Young Catholics offer hope to Mindanao's street children

Youth group sets aside Sunday afternoons to teach impoverished youngsters to read and write
Young Catholics offer hope to Mindanao's street children

A volunteer teaches young street children to read and write during a weekend activity of the Catholic youth group "Do Life Big" in the southern Philippine city of General Santos. (Photo by Bong Sarmiento)


A group of young Catholics in the southern Philippine city of General Santos is offering hope to homeless tribal children by teaching them to read and write.

The group of young professionals and college students gather every Sunday in the city's park to teach the children, who are mostly Badjao, commonly known as "sea gypsies."

Badjao is a collective term to describe several closely related indigenous groups in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao who generally live close to the sea.

Every Sunday afternoon, the Badjao children read, write, sing, and play games, a "break" from their daily routine of begging for food and money in the streets of boxing champ Manny Pacquiao's hometown.

"I learnt how to read and write because of them," said a Badjao girl named Bianca, pointing to a volunteer who was standing nearby.

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Haima Bergani, 16, and her two younger friends, said they were just walking by the park when they were invited to the weekly learning session.

Since before the "literacy project," the youth group "Do Life Big" has been holding feeding and gift-giving activities for children in poor communities.

Members later realized that "through education [the children] can break the cycle of poverty that they are locked into."

Megan Villegas, a 27-year-old nurse and the group's spokeswoman, said they started the project using their own money to purchase learning materials. 

She said her group's desire to help poor children was inspired by the life of Jesus "who gave his life for others." 

While most of their beneficiaries are non-Christians, Villegas said her group members do not impose their faith on the children.

Villegas said the volunteers are guided by "Christian values of caring, sharing and loving others."

The children need someone who would listen to them, someone who would care and give them attention. 

"We listen and care because that is what God wants us to do," said Villegas, adding that it is their way of "giving back God's love for us."

The volunteers and the children seem to have already built a relationship that has cleared barriers of bias and prejudice.

While most of the volunteers work to lift the esteem of the children, others can be seen going around the park soliciting support for the group's "coin bank project."

The money that they collect is earmarked to fund the formal education of a "deserving street child" starting next school year.

Villegas said they continue to recruit more volunteers to be able to serve more children.

"Our goal is to give these street children hope for a brighter future," she said, adding that the activity also makes volunteers feel "fulfilled."

"The feeling that you have given part of your life, your time to the less fortunate is a great joy," said the young nurse.

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