[This article first appeared on TruthAtlas.com. TruthAtlas is an online news source featuring multimedia stories about people and ideas making the world a better place. Learn more at www.truthatlas.com.]
When Alain Ducasse, a world-renowned chef who was born in France but now holds naturalized citizenship in Monaco, visited Tuloy sa Don Bosco School in Manila, Philippines, he had one thing in mind: to raise money to create scholarships for Tuloy students interested in pursuing culinary careers.
Ducasse has made guest appearances on MasterChef and is one of only two chefs to have received a total of 21 Michelin stars for his restaurants. His celebrity helped to raise enough funds for 10 students to receive two-month scholarships; and it could be the two months that transform the trajectory of these 10 lives.
The Tuloy sa Don Bosco School was founded in 1997 by Fr. Marciano “Rocky” G. Evangelista, endearingly known as Father Rocky. But it's much more than a school. It is a safe-haven for street children in the Philippines who were once destined to lives of crime and navigating street gangs.
Due to the pervasive crime syndicates that have woven themselves into Manila’s economy, street children are influenced to become robbers, prostitutes, drug traffickers, and worse. Without help from the government, teenage street children form gangs that provide security, using vigilante justice.
“By the time young children have grown up, the once apparently angelic youngsters can act like old devils,” Father Rocky told Dr. Tom Stern in his collection of short stories titled Escape Through the Roof of the World.
But thanks to the efforts of Father Rocky, thousands of street children have received new lives. This school year alone, Tuloy sa Don Bosco will have over 1,000 students. 240 of those students will reside at the school. The 2014-2015 school year will open with more than 400 new students.
But Father Rocky is doing more than providing these disadvantage children with an education and the basic needs of food, shelter, and water: He’s opening outlets of artistic expression in dance and music, teaching food cultivation through their on-site aquaponics system, and offering career training. Children graduating from Tuloy have been given the tools for a total transformation; a transformation that provides them with not only a more stable life, but a rewarding life.
Because these children are encouraged to pursue what makes them happy, a future once muddied with uncertainty suddenly appears clear and bright.
After graduating from culinary school this June, four of the students who had received a scholarship to Ducasse Institute Philippines at Enderun Colleges will leave for a four-year employment contract at the Four Seasons Hotel in Dubai.
The other six scholarship recipients have been offered on-the-job training at restaurants in Manila, with the potential of getting hired on permanently, depending on performance. It is a far cry, from their days on the streets, fighting and begging for food. And it was likely unattainable, even in their wildest dreams.
Fr. Rocky says he constantly challenges himself to develop new teaching methods, especially for children who have low IQs, not because of lagging intelligence, but because of influencing factors such as malnutrition, abandonment, or lack of resources to afford education.
“It is an extremely difficult task,” Fr. Rocky said. “I expect it will be an arduous long journey, but we are giving it our best shot.”
As Tuloy continues to grow, the team at Tuloy is constantly looking for new ways to pave more paths. This year Capital One, which recently acquired HSBC credit card operations, has built a call center training room on the Tuloy campus for Tuloy students. Beginning this September, students will be trained by an English teacher as call center representatives. And when the students pass the course, jobs await them at Capital One.
In 2012, Tuloy began a performing arts school pilot with eight children (three girls and five boys), who received scholarships from a benefactor to learn ballet. After two years, the children are now learning advanced ballet and two boys have been accepted to join a ballet competition. They traveled to Hong Kong at the end of July to prepare for the competition.
After the other students at Tuloy watched the original eight kids perform for two successive years Fr. Rocky said, “learning ballet has caught fire among the children.” At least 50 percent of the student residents auditioned for ballet class this year, though only 16 scholarships were available.
Another girl is being trained for voice and playing the flute and a boy has been hired by Academy One to train and handle stage management.
The idea that children should be encouraged to follow their dreams, and pursue their individual happiness, is not new. It’s often parroted by teachers, parents, and mentors around the world. However, in practice, children are often pushed to view the world in a more realistic light and take the pragmatic course.
But with the compassion and drive of Father Rocky, the street children at Tuloy, once confined to chronic poverty and crime, have been given the greatest freedom of all – the freedom to be themselves.