Giving Cebu City's Children better opportunities in life

1/7/10 - Margot Osmeña cannot hide the smile on her face when she talks about street children. For the past 21 years, she has mobilized Cebu City’s volunteers and private and nongovernment organizations in creating programs for the thousands of street children being serviced regularly by the Cebu City Task Force for Street Children. She hasn’t lost hope in the cause given that she encounters so many success stories during her day-to-day work.
“One time, a salesgirl from a major department store approached me and told me she was a graduate of our mobile-school system 15 years ago. When I heard that, I was just so happy that all our efforts have helped save one child from the streets,” she declares.
Since 1988, she has headed the Cebu City Task Force after being tapped by her husband, Mayor Tommy Osmeña. While changes in Cebu City’s leadership took place in the interim, the task force mustered on with its work. It was a non-negotiable issue.
“We must give all these children a chance to a new life,” says Osmeña. “We might have slowed down on our work some times, but we must continue. A change in leadership is not an excuse to stop helping these children. The lack of funds should not be an excuse to stop.”
The most visible program of the Cebu City Task Force is its mobile reading program, which has 400 children enrolled in the service. Two buses regularly pick up the children from various parts of the city and take them to parks in the city. Here they are read stories and taught simple lessons, such as washing their hands and praying. The day is often capped with snacks.
A total of 28 NGOs and agencies have been helping the task force in its work. Unicef has been helping train its staff, as well as providing needed supplies and modules.
Just recently, 20 volunteers from the HSBC headquarters in Manila under its Volunteers for Nature program flew to Cebu City for a reading session with street children under the mobile-school system. With 10 volunteers from the Cebu City office, the HSBC associates read and performed for the street children a story on the marine environment that was provided for by Children’s Environmental Awareness and Action Foundation. Afterward, they bonded with the children as they worked together on art projects that were related to the presentation.
The HSBC visit is part of its corporate-sustainability activities which have taken its volunteers on educational trips to select NGOs around the country. With education and the environment as the main focus of its CSR, the financial giant has mounted various campaigns around the country to support a variety of efforts by NGOs and the private sector to promote reading and environment conservation.
Osmeña cannot but be thankful for HSBC’s day with Cebu City’s street children. She has often asked the local HSBC branch for assistance in its mobile-school program in terms of needed supplies.
In the 21 years the task force has been helping the street children of Cebu City, it has already seen 90 of its wards graduate from college. This year there are about 8,000 street children under its wings, which is just a fraction of the total number of children in Cebu.
Just recently, the task force went to the barangays to provide further support not just for the children but also to their families as well. Volunteers were identified within the barangay and they do their work within the community.
Osmeña said this approach works well with the Badjao communities that have mushroomed throughout the city.
“The Badjaos are very distrustful of outsiders. That’s one reason why we had a hard time helping their children,” she says. “But when we were able to train a Badjao volunteer, we have been successful in entering their community and giving them simple lessons in sanitation and child care.”
While the Badjaos are by nature itinerant, moving from city to city during the year, she says once they enter Cebu City, “their children become our children, too.” So long as Badjao families reside within the city, they will provide their children whatever service they may require.
While not all the street children who have received their care have become success stories, Osmeña says that is no reason to stop the program. There are many children who have grown up to be productive members of Cebu City.
One example is Cebu City Sangguniang Kabataan chairman Reychell Pelayo, who, by virtue of her position, is a member of the city council. She was once one of the street children assisted by the task force. Last summer, a number of student leaders who were graduates of their program took charge of the city’s annual summer camp. Osmeña confesses that success stories like these never fail to give her “a sense of fulfillment.”
(Business Mirror)

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