24 years have passed… A long journey of encounters, the weaving of lives intertwined, of programs developed, of innovative and creative pedagogical concepts to support our young people in the Philippines and in France who have been through abuse and violence at a too young age.
And yet, this morning, after these 24 years of mission, here I am sitting in a barely swept room of the barangay, a kind of neighborhood town hall, where those endless colonies of insects ready to squat on our religious clothes are swarming, and I find myself with Jhaym* and Jhayv* spelling out L.U.M.P.I.A = lumpia (“spring rolls” in Filipino). With them, I am deciphering each letter and helping them understand how to associate sounds with letters. Aged 15 and 16, they can neither read nor write. Very quickly exposed to a difficult family situation, absence of imprisoned parents, they learned to survive by themselves, on theft and delinquency. Survival cannot be achieved in the singular, so we discovered with amazement that there are 58 of them in this neighborhood gang. 58 kids wandering around and being brought back regularly to the police station or the barangay (neighborhood leader), depending on their age and the crimes committed.
Since the pandemic made our visits to the youth homes impossible, we adapted to the new reality by listening to the needs that were within reach. When a door closes, a window opens… so we seized the opportunity to share our program with neighborhood youth in alternatives to jail. The need is so great! There are so many youth to support…so many unbelievable situations. The local government personnel welcomed us with gratitude and kindness because they don’t know how to stop this relentless delinquency.
From the first meeting, the team had to adapt. Training on emotion management, anger management, etc. had to wait, as well as preparation for any job interview, because of the reality in front of us; some of them needed to know how to read “mami, lumpia, lugaw”, others needed to know how to add, subtract, divide, and to be able to speak basic English at their request. So, while those lucky enough to have had a few years of schooling went ahead with our team, I sat with my two young guys.
Seeing Jhaym* hold up his pencil with clumsiness and pride, struggling to recognize the letter “T” in a word, taking glory in recognizing a few letters! His motivation was sheer delight. To encourage, to give confidence, to lift up… Our vocation. After eight months of accompanying these young people, the neighborhood “mayor” told us that the delinquency associated with this group had decreased. The youth have decided to change!
Not looking at the years wasted wandering… but focusing on the life to be gained for the future. Not looking at the vertiginous gap… daring to move forward, step by step, learning to extract the essence of each small victory, and courageously developing one’s own store of life intelligence made of constant learning and new discoveries.
This dynamic of constant learning and questioning enables us to be creative and innovative, whether in the Philippines or in France. This year, the participation of the ACAY Marseille team in a program dedicated to justice-related projects on a national scale has allowed us to see that we are also pioneers in the French context. As far as we know, there is no other association today that offers continuity in the follow-up of minors incarcerated in prison and upon their release, using a wholistic approach.
Your involvement and support at our side are a true source of creativity and inspiration. For this, we are deeply grateful!