Football to save our youth

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco - The Philippine Star

“I guarantee you that at some point, everything’s going to go south on you. And you’re going to say, ‘This is it. This is how I end.’ Now, you can either accept that, or you can get to work.” – Matt Damon as Mark Watney, “The Martian”

It all started more than half a century ago, when his father said this about his favorite sport, soccer.

“What kind of stupid game is that? You kick the ball. You run after it. When you are near it, you kick it again. You get tired.”

As many children are wont to do, the young Marciano Evangelista decided that perhaps there was something in going against his parent’s wishes, a love for this strange game, which would start to carry him on a long journey of giving to untold thousands of the country’s youth. In spite of, or perhaps because of, his father’s criticism, he felt an unbreakable bond with football.

“You know, I began to like it because you could make a lot of combinations, from head to foot, in-out. I said this must be an interesting game. So I just fell in love with it. You see, I’m a bit of a braggart. My kind of being a braggart is to do something which is different,” says Fr. Rocky today. “You know, when you handle the ball with your feet, you stop it with your chest, when you’re heading left, right, straight. So because of that, I think I was able to instill some principles for discipline. You’ve got to master your craft, of course, that goes for anything. But when you say you handle the ball with your feet, it’s kind of different. And so all through my being a teacher, even as a priest, when we talk of group sports, football is my preference.”

In 1993, after almost a quarter of a century of teaching, Fr. Rocky received a message, a loud, ringing admonition to take care for the most helpless. He didn’t know how he would do it, but Tuloy Foundation was the result.

“’Tuloy’ for poor and abandoned children was not mine. It was a dream I had 23 years ago. A dream is a dream, although sometimes, God speaks in many ways. I thought it was a call within a call. I was already 23 years as a priest, as an administrator, school principal and all that. And I dreamt that I was taking care of poor, abandoned children,” Evangelista told The STAR. “I started with 12 kids, I looked for them in the most unholy places in the metropolis: under the bridge, parking lots, bus stations, gardens outside of hotels and motels, fastfoods, even at the cemetery. You can’t even imagine that these things happen. Girls 12 years old, pregnant, because they are harmed by these ferocious, unconscionable people. When I saw these realities, I said I could never hit my bed at night or take my meal, or whatever I do if I don’t give a shelter, food, clothing to one, ten, possibly more children.”

And as he himself had learned, football would be one of his great tools of transformation, as he tried to plant the seeds of cooperation, sharing and discipline into these kids who had nothing.

“In the centers that we have, we try to bring the culture of football as the preferred sport that will complement our rehab for them for building character,” Fr. Rocky explains. “With the out of school youth, orphans, I teach them, we teach them, and we tell them why this, in a way, is a school for life,” he says.

The first three to four years felt like he was getting nowhere, he would find a kid somewhere early in the morning, bring him to the center, give him hot soup, a bath, a new towel and a bed, only to find the child gone in the morning, along with his new things and some of the belongings of the other kids. Evangelista started to question himself, and worried that his benefactors might think he was going about it the wrong way. But he realized that the change would only come gradually. Things would take time. There was a schedule to follow, and values to acquire. And not everyone who needed help wanted to be rescued. Some felt hopeless. Some felt that, even though they were eating out of garbage bins, they ruled their own lives. And any time, they could eat what they wanted by begging for it or stealing it. And if they needed to kill, they could, too. 

“To break into that system, there is a complete array of realities. You are important. We care for you. You have a chance. Because they have such a low self-esteem, one more foolishness won’t make a difference. Negative self-fulfilling prophecy. That takes quite some time. Until we are able to create a culture after four years: it is possible. Pwede pala. Even if I do crazy things, it is possible. So if you see our village for poor children, if nobody will tell you what that is for, you would think that is an exclusive boarding house. Purposely so, not because we have all the money, but the only easy to start off a child who has low self-esteem moving toward the future, is to treat him like, ‘Look guy, you may be poor, but you’re still important.’”

From 12 kids, after 22 years, Fr. Rocky’s “Tuloy sa Don Bosco” is now in charge of over 1,000 children, changing their lives with daily effort, at village center built from scratch in Alabang, which costs P 5,000,000 a month to maintain. Where does the money come from? Only God knows. People hear about it, and some say they can only donate P 10,000. Others donate up to P 1,000,000. Miracles keep happening, and the foundation continues to thrive. The kids are selected from nine years old up, those who are school age, who can learn how to graduate from high school or a vocational course, and make something of themselves. Imagine if these children were not given a chance, where would they be? Evangelista knew they would go for the quick and easy money, which meant vices and crime. And once they’d fallen into that dark abyss, it would be very difficult to bring them back into the light. They commonly reason that anyway, people already see them as evil, so one more petty theft or misdemeanor wouldn’t make a difference.












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