(As we usher in the “longest” Christmas season in the world, I’d like to share with you a story I wrote three years ago, which came on the front page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
(As we embark on our initial rounds of early holiday shopping, let us spare a thought for the children, the supposed embodiments of the true Christmas spirit–a spirit filled with faith, innocence, hope and a boundless capacity for sharing. [All photos in this entry came from Tuloy Foundation, Inc.’s website])
FOR SEVERAL YEARS, Carla (not her real name), 16, was wary of interacting with men. Her nagging mistrust began when a male relative attempted to rape her when she was 12.
“I couldn’t believe someone I once looked up to would try to rape me,” she said. “I was very young when we were abandoned by my father, and then that episode happened. I became angry. I didn’t feel at peace.”
Before it was too late, Carla’s mom, a single parent trying to make both ends meet raising her and a younger sibling, sent her to live at Tuloy sa Don Bosco, a foundation for orphaned, abused, abandoned and at-risk kids.
Less than three years under Tuloy’s wing, Carla experienced what she described as a “change in perspective.”
“I became more mature and positive in my thinking,” she said. “I learned to forgive people, even those who made me suffer. I began to trust men again by focusing on their good examples.”
She and 11 other Filipino kids (six players came from Tuloy) even participated in a series of sports competitions abroad earlier this year. They managed to beat kids their age from Brazil and several other countries before bowing out to bigger, more skilled players.
It means welcome
Founded and managed by Fr. Marciano “Rocky” Evangelista, SDB, the foundation, which sits on a 4.5-hectare, government-lent land in Alabang, attends to the education and spiritual formation of 670 children between the ages of 9 to 18.
Of this number, 170 children are, like Carla, living within the foundation’s premises. A few years after its inception in 1994, Tuloy, which means welcome or continue in Filipino, started accepting girls.
In 2001, Tuloy moved from its modest facilities in Makati near Don Bosco Parish Church to its permanent home in Alabang. From 12 children, the number of wards gradually grew through the years.
“Based on anthropological studies, we can comfortably accommodate 1,000 kids,” said Fr. Rocky. “The linear buildings are constructed in such a way as to instill order among children and to remind them that they’re here for a limited period of time.”
To date, an estimated 10,000 children have passed through Tuloy’s doors. A good number of them finished the program and, armed with renewed hope, direction and a sense of purpose, are now gainfully employed. Some have families of their own.
They come and go
“Kids can come and go,” said Fr. Rocky. “But the success stories far outnumber the failures. We’ve had quite a number of successes that’s probably enough to fill an entire encyclopedia.”
Fr. Rocky, who once considered himself the most unlikely person to head such a foundation by virtue of his initial disinterest in working with street children, had a change of heart after a poignant dream.
“I dreamt that I was with several children and we were knocking on one gate after another trying to find shelter,” he said. “Then we came upon this brown gate and when we peeped inside, everything we needed was there. In disbelief, I turned to the kids and said this place seemed too good for us.”
A few days later, his superior called for a meeting. When the idea of establishing a foundation for needy kids came up (in keeping with SDB’s core vocation) which called for volunteers, Fr. Rocky found himself raising his hand. It was as if someone was raising it for him. His fellow priests, including his superior, were incredulous.
“It was only later that I realized the gravity of what I’ve gotten myself into,” he said. “I suddenly found myself crying and I went through the longest night of my life. I wanted to quit the next day, but pride got in the way.”
Boys still outnumber girls at Tuloy—two to one. Residents are housed according to gender in several color-coordinated, two-story dormitory blocks within the property. Nonresidents come mostly from depressed areas outside Tuloy, which is located just before the entrance to San Jose Village off Zapote-Alabang Road.
Rather than choose the child, it’s the child, either by himself or brought to Fr. Rocky by the police or well-meaning citizens, who chooses Tuloy.
In some cases, like Carla’s, it’s the parents who bring their children to Tuloy so they could get a good education.
“The only thing we care about is that you’re poor, you need help and you want to succeed,” said Fr. Rocky. “Tuloy is for trainable kids. We endorse mentally and physically challenged kids to other centers specializing in their care. Otherwise, if you do everything, you’d end up not being able to do anything.”
Based on a special curriculum designed by the Department of Education, beneficiaries with varying skills and educational attainments spend the first six years in what amounts to an elementary and high school education rolled into one.
“We have a compressed curriculum, as most of these kids won’t be able to finish school if we go through the motions of regular schooling,” said Fr. Rocky. “But like all kids, they deserve the best and we try to give them the best. In fact, they need more as they try to make up for what they don’t have.”
Apart from Fr. Rocky and a core group of full-time and part-time volunteers, the foundation employs 25 teachers. Like a typical Catholic school with a chapel and well-stocked library filled with donated books, Tuloy boasts of several structures, including a clinic, church, gym, a soccer field and a newly opened culinary center.
No janitors here
Despite being dependent mostly on donations, Tuloy’s facilities can probably put most public schools—and even private ones—to shame. And to top it all, every building is already paid for, since Fr. Rocky doesn’t want the added headache of dealing with onerous interest payments.
“We build as donations come in. We’ve never resorted to loans. If there are no donations, then we temporarily stop construction,” he said.
There are also no janitors at Tuloy. Apart from major repair work, children are held responsible for cleaning their surroundings, including their dormitories and places of study. It fosters responsibility and pride as well as gives them a stake in their home-cum-school.
“How can these kids dream and aspire to be their best if you don’t give them the best,” asked Fr. Rocky. “How can they feel important if you give them a place, for instance, with no electricity and running water? Is it because they’re poor and deserve much less?”
The children’s last two years are spent acquiring skills in any of the vocational courses offered by the foundation, including automotive technology, air conditioning and refrigeration, electrical and electronics, computer maintenance and repair, baking and culinary arts.
Tuloy, through its contacts, makes it a point to pair its vocational students with the right companies for much-needed on-the-job training. Residents are given at least a year after graduation to spread their wings and find a job. After that, they’re on their own.
Learning English, as evidenced in Carla’s confidence and above-average facility to speak the language, is emphasized. Fr. Rocky, as far as the use of English is concerned, has “no illusions of changing the world.”
“After getting these kids off the streets, we immediately begin to educate them and remold their character,” he said. “Whether they choose to work here or abroad, having a good command of English is an advantage.”
To Fr. Rocky, a proper education is, more often than not, the only thing that separates an individual between a productive life and one mired in crime and an endless cycle of poverty and ignorance. He believes in the “transformative” power of helping poor children help themselves by arming them with the necessary tools and values needed to thrive in life.
“The amount we give doubles as donation and a form of savings,” he said. “Should these kids turn to a life of crime as adults because we didn’t intervene early enough, we might end up paying for it with our own lives and properties.”
But giving them the “best” based on Tuloy’s modest means costs money. To give you an idea, the foundation spends close to P3 million a month for its upkeep, including food, water and electricity bills, as well as salaries for teachers and employees.
When we expressed disbelief that Tuloy consumes no less than three sacks of rice per day, Fr. Rocky simply smiled. The foundation gets its supply of free pork from an SDB-run farm in Laguna. Bob Miller, an American and part-time volunteer, summed it up: “You have no idea how big growing children’s appetites are.”
How to help
How can ordinary people help?
“You can give anything,” said Fr. Rocky. “You can give P1 or P100, bring a cup of rice or a sack of rice. You can even give your time tutoring students in such areas as English, Values, Civic Duties and Practical Math.”
At the end of the day, he said, the hard part isn’t about raising money, but changing people’s outlooks. Tuloy’s real advocacy is making people realize that these kids are worth saving. They have a future if only others would give them the opportunities they don’t have.