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Hope and help for Philippine Children in conflict with the law

January 10, 2005 ·  By By: Mathas Klasen - PREDA Volunteer

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A great, but difficult challenge for me. After my time at Preda as a volunteer, I want to try to give a report about what happened. An attempt to report on my everyday life and every day work in the jail rescue team, one of the many departments at Preda. The Fair Trade team, the Peps team, the Rain team and all the other Departments contribute other work of the same importance to the mission of Preda. Other volunteers will work in different departments and will gain other experiences, but after all every one of us is trying to make this world a better place, a just and peaceful place, and this is what it is all about.

Now, how shall I report on this? I will tell about the children I have worked with. About the duties and responsibilities of us volunteers, but also about our chances and possibilities here at Preda. Volunteers like me, who come here from all over the world, to spend a part of their lifetime together with these children here at the Preda Foundation.

The children who I am talking about, are boys at the age between 9 and 17 years old. Children in conflict with the law. Children, who were rescued by Preda from the jail. The alternative home for these boys, which is run by the Preda foundation since December 2003, provides them with a new home and a therapeutic opportunity. A team of social workers, teachers, pedagogues and psychologists care for these children 24 hours. Step by step they learn how to deal with the painfully and shocking experiences which they have gone through. A new way of life opens for the children. For many it is the first time in their life, that they are being loved and looked after, that they have the feeling of being important.

We, as volunteers at Preda, have the unique opportunity to accompany these children for a short while on this very new way of life. To contribute to the process that will change their life fundamentally. Each and every one of us brings in his knowledge and his abilities to create the everyday life of the children as varied and instructive as possible. We bring in ideas and create activities on our own, always accompanied by highly competent staff members. Creativity is being raised by conducting activities as theater and other playful impulses. They gain the ability to work successfully in a team by playing games as basketball. In mixed teams, the children learn to take care of each other. Older boys are being supported in their efforts to train younger teammates.

They learn from each other and to listen to each other. Teachers, with the help of volunteers, provide non formal education for these children, adjusted to their educational background. This is not always easy, as many of these children have never been to school, or dropped out of school early. They had to learn from the very beginning how to support their families.Almost starving, many of them chose to steal in order to buy food, as they could see no other way out. Others started to drug themselves, so they would not feel the hunger or the sorrow anymore. Most of these kids were thrown in prison because of these cases. Together with Joan and Michael, two staff members of the jail rescue team, I visited several jails in Metro Manila and I can very well remember the day I first visited one of them.

The Jail Visit.
We were a small group. Joan and Michael, two Swedish volunteers and I. We had a court order with us, stating that two of the children of this jail were to be transferred to the Preda center. One of these two children was nine years old, the other one ten. This very fact was hard to imagine for myself. At this age? At a place like that? How can people be so cruel and put children in these jails, to make them live that life? As we were about to enter, I could already imagine how it would look like. We were standing on this dusty street, the common noise of the jeepneys around us. A thick iron door with a small lattice-window opened, and we were allowed to get in. It was a sunny day. In the courtyard there were a few inmates, cleaning the motorbikes of the guards. They are called trusties, inmates who are loyal to the warden and the guards and therefore gain certain privileges. We talked to the guards about the procedure, unfortunately cameras were not allowed.

Unbelievable sights, smells, and suffering.
The two Swedish volunteers and I wanted to go directly to the children, we wanted to see, what we have read about so much. There was a small door on the left side of the courtyard, which leads to the detention facilities. We walked down a corridor about two meters wide. On the left and right side there are the cells. It was unbearable humid inside the building and I almost vomited because of the smell. I could not stand this for long I thought. Steam was rising from the ground, and it smelled like a mixture of sweat, urine and mould. After a few seconds my shirt was wet, sticking to my body. Hundreds of hands reached out to touch me, as we were walking down the aisle. As we reached the minors, I saw a scene which I will never forget in my life. More than 60 children were caged like animals, in a cell which was not even 25 square meters big. The ground was covered with them, they were crouching on tiny little spaces. Wherever I looked, I could see pleading faces and hands.

