It’s a sad fact that street children exist in their thousands in the Philippines. Victims of abuse, broken families or exploitation, children can all too easily find themselves living in the streets. With no-one to look out for them they are vulnerable to further abuse, joining criminal gangs and drug addiction.
Last week I visited the Social Development Center for Children near Tacloban where VFV volunteer Jordan is based.
The center is home to some 15 boys. The youngest is 9 years and the oldest 19. The boys come to the center voluntarily. They often arrive after trying to survive on the streets. The center aims to provide a safe haven for the boys and break the vicious cycle they have found themselves in.
What shocked me was how basic facilities are even by Filipino standards. There is no running water – the boys have to buy drinking water from the village. Jordan showed me their ‘bathroom’. I was speechless – it’s literally a hole in the ground that they have dug a few meters away from the center. A few planks placed next to the hole serve as a platform on which they stand on to pour the opaque brown water over themselves. When the water gets too muddy or the well dries up they have to find another place to dig a hole. The boys are clever however and have placed buckets around the edge of the roof of the center to collect water when it rains.
The kitchen is an open sided barn with a tin roof. At present the boys at least have gas to cook with- kindly donated by a previous volunteer. This won’t last long however so soon they will be back to gathering firewood to cook on. Their houseparents worry about this as poisonous snakes live in the area where they need to gather the firewood.
The boys sleep in 2 rooms. There are bunk bed frames but no individual mattresses which effectively renders the beds useless for sleeping. The boys sleep on the floor all crammed on a double mattress.
Basic though these conditions are the boys are still better off here than on the streets.
Looking after pets and each other
I was struck by how resourceful the boys were and how they clearly cared for one another. They all share chores and keep their home as clean and tidy as they can.
They have a pet pig and some chickens, plus 21 pigeons that they have built coups for. One of the older boys is very attached to the pigeons and spends most of his spare time looking after them.
No iPads, laptops and video games for these boys – they must amuse themselves. They often make items out of what they find around the center – weave things out of leaves, make gadgets from other people’s scrap. VFV volunteer Jordan re-stringed 2 guitars he found at the center and is teaching the boys how to play. The boys are picking it up very quickly and I was treated to them performing some Tagalog songs.
There is a small basketball court and the boys invited me to join their game. They were extremely patient as I sent the ball into the undergrowth countless times! I did manage to get 2 in ….. eventually.
Jordan’s role at the center is to act as a mentor to the boys, to run activities in the evening and support their learning. His weekly schedule for them includes guitar lessons, cooking, crafts, maths and English. He also provides emotional support for the boys by listening to their stories and their concerns.
On the evening I joined them Jordan had brought along ingredients to make Halo-halo – a famous Filipino dessert.
Halo-halo literally means ‘mix-mix’ because you layer the ingredients in a glass then mix them up and eat!
Ingredients can vary but sweetened ube (purple yam), evaporated milk, crushed ice, mango and sweetened beans are a must! Ours also included sweetcorn, banana, coconut gelatin and crushed peanuts. Brown sugar can be added but we decided there was enough sugar already. The boys did not agree however- Filipinos have a very sweet tooth!
After having put on the gloves Jordan provided the boys soon got to work crushing the ice, cutting up the fruit and layering the ingredients in plastic cups. The finished halo-halo looked really pretty with its colorful layers. It did not last long – the boys soon mixed them up and began devouring the dessert. I was given one to try. Normally I would not put beans and sweetcorn in a dessert but it was delicious.
The boys clearly enjoyed making the dessert. Everyone one pitched in with the preparation, the eating and even the clearing up.
It was touching to see how they had fun and could smile and laugh despite the situation in which they find themselves.
How you can help make life even sweeter for these boys
This center desperately needs more people to come and volunteer as well as donations to improve the boys living conditions. The boys are managing with what little they have but it would be amazing to be able to provide longer term solutions to enhance their lives and help them achieve so much more.
Find out how you can support these lovely boys in their development or donate to help provide proper cooking and bathing facilities (please mention ‘boy’s Social Development Center, Tacloban’ when donating).
Photos and story by Liz Avery – VFV Media Intern