“Hugs can do great amounts of good – especially for children.”
A week ago my team served the teenagers in Manila Youth Rehabilitation Center (MYRC). Mostly boys, we served almost 200 youth between the ages of 15-17, and for the first time in my life I was called “mie” (mommy). When I asked why they call everyone mommy and daddy, they said “Nasanay na po.” They’ve gotten used to it because they are asked to call elders and staff, mommy and daddy. Some of the teens have to reside in the center for years… and during that time MYRC is their home. And the “labels” create some semblance of a family, I suppose (that many of them no longer have).
“Mahirap po dito kapag wala ka ng magulang”. (It’s hard when you don’t have parents). I asked further and he said, “Kung walang tutulong sa iyo di ka na makakalabas”. (If no one will help you, it’s hard for you to get out of here). And that’s true for those who are preparing to be shipped to Tanay for a longer and more serious detention. One boy told me, “Umamin nalang po ako, para matapos na ang kaso ko”. (I had to plead guilty for my case to move, or else I’ll be stuck here). Because when you fall victim to this dysfunctional system… you either die trying to fight or you just go with the flow. When you’re poor and have no influence, like these boys, you plead guilty to the crime–even if you’re innocent.
But Who Will Hug Them?
When I entered MYRC I immediately saw some of the boys looking through the slits of their holding cells. I didn’t get to go inside, but from where I stood I could tell it was small, dark, and cramped. It’s no place for a child to live in, but their fates led them there–and somehow, my fate took me there to serve them.
At the lobby, to the left of the entrance, I saw a Dental Office. Seeing that, I assumed that work will be scarce for our dental team, but I was wrong. The children didn’t even know that there was a dentist in the facility–and the DSWD officer told me that the dentist hardly sees patients. That’s funny because he was just there and while we were prepping, he approached us and offered help to lighten the load. He looked so cool, with his sunglasses… he called out to one of the boys assigned to help us with sterilization and said, “Kapag may nawala jan, ikaw ang sisisihin ko ah”. (If anything goes missing, it’ll be your fault). Yes, help was given, by insulting the young boy and by working on two out of almost 100 patients that we saw that day. Oh, but he gave us dental anesthesia when we ran out of supplies so I am sincerely grateful for that.
Okay. Sorry if it feels like I’m angry, I’m really not. Mostly I just feel so bad for the children because I’m sure they just want to be loved and cared for. I know good dental service is not going to change their lives… or erase their crimes, but that dentist was hired and placed in that clinic to care for them. What does he do all day? When we were busy working outside? What was he doing in his clinic?
Oh who will hug these children? While they live away from their parents, aren’t their mommies and daddies in the center supposed to take care of them?
I remember being 15-17. At around 16 I was in highschool, throwing tantrums at my mom for withdrawing me from St Paul Pasig, so she could take me to the United Kingdom with the rest of the family. I remember, 1st day of school, I woke up as if I was coming in and I approached the breakfast table in my St Paul uniform. My mom said, “You’re not going to school anymore.” And I said, “I am enrolled. I am going to school.” Almost immediately, she shattered all my highschool plans for the year. We were moving to the UK and I had no say about it anymore.
I think, in general, teens tend to rebel against their parents. My parents were strict. When I was growing up I had to follow very strict rules that my parents enforced. Curfew at 11pm (even when I was in College). No grades lower than 85. Going out was a privelege… not a right. So when my Papa said, “No you cannot go to Limits Disco with your friends.” It meant NO. And he was serious, too, when he said, “No you cannot watch an LFS movie with a bunch of guys”. I hated the rules. I hated their rules and I hated my parents. But as I matured… I realized that the structure they forced on me, did me so much good.
Structure… I wonder what structure the teens of MYRC received to find themselves detained in there? We spoke to someone who came in for murder (the word said almost in a whisper, when he spoke). When asked what happened, he gave us a sad tale of a gang riot that broke; and an improvised shotgun that killed someone while he had it in his hands.
Our team leader also saw a girl who is in there for drugs. She said her mom gave her the drugs to transport, and she got caught. When asked if she knew that what she was carrying were drugs, she said,“Yes”. When nudged further and asked why she accepted it despite her knowing, she said, “Eh mama ko yun eh.” (But she’s my mom). When structure is devoid in the home where it is supposed to be strongest, who keeps these children from losing their way?
In these cases we can only hope and pray. Hope that the system learns to protect and nurture–not just punish. Hope that the system is serious about rehabilitation for these young boys and girls, so that they can turn around and change their lives for the better. Hope that the little time we spent there is enough to remind them of the presence of a Father who loves them in spite of, however, and even though…
“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.“
1 John 4: 9-10