I started my placement today in a small city named Ormoc in the province of Leyte. I am working in a "Holding Centre" that houses about 30 boys ages 10- 22 who were either picked up from a life out on the streets or who were left at the centre by parents who either couldn`t afford to keep them or who flat out didn`t want them. There is also a section of the centre that serves as a jail cell for nine boys who are pending rape, theft, or public begging charges.
The facility is government- run and receives a yearly budget that barely covers school enrollment & uniform fees, and barely puts three meals a day on the table (the children eat rice three times per day--- they never get any fruits, vegetables, or goodies because such food items are expensive by Filippino standards). The center is prison- like in appearance in that it consists of barred up cement rooms and lacks color. Basic items that we take for granted like pillows, blankets, drinking cups, eating utensils, soaps, shampoos, flip flops, etc are lacking. The children sleep on mattresses that look like they might have been chewed on by rats, using their tiny arms as pillows. They have so little and appreciate even the tiniest offering. This afternoon I brought them a box of chocolate wafer cookies and they reacted as though someone had just handed them the world. They are so polite and appreciative!
Before I went to see the boys today I was a little bit worried because I am not used to teenage boys. A girl working in an all boy institution? I didn`t know how I could relate to them. I thought little kids would have been so much easier! I guess there was a guy here a few weeks ago who was here for a month and the kids got so attached to him that they were all crying when he left. I guess it was really pitiful--- these kids have nobody. Anyways, I visited with them this morning and I had nothing to worry about. They may be teenagers, but they almost seem younger in age than they really are. They are very curious & just love the company. We sat at my laptop and listened to music (they love music!). We also practiced some Filippino. Basically, I said a few sentences and they`d laugh at my expense.... They were in love with my digital camera and giggled at videos they took of one another.
The placement will be good for me because it is run by a team of social workers. I have so much that I can learn from them! I sat down with the director today and she wants me to help them with their homework in the afternoons. I expressed to her that I really want to help them and would really like to know what their needs are: toothbrushes, t-shirts, whatever! She said that they appreciate any little thing SO MUCH--- and that it means so much to them but that they never like to talk about it with volunteers because they are embarrased of how poor their living conditions are. Today I found myself at the department store pricing virtually EVERYTHING! Imagine- most of these kids own a single t-shirt--- and in the store a t-shirt is only $2! Honest to God- I just met them and they are almost my age---- but I have sooooooooo much love in my heart for them!!!! If I could adopt them all and bring them back with me to give them a better life--- I wouldn`t think twice! There`s not a doubt in my mind now that social work is what I want to do with my life. There`s so much poverty and sadness out there--- I want to help.
And to think that our kids at home throw a crying fit if the other kid got more fries or there`s no ice cream left in the freezer! Things that these kids could only ever dream of.... ABSOLUTELY HEARTBREAKING!!!