Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Day in the Life: Crisanto's story

Fifteen-year-old Crisanto (not his real name) lives at Pangarap Shelter for Street Children in Manila, capital of the Philippines. He ran away from home when he was nine because his father was an alcoholic and would beat him when he got drunk. Crisanto lived on the streets for two years. During the day he would earn money by snatching bags and phones or scavenging rubbish for recycling. At night, he slept in a cemetery with a gang of other boys.

“We were very poor and my parents were always fighting,” Crisanto remembers. “When my father got drunk he would hit me. It started when I was six years old. He did it just because he felt like it - he wasn’t himself when he was drunk. That’s when I began thinking I was nothing more than a burden. A few years later I decided to run away.

"After that I lived in Sangandaan Cementery. It was very dangerous. I was in a gang and the other boys made me do rugby [a Filipino term for sniffing glue]. The gang would steal things like mobile phones and we would scavenge for plastic bottles and electric wire. We would sell recyclable materials to junk shops to get money for food or drugs. You could buy a cup of rugby for 5 pesos. I didn’t get hungry when I sniffed rugby."

There were lots of problems on the streets for children like Crisanto. "I got into a lot of fights back then and I would get chased by policemen," he says. "I would get dizzy from hunger and sick with eye infections. I couldn’t afford to buy any medicine when I was sick. I would beg for drinks from canteens and wash in the public toilets. Studying didn't even cross my mind. I didn't know I could go to school."

Movin' on up

Things started to get better for Crisanto when he met Elvie, a street educator from Childhope Asia Philippines. "Elvie came to the cemetery where I lived and we’d go to a quiet place to talk," Crisanto says. "We talked about my life on the streets and about children’s rights. That’s when I became interested in pursuing my education."

Elvie brough Crisanto to Pangarap Shelter, which is run by Pangarap Foundation with support from UNICEF. The shelter offers a homelike atmosphere for boys who are unable to return to their family homes and gives them the opportunity to go back to school. “I first came to Pangarap Shelter in 2006 but I ran away because some kids were being mean and bullying me," Crisanto says. "I went to another shelter, Kuya Centre, where I stayed for three years and went to school. Then I came back here to Pangarap.”

At first, Crisanto had trouble fitting in at the shelter. He would get into fights with the other children. He felt he had to be tough, like when he was on the streets. But he’s calmed down since then. Now, he likes to study and help other boys with their homework. He’s more playful and smiles more often. “I feel happy here because I can study again,” Crisanto says. “I have a new life and can be like a normal child. I like the activities here and the resilience sessions. This is a program to keep us from going astray. It gives us greater strength and guidance as we grow older.”

The shelter also has a workshop where the boys can earn money by making candles for sale. "For every candle you sell, you get 20 per cent of the price," Crisanto explains. "I use the money if I need to buy something or I give it to my mother when I go home. I visit my family every three months. I’m happy when I’m at home because I’m with my Mama again and she knows that I’m back in school.”

Time for class

Crisanto leaves the shelter every morning and goes to a local school, Pasay West, with other boys from the shelter. “I’ve been coming here for one year,” he says at the school. “I’m happy here. My friend Arvin from the shelter is in the same class as me. I like learning about the history of the Philippines and finding out how things came about. My favourite sport is badminton because it’s fun to play and I often win."

“I’m happy because I’m studying again after staying on the streets for so long. I’ll get my high school certificate in two years. When I’ve finish studying I can get a job and help my Mama. I’ve met a lot of people here and I’ve gained new inspiration.”

When classes finish, Crisanto comes back to the shelter for lunch. Afterwards, he does his homework and daily chores, then he has free time to play. “I practice dance moves every evening with my friend Arvin," he says. "We watch videos on MTV and make up our own moves. Even though we've got exams, we still want to have a quick practice before revision."

Crisanto’s parents are now separated and his father has left home. His mother works at a denim factory but is still very poor. Recently, Crisanto went with his mother to see his father. He was surprised because his father was not as big as he remembered and he wasn't afraid of him anymore. “My father apologised for all the things he did to us, like hitting me,” he says. “I’ve forgiven him and I feel much better now. My family is my motivation to have a better life. I want to lift them out of poverty.

“I’ll leave Pangarap Shelter when I have a good job," Crisanto continues. "I’ll only go when they know I’m okay and I can really fend for myself. I’m contemplating two choices: going to college to study accounting or becoming a sailor and travelling the world. I’d like to go to Beijing and see the Great Wall of China. Then I’d like to come to the UK and see what it looks like, the way of life, and if there are any street children there.”

Gimme shelter

UNICEF is helping children like Crisanto get an education and reintegrate into their families and communities. We’re supporting Pangarap Shelter with clothes and bedding for the children, as well as training and education materials for the social workers, teachers and psychologists who staff the centre. We also support Childhope Asia Philippines, which employs street educators like Elvie. They do outreach work with children who are still living and working on the streets.

Ultimately, the aim is to return children to their families or to a foster home. The family receives livelihood assistance, counselling services and parenting skills training. Social workers work with the parents to make sure they’re prepared to assume parental responsibilities, particularly if the child has had negative experiences in the past.

For children living and working on the streets of Manila, life is an ongoing battle in which their rights are denied on a daily basis. However, through the work of UNICEF and Pangarap Foundation, children like Crisanto have been able to escape this environment and start enjoying their right to a full and happy childhood.

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