I have heard of Virlanie Foundation before. But it was written about in society pages because of the visit of Andrea Casiraghi, the eldest grandchild of Rainier III, Prince of Monaco, and his wife, Grace Kelly. He came to arrange a joint venture between AMADE and the Virlanie Foundation.
A few days ago, an old friend from school days Carlos Arnaldo, formerly of Unesco and active member of the Knights of Rizal, asked me if I wanted to help give Verlanie’s street children an ice cream treat for Christmas. Yes, of course, I said why not? Knowing little about the French foundation, I looked forward to giving ice cream to the street children and know something about Verlanie and its work. I had to look for dry ice (not available at groceries) to keep six gallons of ice cream from melting and cones.
What a sight to behold. But there they were, 60 children of different ages divided into three groups using the cement floor of Binondo Square. There were blackboards and chalks and erasers to make a huge classroom in the midst of traffic noise and curious pedestrians. One group was coloring drawings with crayons strewn on the floor for the children to pick whatever color they wish. Another was practicing a song they would later sing to us and still another was being taught by a French lady called Marie how to fill up forms. The children were being taught basic skills to cope with the world. It would be the unkindest cut of all if the members of Congress who had never known poverty would decide there were too much of them. Marie spoke in Pilipino even when I asked her questions in English.
What did the Verlaine Mobile School hope to accomplish? This is just a tiny drop in the ocean. She smiled and was quick with her answer, “we give them self-esteem.”
From the mobile street school, they are then farmed out to different schools. All this costs money, about P3 million a year because it covers the meals while they are in Binondo Square School.
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Here in this bustling square the theme is about life. And as can be expected, it is as varied as the individuals I met that day. A non-government foundation “it cares for children in need of special protection: abandoned, abused, exploited, neglected, orphaned, poor. It has 200 staff and volunteers with a network of donors and sponsors. They started with one mobile unit, now they have 14 mobile units scattered across the country bringing a smile back to more than 1,21l street children.
It was started by a French social worker, Dominique Lemay, and his Filipino friends. The non-profit foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Since 1992, Virlanie has helped 14,700 children become responsible and self-sufficient adults. I talked to some of the children and some parents sitting on benches.
They know nothing about the RH bill. As I went around, one child said he was one of seven, another said they were only two. His father worked in Divisoria guarding goods when they were unloaded in the market at early dawn. Ms. Marie says how big a family they want is their personal choice.
There have been many success stories about these children who started schooling in the streets. I have chosen one that Virlanie is proud of and explains why they work with street children. Who knows, maybe one among them would one day become president.
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Here is Lawrence’s story:
“In early 2011, the result of the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) was released. Out of the 100,000 fourth year graduating high school students who took the entrance exam, only 12,000 passed. Everyone at Virlanie was very proud that one of its children from the Family Program was one of those 12,000. He is Lawrence Baslote, a high school student from Tondo National High School who has been a Virlanie scholar since 2003.
Emma Solasco, the social worker saw a potential in him — he has been a consistent honor student who needed educational assistance from the Foundation.
He was the valedictorian of their batch when he graduated in Grade 6 in 2007.
Lawrence is very good at Mathematics especially in Trigonometry and is among the top ten students of his batch. He finds it very interesting to play with numbers and look for solutions to mathematical problems. Despite being an only child, his father’s earnings as a janitor at the Manila North Harbor were not enough.
He wants to become either a Civil or a Mechanical Engineer someday. “I want to build a home for my family where we can live happily and peacefully.”
There were only enough cones for 60 children so when it ran out, they took the ice cream in their palms, in paper cups and cellophane wrappers! Helping with the ice cream treat was Timothy, president of KAPARIZ, youth arm of the Knights of Rizal.
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It would be unfair if nothing were said of the legislators who consistently and bravely voted no to the RH bill.
Pangasinan congresswoman Gina de Venecia tells us why. “I have always been firm in my conviction that the RH bill is not right for this nation because it goes against the moral grain that the Filipino family is made of. It seeks to destroy the Filipino family as an institution, runs the danger of corrupting our youth’s moral values, and endangers the life of the unborn child.
I said no, on first reading, no on second reading, and say no again on third reading. This bill will never be right for this nation.
The RH bill or the Responsible Parenthood bill, as it is now called, is an attempt to institute measures to control the country’s population, masquerading as a reproductive health measure, with the end-in-view of diminishing, or otherwise alleviating the problem of poverty. It is anchored on the idea that a country’s growth is a function of the size of its population.
Studies have shown though, that economic progress is attained through the prudent use of meager resources and the exercise of good governance. Corruption, these studies confirm, rather than overpopulation, is what retards a country’s ability to advance.