MANILA, Philippines - On EDSA, the main highway in Metro Manila, young children and teenagers, like the ambulant vendors, dart between cars and buses when traffic slows down. They knock on car doors, approach jeepney and bus windows, and stretch out their grubby palms at commuters, asking for money to buy food.
The circumstances these street children are facing are usually the same: Dirt poor, they have nowhere to turn to and so they beg. Some are orphans. Others have left homes. The rest live on the streets with their families, making beds out of discarded cartons and carts and catching whatever shut-eye they could under flyovers and on dirty sidewalks.
Is there hope and a way out for these street children?
Yes there is, according to the Center for Family Ministries (CEFAM), an organization based in Ateneo de Manila University that is committed to empowering the Filipino family.
For 4 years now, CEFAM has been conducting its Resilience Program (Repro), a 20-session "strengths-based program designed to help rescued street children identify and build resilience traits that can empower them to prevail over adversities."
Using a psycho-spiritual approach, CEFAM reaches out to these street children aged 9 years old and above to help them bounce back from their misfortune and become confident again.
The program is held in conjunction with child welfare agencies reaching out to street children.
At the time of our interview, CEFAM was conducting Repro to about 15 street children at the Kaisahang Buhay Foundation in Quezon City.
'I have, I am, I can'
At one morning session, the street children, all in their teens, sat gathered in a circle on banig mats. The previous week, they watched a film depicting the life of John Foppe, a man born without arms who, despite his condition, had a positive outlook in life.
Dolly del Rosario, Repro team head, acting as facilitator asked, "Ano ang mga damdaming naramdaman ni John Foppe?"
"Takot. Galit. Duda. Awa," came the answers one after the other.
The discussion was then guided into what emotions they also keep inside their own hearts. It was not surprising to hear the participants relate to what Foppe felt at first.
Another facilitator, Teresita Tanseco-Cruz, also Repro's program and training consultant, asked, "Ano ang mangyayari pag kinikimkim mo ang iyong damdamin?"
She then took out balloons, labeling each balloon with an emotion, and pumped air into them as much as possible until they burst.
"Kapag ang damdamin ay kinikimkim at pinipigil, hindi nailalabas, puputok ka na lang, magwawala, at makaka-apekto ka sa iba," Cruz said.
Then the message was driven home to the street children: Express emotions in the right way, accept the situation, and ask help from other people.
This empowering lesson is in line with Repro's Credo of "I have, I am, I can" which CEFAM facilitators teach to the street children.
The credo goes: "I have": Meron akong mga taong nagmamahal sa akin at mapagkakatiwalaan ako.
"I am": Ako ay nilalang ng Panginoon na may halaga at kabutihan.
"I can": Kaya kong pagandahin ang aking kinabukasan.
According to del Rosario, in the 4 years that Repro has been offered, the program has been conducted 9 times already.
Feedback from past participants showed that at the start of the program, the participants' comments were pessimistic.
"Hindi ko po kaya," said one street child. Another wrote, "Para akong dahon na linilipad-lipad ng hangin kung saan-saan."
As the program progressed, the comments became more positive: "Akala ko po wala ng nagmamahal sa akin," said one participant. "Masaya ako na pinagkakatiwalaan ninyo ako," wrote another.
At the session I observed, the participants were relaxed and attentive; they were enjoying themselves.
And they looked forward to singing their theme song with gusto at the end of the session, a song dubbed "Tibay, Lakas" to the tune of "YMCA" by The Village People.
The song goes, "Pogi, ilabas ang galing
Ang kakayana't paniniwala
Sa pagtutupad ng iyong pangarap sa buhay."
There's hope for the future, and these street children are getting a glimpse of it.