Reaching for a Future in Manila
IT was a special and hectic time for Yolly Cabias: Bahay Tuluyan, a day-care center and haven for street children from the slums, bars, and brothels of Manila, was graduating its first class. Yolly and head teacher Delia Tamayo had spent hours preparing for a production by 37 rambunctious six-year-olds. Songs and poems were rehearsed. Graduation banners and badges were prepared. Pictures were taken of each child in a miniature white robe and mortar board.Skip to next paragraph
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By the big day, the graduates, wearing their Sunday best, faces shining with rouge and lipstick, squirmed with excitement. Before beaming mothers and clicking cameras, each child was summoned forward to receive a certificate and special ribbon that said it all: "Graduate."
Sixteen-year-old Yolly, like her small charges, is a child of the Manila streets. Her family is part of the growing army of squatters who populate the streets and back alleys of the Philippine capital and scratch out a subsistence in the shadow of extravagant wealth.
Malate district, Yolly's backyard, is a microcosm of Manila. Once an elite suburb, Malate and its sister Ermita district are the capital's tourist belt, mixing luxury hotels, fine restaurants, and a wealthy clientele with bawdy bars, neon-lit nightclubs, and the poor who serve them.
"The situation in Malate is one of extremes," says Marichu de las Alas, who works at Bahay Tuluyan, which means "a place to go." "There are children and a lot of people living in push carts."
Yolly, shortened from Yolanda in the Philippine custom of nicknaming, lives in the Malate shadows. Her house is a crevice at the back of a makeshift tenement, where 10 family members squeeze into a space not much bigger than a walk-in closet.
Erlynda, Yolly's mother, and two brothers provide the family's main support by selling cigarettes and snacks outside a five-star hotel. An older sister has left to work as a domestic in Saudi Arabia. A brother who was a drug addict and became involved in trafficking has been missing for five years.
Yolly first came to Bahay Tuluyan, operated under the auspices of the Malate Catholic Church, two years ago to play volleyball. The center soon became a respite from her troubles and the crowded conditions at home.
`I AVOID going home because my father is an alcoholic, because when he's drunk, he beats us and my mother fights with him," says Yolly, one of nine children. "That's why most of the time, I'm crying. Sometimes he drinks 24 hours a day."
"I like to come here," she continues as she sits in the center office and makes ribbons for the graduation. "This office is bigger than our room at home."
She has thrown herself into the hubbub of the shelter with its dozens of homeless children. She arrives at 10 a.m. or as early as she can after doing the family laundry. She stays until 8 p.m. or longer if possible.
Yolly has learned to type, and helps in the office. She's gaining a growing understanding of English. Last year, she became one of the center's 14 'junior educators,' a program aimed at training and cultivating older street youths as teachers for the young. Yolly, who likes to sing and act, began teaching day care with Delia Tamayo, a 22-year-old staff member who first came to the center as an abandoned child.
"Yolly showed a lot of potential," says Nic Arriola, a former seminarian who works on the center's staff.