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January 3, 2019, San Fernando, Pampanga, Philippines – The street children of San Fernando are gaining the literacy and numeracy skills that they need for a better life, thanks to the Adrian Dominican Sisters' (ADS) School on Wheels program. The program, established in 2017, meets the specific needs of street children who, with other children, had benefited from the Sisters’ religious education and feeding program.
The ADS School on Wheels was established to develop a culture of acceptance and equality among children from disadvantaged environments, strengthen their social functioning potentials through basic education, and change the negative impressions of society toward street children. Basic literacy and numeracy are a priority of the program.
The School on Wheels transport van was named Esperanza, or HOPE (Help Overcome Poverty through Education) in honor of the late Sister Esperanza Bonifacio, OP, who initiated the first feeding and catechetical program for street children around the San Fernando marketplace.
Sister Zenaida S. Nacpil, OP, Director, and Sister Jolyn L. (Jules) Dungo, OP, a registered social worker, meet the children in the marketplace. “They have time for reading, writing, art appreciation and some basic catechetical instructions” as well as a hot lunch, Sister Jules said. On Saturdays, the Sisters and volunteers travel to the disadvantaged community to teach literacy and numeracy to the street children and other interested school children.
“The daily struggles of street children are challenging and really serious,” Sister Jules explained. The street children try to work through socially acceptable ways, such as selling eco-bags, flower garlands, fruit, and fish; working in parking lots; and washing cars. “Young as they are – 6 to 13 years old – they are forced to earn in order to survive.”
Sister Zenaida said that the street children have already learned the value of responsibility to their families, bringing to them the money that they have earned on the streets. They eat some of the food that they receive through the feeding program or other means, “but most of them will bring home half for a younger sibling or parents,” Sister Zenaida said. “What a beautiful attitude!”
Sister Jules added that ministering to the street children is very demanding. “It takes a lot of patience and endurance to survive the day-to-day encounter with them,” she said. At the same time, “living one’s passion for mission makes this ministry enjoyable.”
She also spoke of the vulnerability of the street children. “Many of them are emotionally broken but project a tough front as a means to survive,” Sister Jules said. “But they easily respond to acts of kindness and love. We want to protect lives from all forms of abuse: human trafficking, sexual and domestic violence … It is our responsibility as Christian adults to guide these children to discover what God has in store for them.”
Listening to the street children is easy and “could actually make them feel visible and accepted,” Sister Jules said. “Praising their little good deeds makes them believe in themselves and builds their self-confidence. They need to receive a lot of encouragement to enable them to pursue their dreams.”
Submitted by Sister Jules L. Dungo, OP
Feature photo: Sister Jolyn “Jules” Dungo, OP, stops to talk to street children in San Fernando.