop, but also to try out different kinds of food and adventures.
But behind the hustle and bustle of Divisoria lies the grim reality of children living in poverty. Hundreds of homeless children fill the streets --- begging, or working to earn money, to eat and survive. Some take a break from the heat by bathing under a fountain near the Binondo church. Many street girls as young as 13 years old are already mothers, trying their best to take care of their children. If you look more closely, you will see street boys, girls, and even their parents sniffing solvents and other drugs to escape their hunger and desperation. Some of them are also inclined to steal, while most street girls are prone to being victims of prostitution to survive.
Still, there is hope in endeavors to help the poorest children and get them off the streets for good. Some of Divisoria’s street children are participating in Alternative Education sessions and activities conducted by Childhope Asia Philippines. A typical session takes place in an open area or parking lot. Street Educators and Social Workers go to different areas in Divisoria --- Sto. Cristo, Binondo, and around the Divisoria mall --- to gather the street children and facilitate activities among them. At times, the street educator and social worker develop a partnership with a nearby fast-food chain so the sessions may be held there for security purposes.
HARNESSING STREET KIDS’ POTENTIALS
One Saturday afternoon, around 20 street children beneficiaries of Childhope in Divisoria participated in activities conducted at a fast food chain near Divisoria mall. The children, most of them girls, were very excited and eager to participate. They came from different areas in Divisoria, and they brought with them curious minds and hungry hearts.
Twelve-year old Emily (not her real name) was one of them. She was taking the lead, guiding her friends and making sure they followed instructions. The street children were noisy and naughty at times but Emily was in control and was able to pacify them.
Once seated, the street children were asked to behave and wait for food to be distributed. Emily, along with two other children, took charge in giving out the food. The social worker reminded the street children about good manners. One child led the group in prayer.
The street educators, social workers, and interns started with an energizer by encouraging the kids to dance and sing. The street children were all in smiles as they moved to the tunes. Some of them got easily distracted, but they all managed to participate. The street educators and social workers taught the children the song entitled “Welcome to the Family.” They guided the street kids in reading and interpreting each line so they can understand the words.
“Pahalagahan ang pamilya, lagi silang nandyan para tulungan kang maging matibay (Value your family, they are always there to help you to be strong),” said one street child as he was asked to explain his interpretation and understanding of the song.
The street educators and social workers asked and examined the street kids to find out who among them took a bath, brushed their teeth, cleaned their nails, and wore slippers and clothes. The children were motivated to practice cleanliness because the street educators rewarded them with stars stamped on papers.
Street children usually neglect cleanliness because they are used to living in slums, but the social workers encouraged the children to stay healthy through proper hygiene.
“Social workers use a number of approaches to engage and help street children. You really have to know the street children on a deeper level so you can help them effectively. You must have an open mind and lots of patience and understanding,” says Vince, Childhope social worker for the Divisoria area.
CLINGING TO HOPE, ASPIRING AMIDST UNCERTAINTY
These street children in Binondo are achievers in their own right. At first glance, Emily may be your usual young street girl, but a deeper look reveals she has been battling epilepsy. She is taking maintenance medicines provided by her generous donor.
Emily has been a beneficiary of Childhope’s Educational Assistance Program (EAP) and is now at Grade Seven (7). Despite her affliction, she is doing well in school and her extra-curricular activities. She is also a child leader and Junior Health Worker. She helps the street educators by administering First-Aid and encouraging her street children friends to actively participate in the learning sessions.
Jaymar and Ana, also street children in Divisoria, are scholars of Malayan Insurance, a partner of Childhope Philippines who has been supporting the NGO’s programs and services. Through the scholarship, Jaymar and Ana are able to go to formal school. This gets them a step closer to receiving a good education that may be their only ticket out of poverty.
Life for street children in Divisoria continues, and each child has their own story to tell. The street children’s lives are marred by problems, suffering, and abuse. But amidst uncertainty, there is hope --- that through opportunities, street children will be able to learn, to be happy and optimistic in facing challenges, and empowered to do good while helping themselves and their families.