The legs of the children were covered with blisters and wounds and mosquito bites, which they scratched open. The two children who were to come with us, stood right behind the bars. Armando and Gerry. They were really weak and could hardly stand. An agitated look, a helpless look, a look from which one could tell that they were scared for life. Being only nine and ten years old, they were in jail because they stole some items which were not even worth 50 Euros. At a place like that, where they should not be even for a second, they had to live for over a month. How shall the wounded souls ever be healed I ask myself? I still do not understand, how incredible brutal these children are punished here. Standing there, helpless in front of the cell made me feel really bad. I saw this whole miserable situation and could do nothing, not one thing. I felt feelings of anger, as well as endless sorrow and pity.

The children in jail are being tortured and abused by policemen as well as adult criminals. Having neither enough food, nor any medical care, they live an inhuman life in prison. In lack of mattresses they have to sleep on the hard concrete floor, which is often wet with urine. There is no running water and the toilet is just a hole in the floor. Both the quality and quantity of food are insufficient. The standard allowance for food is about 30 pesos (around 50 cents) per inmate. This means for the children that they have to fight over the food with the adult inmates.

The children are Traumatized and agitated, like Armando and Gerry, they are being rescued from this living hell by Preda staff members, accompanied by volunteers like me. To achieve this, lots of preparatory work has to be done. Discussions are being held with court social workers, jails are visited regularly and the minors in these jails are being interviewed. How many minors are in jail? How are they treated? How old are they and do they get enough food? Step by step these interviews bring us further. We are than able to write reports, which we can present to the judges at court. Many of the children in jail have had no court hearing yet, they do not know what is going to happen to them. The Jail Rescue Team of Preda helps them to find a way out of there and to make their life more bearable.

Helpless to change the situation. I remember the feeling of being helpless, standing in front of the children with nothing to offer, no help to give. We decided later to buy ceiling fans, in order to donate them to the jail. They had to assure us that the fans would only be used by the children. I look at it as something that will make their life a little more comfortable. However, this is only the beginning, just a little step forward. There is a long way ahead of us and the help and work of many more volunteers is needed in order to prevent these children from a life like that.

In the way we care about the children in conflict with the law, we care about the children who are living on the streets of Olongapo and other towns in the Philippines. During my time here, I have visited them many times at the places where they live. Under the bridges, where the street children are vegetating in filth and dirt, the ground covered with garbage. There is a big misery, and it is frightening how unconcerned society looks after them.

Without a family, they are living as outcasts a life in extreme poverty. They have no real clothes, no shoes, no clean water. They use a drainage, which is next to their ³sleeping place² to wash themselves. Many of them suffer from various skin diseases, hepatitis, malaria, etc. We plan and conduct activities for them. On outings with the children from the Preda center, like a day at the beach, they learn how to socialize. Activities like that give them a chance to escape from their sad everyday reality. We somehow provide a family for them, while Preda staff members try to reintegrate them in their real families, if they have any left. Some of my most beautiful memories are about the time I spend with these children.

On one of our weekly visits I saw how they had made little boats out of coca cola cans and other garbage and that they were having a race with them. The boats looked very fragile and the water was from the drainage and really dirty. However, in their eyes there was a shining light. A light of joy in a way only only children can have. Pure joy about the moment. For a second, they blended out reality and were being simply this, what they really are. Children.

Well, this is only a short insight of what happened to me and other volunteers during our time at Preda. It turns out, that the days here vary far to much from each other, as I could call them “everyday life³. Each day brings new adventures and challenges which have to be faced. Every day is different here, though all of them have something in common. Being a volunteer at the Preda foundation, there was not a single day, from which I could not say that he was one-of-a-kind for me. As I look back to my life before Preda, I realize, that I have learned from these children here at least as much as they have learned from me. For this experience I am more than grateful. I thank these children, for each and every “everyday life³ day I was able to spend with them. [End]

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