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|Missionary Sisters of St Columban|
By Michael Boctot
The author is a third-year Columban seminarian from Tangub City, Misamis Occidental. He is studying philosophy at Christ the King Seminary, Quezon City, and took his oath of membership in the Missionary Society of St Columban on 29 June, the 92nd anniversary of the formal establishment of the Society.
Among the busiest places in Metro Manila are the streets. The automobiles, bikes, jeeps, cross each other to reach their destination on time. Heavy traffic occurs during rush hours. People are stranded, very annoyed, and even demanding the jeepney drivers to find way to get out of the traffic scene.
Every Saturday I experienced the jostling of traffic going to Marikina City from the Columban House of Studies, Cubao, QC, for my apostolate. This was with the street children living under the LRT station at Santolan Bridge. To reach to my area, I would take the Light Rail Transit (LRT) heading to Santolan and then walk to the bridge. There the street children would be waiting for me. Charlie Ponferrada, another Columban seminarian, and I were working together as volunteers at Kuya Center. This is a foundation that aims to bring street children off the street and provide for their basic needs such as shelter, food, and perhaps education.
Four siblings under an improvised roof. Aren't they cute?
My first encounter with the children was on 13 June 2009. I didn’t have any idea what would happen. I did not know what to do. Since I was with Charlie and Richard, the social worker at the Center, I just observed the children and started by asking their names. Later on I played and laughed with them. I paid attention to their individual stories and their ambitions in life. I made new friends.
A street family under the Santolan Bridge.
These kids are not the usual kids like those cared for by their parents. They do not have families to go home to. They live with other children with whom they sleep under the bridge. They are able to eat once a day but sometimes not at all. Some of them pick garbage and sell it as their source of income. In that way they can buy their basic needs. Some of them sniff solutions such as ‘rugby’.
The street kids Michael was working with as a volunteer in Kuya Center.
I noticed that there was a girl in the group of boys. One good thing was that she became the mediator whenever there were disagreements over sharing their ‘rugby’ for sniffing. She would facilitate in distributing it. They also had a ‘superior’ in the group whom they called ‘mommy’ as he was the one taking good care of the sick and hungry kids. One time I asked one of them why he decided to live in the streets and what made him sniff ‘rugby’. I felt dreadful when I listened to his story and my heart went out to him. He said, ‘Nagrararugby ako, Kuya, para mawala yung nararamdaman kong gutom.’ (‘I sniff “rugby” to stave off hunger.’) Those were the most terrible words from a child that I had ever heard. My tears flowed as he continued to tell his story.
On one occasion I intentionally sniffed the ‘rugby’ just to experience what it would feel like. One kid asked me how I felt. I said that I didn’t feel anything except it threatened my migraine. Then I started to share with him the effects of ‘rugby’, that constant sniffing would destroy his future and his whole life and even his plan for continuing his education. I also shared about my life as a seminarian, that I was also experiencing difficulties and hardships. But constantly working on it and asking guidance from the Lord gave me strength to continue on my journey. I was amazed how he gladly listened to me.
All photos were taken after the devastating typhoon Ondoy struck Philippines in September 2009.
Working almost a year with these kids taught me how to share my life with them. Sharing not only in material aspects like money but, most importantly, sharing my time with them. My being with them every Saturday was one of the greatest things to happen in my life, being able to feel their love and respect during each visit. I felt their joy when they would see me walking towards them and it gave me delight to be their Kuya. (Editor’s note: ‘Kuya’ is the Tagalog term for older brother and is used as a form of address to someone seen as such, even if not related.) Their hugs and embraces every time I went to the area gave me a pure joy that I hadn’t felt before. Their smiles and waves made me feel that they really loved me. When they would call me ‘Kuya’ it seemed that I really was their older brother.
I am very fortunate that my parents have taken care of me since I was a child. Sometimes I asked for my freedom and so I worked on my own. Sometimes I took for granted the love that they showed me. These street kids are longing for the same kind of love that I experienced with my mother. They want to be loved even in simple ways like giving time in talking to them. They ask for the value of respect as they too are human beings with the same dignity that you and I have. I am very thankful that once in a while I was given a chance to work with them. In that way I was able to share my means of loving them. Many times, they also helped me in my own journey towards being a better person.
Amidst the busy streets, the smell of the garbage, the sting of the heat of the sun, there are kids living out there looking for value, and needing love and respect as they are also children of God. They only need a little attention from you, your respect, your love, and your appreciation. They are waiting every day for the one who will notice them and share with them the value of life.
My challenge now is how to continue the work that I began, but in another setting. In June this year I started working with newly-ordained Columban Father Andrei Paz in Malate Church, Manila, in his Children’s Ministry. The youngsters there are also street children but with a different upbringing from those I worked with at Santolan Bridge. I hope I can continue to give my free time and experience the joy of love that I felt with the street kids under that bridge in Marikina.
You may email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org .