“Operation Gugma” aims to help street kids
(The Freeman) - June 23, 2016 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines - Government programs have been slated to address the problem on the growing number of children loitering around the busy streets in Cebu City.

Redentor Betito, program director of Cebu City Task Force on Street Children, apologized yesterday to people unsatisfied with rescue operations conducted by the city government as children are still returning to the streets.

In a forum, Betito explained that there are a lot of reasons that may have caused the proliferation of street kids.

He said the problem does not only concern the children but also involves the parents and the surrounding community.

Betito said the problem boils down mainly to the long cycle of wrong parenting.

Most of the children the task force had interviewed admitted that they were victims of violence while some come from dysfunctional families, he said.

"They said they choose to run away because they have been punished at home," said Betito, referring to the street kids.

"Their parents also were once victims (of violence) before and now they also treat their child the same, they had the wrong notion on discipline that for them may entail punishment," he continued.

Another inevitable factor that has prompted parents to push away their children is poverty, said Betito.

He pointed out some parents could not sustain the basic needs in raising their child.

"Giving something to the street children, as a Christian, is a good deed but looking at the bigger picture, you are not helping them actually. They keep on coming back to the streets because they know that someone is willing to help them," said Betito.

He appealed again to the public yesterday to prevent on giving something to the children who are supposed to be attending school and not staying on the streets.

Begging has been forbidden when Anti-Mendicancy Law was enacted over 35 years ago.

The task force and other participating agencies that rescue street children are not only confronted with the social issues. Betito said they face another burden with the effects of these social problems to the child.

"At the center, one of our challenges is gaining the trust of the children… It would take us two to three months to make them trust us," he said.

There are also circumstances that social workers have difficulty in intervening with the psychological and emotional needs of the child.

But Betito brought some good news to reporters yesterday.

He said Cebu City acting mayor Margarita Osmeña signed the letter of intent on Tuesday to avail of the P10 million grant from the national government to build Bahay Pag-asa that would provide intensive intervention for Children at Risk and Children in Conflict with the Law.

While this project is still underway, the city government with the help of other government offi-ces and non-government organizations has reactivated "Operation Gugma," a long-term program for street children.

The program was the main topic during yesterday's "Kapihan sa PIA" organized by the Philippine Information Agency - Cebu Information Center.

"It's called Operation Gugma because we provide all the needs of the child… Not only the basic needs like food, shelter and clothes but also addressing the psychological, mental, social, emotional needs of the child. However, this requires a long process before we can fully change the mindset and values of the child," he said.

All the rescued children will be brought to the Parian Drop-In Center that serves as the processing area.

Around 900 street children have been sheltered presently in various centers in the city that includes the Parian Drop-In Center.

"At the center, we will determine if they will be returned to their families, or if they stay at the center, or referred to other centers whose services would be suitable for them," he said.

Before children are returned to their parents, a social worker will have to create a case study of the child.

But if the child stays at the center, a social worker will have to draft a treatment plan for the child that would be fitting for them. Children will be immersed to group counseling sessions and life skills trainings and also provided with psychological therapy if there is a need.

Aside from rescue operations, the task force also holds community-based programs like street education to prevent children from staying along roads.

Around 4,000 identified children across the city have been under the care of the task force.

Betito wanted to emphasize that programs they undertake are not only a job for them but a responsibility to provide "compassionate" intervention to the street children since most of them lack care from their family.

He stressed handling social development is a difficult work, thus the need for passionate workers who have the willingness to transform someone else's lives.

Another panelist in yesterday's forum also shared the same sentiment.

Police Inspector Arieza Otida, chief of the Women and Children Protection Desk of the Cebu City Police Office, said the sustainability of the program depends on the commitment of all stakeholders.

"What we need are people who have the heart to help the street children. If they have the will, passion and dedication to be of service to the children," she said.

In May, different government offices and non-government institutions committed to address the problem on street children as they signed a covenant to revive the "Operation Gugma" which has long been established, said Otida.

 "Basically, the role of the police is to protect the children but we have seen that we cannot hold the program when we work alone… We have to work hand in hand. We have to work as one in this concerted effort to provide better future for the children," Otida said.

Some organizations involved in the program are Children's Legal Bureau (CLB), Don Bosco Boys Home, Zonta Club of Cebu 2, Philippine Information Agency-7, City Prosecutor's Office, Legal Alternatives for Women Inc. (LAW Inc.), Pink Room Center, DILAAB Foundation, WCPD-CCPO, Juvenile Justice Welfare Council, among others. — May B. Miasco with Hannah Cauilan (FREEMAN)

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