When many around the world envision the daily life in the Philippines, they might imagine broiling humidity, enticing beaches, and most importantly, the country’s economic health that has left many citizens in an indigent revolution – a day-in, day-out cycle ineradicable by the status quo.
According to a 2011 International Labour Organization survey, approximately 10 percent of children as young as five years old have engaged in child labor in the Philippines. 98 percent of these children have worked in “hazardous industries and occupations.” SOS Children’s Village in the country’s Cebu province extends its arms to vulnerable children in a loving embrace; the tenderness, devotion, and humanity is instantly felt.
Inspired by UNESCO’s 1979 “International Year of the Child,” a Filipino clergy member introduced his idea of starting an SOS Children’s Village to Cebu’s local authorities. With the organization’s potential seen a decade earlier through Austrian founder Dr.Hermann Gmeiner’s philanthropic successes, officials greenlit the project, explained June Ariola-Layao, the Head of the Family Care Program. The community officially opened its doors in 1980.
With approximately 30 percent of children suffering from the difficulties of living “below the poverty line,” according to UNICEF, families are forced to part with their children due to secondary problems that arise from destitute circumstances, such as prison, sickness in the family, or a lack of financial resources.
In addition, children are also in disarray from the crass protocol levied upon the country by President Rodrigo Duterte, whose “War on Drugs” has resulted in the unwarranted killings of 56 children, according to media reports. A State Department spokesperson told ForthWrite that the US urges “the Philippines to ensure that its law enforcement efforts are consistent with its international human rights obligations,” and mentioned that talks between the governments will continue on this front.
“Most of our children are referred” to SOS “by different organizations…[including] priests, religious groups.” Ariola-Layao’s inflection slows for a grim reality. “Actually, there are children who are referred by their own parents.”
The Village, however, acknowledges the life changing effects that displacement has on children and allocates the due diligence on government social workers to search for alternative means of care, such as granting the child’s relatives custodial privileges, similar to the process in the United States.
But, “when the child first comes to [the] village, they feel at once the warmth and love of SOS…there is a mother that shows love and kindness.” Much like a ‘real’ family, SOS structures their “family house” with a ratio of eight children per ‘mama.’ The ‘mama’ is just like she sounds: a single woman who passed a ‘background investigation,’ is a high school graduate, and received skills training from cooking to child development. Ariola-Layao contends that these aren’t just ordinary women. She maintains that ‘mamas’ have a “special quality” in their capacity, noting that parenting “must come from the heart.”
The village is examining the possibility of hiring families as caretakers, with Ariola-Layao mentioning that “the children will grow better in a complete family.” With the absence of a ‘father,’ she ascribed the role to the village’s director and other male officials, poking fun at the director’s twelve wives – the ‘mamas.’
With many children outside their gates unable to attend school, education supersedes as a priority for the village. The bell rings bright and early at 6 AM, and if the kids want to make it on time, they’re going to have ‘give a little, to get a lot.’ The senior official told me about the children’s responsibilities – cooking, washing the dishes, and waking up at 4:30 or 5 AM each morning. Every child integrates with local public schools, and as for books – all-expenses-paid, up until their undergraduate endeavor. In addition, SOS also finances children’s clothing, field trips, as well as any activities that are integral for their socio-emotional well-being.
Even with their transformative contributions, the village suffers from shortfalls in their budget. With the Filipino government footing only 30 percent of the expenses, the village receives aid from their Austrian HQ, while also mandated to locally fundraise money for ‘supplemental reasons.’ Inquiring about the disconnect between the government’s minimal financing and their sending most of the children, Ariola-Layao admitted that the country itself is having “difficulty with the budget,” albeit her defense “in other situations, they give their full support.”
With money playing an integral role, the village is forced to ponder the question:
“If…SOS doesn’t exist, where will these children go?”
UNICEF has released a statement to Forthwrite Magazine arguing that Philippines “has dedicated a big chunk of the 2019 national budget” to social welfare areas that would aid families, and mentioned their alliance with Philippines in “ensur[ing] that budgets and policies are viewed with a child rights lens…”
Knowing that U.S. President Donald Trump is a voracious consumer of the news, the senior official asked if he could “immerse” himself in children’s issues, and also urged him to “influence” President Duterte in altering his perspective, pertaining to his administration’s financing of the children’s “sector.”
Reflecting on the children’s prospects, Ariola-Layao stated that “We can assure these children…that they can leave on their own with what we have given them,” and summarized the village in a pure, truthful light: “The very important thing that we offer to these kids is love, so when they have this love inside they can radiate it to other people…”
The joy, happiness, and kindness seen on these kids’ faces is unabashed and genuine; the opportunities given to them – virtually boundless.