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Street Children Hope to Meet Pope When He Visits Philippines in January

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Thanks to foundation, many are already being cared for

An NGO working to help former street children and those living in poor communities around Manila has launched an online campaign for an audience with Pope Francis during his Jan. 15-19 visit to Manila.

On Sept. 23, the Manila archdiocese’s Office of Communications sent media organizations Tulay ng Kabataan (Bridge of the Youth) Foundation’s media kit introducing the campaign and urging them to post on social media the group’s appeal and a video on the foundation’s work and the children’s messages to the Pope.

"As we knew that the Pope is coming in January, we decided to make a campaign for the children so every child of our foundation wrote to Pope Francis to invite him to visit the Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation," said Alexandra Chapeleau, foundation communications chief.

Some 1,000 children and youth benefit from the foundation’s services and programs in Quezon City and Navotas City, as well as in Manila’s Tondo and Intramuros areas. Tulay printed templates on which the children wrote their letters to Pope Francis. Foundation workers gathered the letters and brought them to Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila before he left for Rome on Sept. 21 so he could hand them over to the Pope, Chapeleau explained.

Chapeleau, a volunteer from Nantes, France, said Francis’ visit is "very important," especially to youth living in shelters, because "all of them have been neglected, abandoned, sexually or physically abused, and here we have a Pope who is very sensitive and has given much attention to the poorest of the poor. Our children here in the foundation represent exactly what the Pope is saying regarding the poorest of the poor."

When Tulay was founded in the Philippines in 1998, government estimates put the number of Filipino street children at 1.2 million, about 70,000 of them in Metro Manila alone. The NGO End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking estimated at least 1.5 million Filipino children were earning a living on the streets by begging, stealing, dealing drugs and through prostitution.

Tulay focuses on street children who, for various reasons, have no more link to family. "They’re abandoned and just live in the streets so we shelter them full time in boys or girls homes where we care for them, send them to school, bring them to the doctor as needed," Chapeleau explained.

More than material help, however, Chapeleau says, "We provide them with the loving family experience which they do not have anymore."

Today, 15 of its 24 centers are set up to cater to these children, who have joined as young as 3 years old and stay until 21 years old.

Centers find these children through street educators who roam Manila’s streets, seek out children, hang out with them and tell them about Tulay ng Kabataan. "It’s a long process to know them, discuss with them and tell them what is Tulay ng Kabataan Foundation, and over weeks we invite them to come to our drop-in center for boys here in Kalayaan Street or for girls in Kamias Street," Chapeleau said.

The foundation does not accept children who would have to leave their families to live in its shelters. "If not, we will have to shelter 20,000 or 30,000 children. It’s also not the way to love a child," Chapeleau said.

"When parents come to us and say, ‘I don’t want to take care of my child. Will you take it?’ We say, ‘No, keep your child; it’s your child, even if you are in a bad position. We can help you find a way to show love to your child,’" Chapeleau said.

In Tondo, near Manila’s east coast, the foundation runs a daycare center where children from infants to 6 years come for meals, play, medical clinic and school activities. Nursing mothers join in feeding and medical consultation. To help build family, mothers are taught how to care for their children, when and how to bring a child to hospital when he is sick, and how to feed newborns and infants.

For Chapeleau, "Everything is a question of education, so we try to educate the children and the mother."  Spirituality is also deemed important, especially in healing wounds and the pain of broken relations, so shelter communities pray together. "We must provide love, hope, attention and the Good News of God," Chapeleau said.

Tulay is funded by sponsors, mostly in Europe and Singapore.

NJ Viehlandwrites from Manila.
 

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