A centre for street children. Building the future
Jay is a little 12 year-old artist who proudly shows his drawing: Pope Francis and a dove with a green twig in its beak and a writing that says, ‘Thanks for your visit to the Philippines’. Jay, like many other children, has lived for several months on the streets of Manila. His father was a drug addict, his death left Jay, who was just five, and his eight brothers orphaned.
After five years, when his mother also died, Jay ended up on the street of Tondo, the largest slum in Manila born around one of the largest open-air dumps in the world, the ‘Smokey Mountain’, where the cardboard and laminate shacks are stacked against each other among towering piles of trash. People here search for food or any object that can be reutilized from the garbage. Although drug use is widespread in the slum, Jay has always managed to stay away from it. One day he met by chance one of his elder brothers, and the two of them contacted Father Luc, the executive-director of the Kuya Center for Street Children, a foundation that welcomes, accommodates, and rehabilitates street kids.
Changing life style
Father Luc, a Canadian-born missionary, has been managing the KCSC in Quezon City, a suburb of Manila, since 2011. The contrast between Quezon City and Tondo could hardly be more evident. Instead of the shacks suffocated by garbage, there are beautiful residences and gardens in Quezon City.
The Kuya-Centre is outside the city centre and here the former street children can forget their past bad experiences and live a decent life. “Changing life style and learning to respect rules is a great challenge for these kids”, says Father Luc, “some of them, sometimes, leave the center to get back on the street. We do not hold anyone against his will. The children are free to choose whether to stay or to leave. But if they decide to stay, then, they are supposed to respect our rules. Getting back to normal life is not easy”.
A real family
The Kuya centre operators often go to the slums to look for children who need help. They explain to the children that they have some rights which are currently denied them, such as the right of attending school. Those children who show interest in rehabilitation are offered a program of reintegration into society which implies waking up in the morning at 6 o’clock, shower, breakfast and then lessons.
The children attending the program receive psychological and spiritual support. Good results are obtained by inviting the children to draw pictures and to participate in competitions of painting. Some of their drawings are even sold. Jay is a very creative artist. Once he escaped from the center to meet his sister, but his elder brother brought him back. “One has to be patient, when dealing with street children. We have to be very understanding and to do our best to make their reintegration into society possible”, says Liza, a social worker. Toto and Alma are husband and wife who have decided to live in the Kuya center for some time now. Their three daughters are grown-up by now, and the children of the center have become ‘their adopted children’. “We feel like a family here”, says Father Luc who, in turn, considers himself as an elder brother to the children at the centre. ‘Kuya’, after all, in Tagalo, the national language of the Philippines, means ‘elder brother’.
A traveling school
After he spent some time in Kuya-Centre, Jay was sent to an orphanage of the Erda association, founded by Father Pierre Tritz, who recently celebrated his hundredth birthday and who during his life has helped more than 800,000 children. Father Tritz has invented a sort of traveling school for children in the slums. It consists of a small bus that stops along the roads. Some teachers unload small desks and chairs from the bus, and invite the children who become curious and get close to the bus, to sit. The teachers have to speak into a microphone because of the traffic noise, but children really enjoy their lessons. Jay, besides studying, can develop his artistic inclinations at the Erda association. Some months ago he won a prize for a poster. Jay has not forgotten Father Luc and his friends at the Kuya Centre. He goes to see them from time to time, and shows them his drawings. He will never forget Father Luc and the people of the KCSC, who saved him from the street.