Staying up past curfew hours, wandering around, begging everywhere, selling fruits stolen on fruit trees of neighbors, stealing iron or clothes, and getting into fights with other youth, are the common daily issues that the Barangay (local governmental unit) authorities strive to solve with groups, often turning into gangs, of street children in their areas. One of these groups is called Star Margarine. Made up of a group of more than fifty kids who wander around this area, searching for ways to earn money for their daily bread, challenging the energy of everyone in the Barangay where they are apprehended so often.
How to help these youth? How to give them new hope for their lives and the government staff a hand to see that a change is possible? This is the challenge ACAY decided to embrace in extending its services to these youth.
While the pandemic closed some doors, others opened. The Second Chance Program grasped these opportunities and began reaching out and understanding Mark, Jhun, Beverley & Co’s situation a little more. A new priority opened before our eyes: while helping detained youth, we needed to develop a program of prevention for these ones to end up in youth homes or jails. A group of ten kids arrived and attended the first meeting, with tattoos on their arms, necks, or faces. With tee shirts longer than their small bodies, they were fixing our eyes with wide in expectation. Everything was put into place to create a quality bond with them, make them feel that they are part of ACAY and that their lives are a treasure worth saving.
This first meeting was a test. We let them talk and share their dreams. Listening, analyzing the situation, and starting to assess where to start and where to go with them. The most important: hearts would be moved, desire of learning would be awakened and their lives will transform. The surprise for us was huge and unexpected: if some kids needed the usual ACAY Life-Skills training, the reality that knocked us was when we realized that some of them did not even know how to read and write!
So, “pulling up their sleeves”, the team got to work reaching out to their needs: grouping kids per level of needs, educational augmentation for some, life skills for others, and home visits for all! In ACAY, contact with the families is crucial. As expected, poverty was “au rendez-vous”. Parents drained by life’s realities, pandemic exacerbating the difficulty to find funds for the daily needs, some of them had been in detention and some others left for the province leaving their kids. All trying to cope with a lack of educational background. They discovered ACAY, and we embarked them into discovering our program but above all into this hope that things will change for their kids. We also invited them to join us for a monthly sharing and training for them as parents.
Since then, about twenty youth attend the program regularly. ACAY staff, together with the Sisters, volunteers, and alumni have conducted Self-Awareness and Life Skills training once a week while one of us spent their time with two of them learning to recognize letters and learning how to write.
The barangay staff also noticed the changes in the behaviors of the youth. They proudly shared to us that recidivism has already started to decrease noticeably these past months and thanked us warmly for this. Life and Hope have not said their last word!
One of the youth shared his gratefulness to be part of the training:
“I feel happy, did you see that my friends started to change?”
“I have been in the program for four months. I have had to report to the Barangay many times for all my offenses in the past years. After joining the training program, I’ve noticed a change in myself. I’ve learned how to set boundaries and choose better friends.
I learned my limits and no longer join in negative behavior such as stealing. I still hang out with them as friends, but I go home early. The greatest lesson I have so far from the training is how to manage my anger, which has often led to violence. When I’m triggered, I take a step back and try to keep my anger under control so I won’t hurt others.
I realize that I am getting older and what my future will be is the consequence of my actions now.”