Kay Malilong-Isberto

FIGHTING WORDS - Rooting for children - The Freeman

A friend posted in Facebook that it would be good if the library of the institution where he was giving a workshop would have books for young adults instead of just textbooks. I thought of all the books that I bought for my son, which remained unread in various shelves at home. After years of nagging him to read them, I have accepted that we have different tastes in books. I knew that it was better to give them away rather than wait for the pages to crumble with age. I gathered twenty books in ten minutes.

I asked my friend how I could donate the books. He asked if I was going to donate them that day. I was excited to get on with my de-cluttering project and said that I could. He sent me the address, a building behind the Quezon City Hall. He also asked if I was okay with speaking before the group he was giving the workshop to. I agreed. I had no idea what kind of place it was, only that the workshop was for teenagers.

I took a cab to the address I was given. The building was called "SSDD."  I found that the workshop was being held at the Molave Youth Home, a facility for children in conflict with the law.

I felt claustrophobic as I went up several flights of stairs in a building with barred doors and windows and guards in every corner. The space looked cramped and uncomfortable but the children I met inside the facility still managed to greet me politely in Filipino. It was a hot and humid afternoon. It seemed like a miracle that they were not losing their tempers in the heat.

I found myself in a hall with at least two hundred children of various ages. While only a few kids were part of the workshop, a lot of them were at the program to celebrate its completion. The workshop participants gave dance, song and rap numbers. A puppet theater group from a government office performed to wild cheering from the kids. I was overwhelmed at how something as simple as a puppet show could give the children so much joy. I was a little afraid that the audience would be too old for a show like that. It featured dancing vegetables and singing carabaos.

I think of the few hours I spent inside the youth facility and feel grateful that I was able to share the children's joy from watching the dancing vegetables. I think of the children in their crisp white shirts and wonder if they could have been friends my son would hang out with if they lived under less trying circumstances. They exuded the same restless and vibrant energy that most teenagers have.

I also wonder if we are doing enough to help children in conflict with the law to recover and rise above the life events that put them in detention facilities. Or to keep them away from committing crimes in the first place.What I hear a lot of are arguments asking for the repeal of the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act because of the supposed rise in incidents where syndicates use children to commit crimes. "Let's send the children to jail because they are incorrigible" is a common refrain.  Who's asking why things are so and looking at the root causes of the problem?

I continue to think of the children at the Molave Youth Home and of similarly situated children across the country. So much more can be done for them to help them recover and grow up to be happy and productive persons. I wish I knew what and how.


Email me at [email protected]


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