These kids in Tondo see a silver lining, thanks to Catriona Gray

Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 19 2018 01:19 PM | Updated as of Dec 19 2018 05:31 PM

MANILA -- It's a special day at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center in Balut, Tondo.

Students and teachers alike are busy decorating to honor the most beautiful woman in the universe -- Catriona Gray.

These are the kids Gray was referring to when she was asked of the most important lesson she has learned in life during the recent Miss Universe pageant.

"I work a lot in the slums of Tondo, Manila and the life there is poor and it's very sad. And I have always taught myself to look for the beauty in it; to look for beauty in the faces of the children and to be grateful," she answered. 

"And I will bring this aspect as a Miss Universe, to see situations with a silver lining. And to assess where I could give something, where I could provide something as a spokesperson. And if I can teach people to be grateful, we can have an amazing world where negativity cannot grow and prosper, and children will have smiles on their faces."

For many pageant observers, her answer helped seal her victory in the pageant.

The Young Focus Foundation is a non-government organization that has been operating since 2008, starting with the children in Smokey Mountain. Believing that education is the most powerful tool to overcome poverty, the foundation had set up several pre-schools in Tondo.

One of its projects is a school that provides social care for the kids in the community, providing them with extra tutorials as well as personal coaching.

The pre-school program is for 3-4 year old kids. The foundation helps not only the children through school, but also their parents, who are given training and counseling.

In 2015, a new program, Young Unlimited, was set up for the older kids who were out of school. The program assists in getting them ready to go back to school. 

Today, the foundation has a full-time staff of 69 and is currently serving over 1,340 beneficiaries. Some 125 students have graduated from college with the help of the foundation.

Teacher Jeanda, 28, is one of the teachers at the pre-school. She recalled the time when Gray, then a Binibining Pilipinas beauty titlist, visited the foundation and held a feeding program for the children. 

“Masaya siya kasama. Nakikihalubilo siya sa mga bata,” she said. 

Sometimes the beauty queen even joined in the classes. “Paborito niya 'yung storytime at lagi siyang nakikiupo sa mga bata at kinakausap niya isa-isa,” Jeanda said.

Gray, she said, also worked with the foundation to renovate the pre-school so that it could take in more children from the surrounding communities.

A garbage collector crosses a bridge in Tondo, Manila, where the Young Focus Foundation is located. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Many of the children that Young Focus Foundation are helping come from this community. It is near the former Smokey Mountain, the city's massive dumpsite of the '80s and '90s located in Balut, Tondo, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Most of the children here come from families with no permanent income. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The organization is located in one of the most impoverished areas in Balut, Tondo, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Children live in decrepit shanties packed in a small area in Balut, Tondo. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Parents pack the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center in Balut, Tondo on school days. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A young mother waits to enter the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center in Balut, Tondo, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Children attend classes at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A young girl attends school at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Young children are busy with their school work at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Teacher Jeanda helps her pupil to write at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Teacher Jeanda consoles a young pupil attending school at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

This school is one of the buildings that Catriona Gary helped renovate. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Children learn while they play at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center in Tondo, Manila. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Michelle Sta. Inez, 34, is one of the parenths who were given parenting and livelihood skills by the foundation. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Parents look at an announcement at the Young Focus Foundation Child Care Center in Balut, Tondo. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Staff members of Young Focus Foundation gather to make posters as a way of showing their appreciation for the help given by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Staff members help decorate the center to acknowledge the help given by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Even without any scheduled visit yet by Catriona Gray, the center is already preparing a grand welcome to the new Miss Universe. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

Teacher Jeanda is one of the teachers who help train parents in life skills training. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The pre-school is run by full-time teachers who provide education for children so that they can be ready for elementary school. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A staff member hangs souvenir photos of Catriona Gray at the center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

A clipping of Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray adorns a makeshift Christmas tree inside the center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News

The school is now decorated for the Christmas holidays. The flat-screen TV is one of Catriona Gray's gifts to the center. Jonathan Cellona, ABS-CBN News