One of the most impactful days of my time here in the Philippines was spent with the staff and children involved with Child Hope…a non-profit NGO that specializes on advocacy, awareness, protection, and eventually recovery for street children in the Philippines. Their highest priority is aiding children that are completely abandoned, but they also serve those whose families live on the streets as well. I want to share some of my experiences I had on that day (Saturday), even though I am still processing them all myself. Also, I want to preface this post with the fact that even though I took a ton of pictures with the kids to remember the time I spent with them, I will not be sharing any close up images to respect their privacy. The last thing these kids need is anymore exploitation of violation.
With that said, meeting with these kids and hearing about the program in general was an eye-opening experience. Not only did it make me realize how much misfortune and poverty there is in the Philippines, but how far this country needs to go in order to improve it. And also, how big of an undertaking that is and will be. I was struck with many conflicting emotions but overall at the end of the day I walked away feeling very helpless. Helpless that I couldn’t do more in the moment to help these kids and relieve them of their struggles. Sure, I spent an afternoon playing, laughing, and entertaining a group of 4-12 year olds…but once I left for the day they had to be thrust back into a cruel world where they are forced to grow up far too quickly. They are truly and utterly alone. No structure, no basic amenities no place to call home, no knowing where there next meal is coming from, no education, no protection, and no access to proper health and sanitation. They scavenge on the streets, try to earn money by begging or selling, fall victim to the harsh conditions outside and of the society around them, and most will never know what it’s liked to be loved or cared for…a perpetual cycle that is doomed to repeating itself.
That’s where Child Hope is trying to make a difference. And they are succeeding one child at a time. Instead of trying to wrangle the kids up and force them into unfamiliar settings, the people at CH go out into the community and meet the children on their own level. They build relationships with them from young ages that are built on trust and respect and from there get them involved in education programs, give them access to health check ups, provide the occasional meal, eventually offer vocational skills training, and give them the opportunity to better their situation and SURVIVE.
I don’t really know how to put all that I saw into words, so I will just go through a few observations from the day…
-The kids were incredibly friendly, as soon as you gave them the slightest bit of attention they wanted to play, hang on you, hold hands, and chat!
-The Street Educators that go out and lead the groups and programs are saints. Not only do they not get paid enough for all the work that they do, but their jobs are extremely challenging. Trying to ‘tame’ kids who have never had any structure or sense of balance and stability is incredibly hard.
-Give a kid some art supplies and they will be happy for hours…this remains true throughout all cultures.
-In the first 20 minutes of us being with the group, a child got hit by a car. Traffic is nuts in Manila and cars don’t stop for anything. But the fact that a child was even able to cross a street on their own (no parents or adults watching them) and that the car didn’t even stop after making impact, was atrocious. However, not unbelievable because its apparent that most of society truly has turned their backs on these kids.
-Not only was a child hit, but that child’s mother who was somewhere pedaling cigarettes said she wasn’t worried about it and that he’d be fine. Meanwhile his leg was swelling and because of the poor health care system here, he couldn’t even receive the proper treatment.
-We also witness kids being chased by armed cops in certain areas because they were trying to sell things. 5 and 6 year old boys being chased down by scary men on motorcycles for trying to earn enough money for water or food. Sickening.
-The children have to be introduced to topics and situations that seem so adult and ‘dark’ because of their situation on the streets. One of the groups we visited was showing an animation out their Mobile Education Van about incest and sexual abuse…two things that are unfortunately very common amongst the impoverished The fact that kids had to be made aware of things like this at such a young age is so heartbreaking. But so necessary for them to stay safe.
-There is one full time doctor that runs CH’s mobile Health Clinic. With a MD degree, that Dr could go anywhere and make a ton more money. But he chooses to work full time at a non-profit, out in the community, dealing with people who are exposed to some of the worst health conditions out there.
-We were able to interview two former street children that are currently Community Educators for Child Hope. It was amazing to hear about their experiences and see what shining examples they are for the rest of the community. They are living proof the program really does work and that your life can change if you’re given an opportunity to work hard for it.
-Seeing dozens of kids with open wounds, bleeding sores, and bare, scratched feet made me incredibly upset. I wish they all could have been seen by medical professionals, given a nice bath, and a new pair of shoes.
Overall the experience made me truly grateful for the life I live, the opportunities I’ve been afforded, and the family that I have to support me. I am extremely lucky…and I am even more aware of that now.
It truly is an amazing group and I am so enthused about the work they are doing. I want to do something more to help this organization…whether is be fundraising, raising awareness, or the like. I will think of something and get you all involved somehow. It’s organizations like this that need as much support and backing as possible…especially when the government provides no funds and infrastructure is lacking to aid the smallest members of a society.
I am sure I will find more to say about this day and the rest of the trip as time goes on. But for now, I am tired, have to get up early for another full day, and have lots of other thoughts to sort through. We witness so much everyday that I feel like my mind never quiets, never slows, and is constantly processing. But I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.
Talk to you all soon!