Diane Anson spent a month in the Philippines working with street children and those who had been abused, both of whom are in need of social services that are in desperately short supply.
As part of Cumbria’s staff development programme I was chosen by the Rotary Foundation to be part of a team of five professionals that spent a month in the Philippines in 2002. I stayed in three main cities, Manila, Pasay and Cavite, and on the island of Mindoro, meeting social workers, voluntary workers, teachers, lawyers, politicians and children and families.
I visited a unit called Ahon Bata, a home (a makeshift shelter made from a disused warehouse) for street children arrested near the airport. The social worker said that it was difficult keeping children here as they simply ran away back to the street. There were, however, three young men living there who no longer used drugs and who attended school regularly. The only way out of poverty is clearly through education.
I also visited Nayon Kabataan, a shelter for 125 abused and exploited children cared for by house mothers in 30 units. All these children had been abused, including some who had been sold by their parents to work for people who had then abused them. They are unable to return home and foster families are few.
The government provides little money to deal with the problem and there is a shortage of government-employed social workers. A policy maker told me that social welfare is only sixth on the government’s list of priorities, with defence and education first and second respectively.
There is no welfare state, no council housing, no unemployment benefit, no income support, no national health service and no child benefit. When people say they have nothing, that is exactly what they mean. Many families move from the villages into Manila thinking they will find work and make a better life, only to find themselves living in squatters’ housing – small wooden shacks alongside the railways or polluted rivers – unable to find work and with no money to return home.
I travelled to a Catholic island run by volunteers through donations devoted totally to the care of abandoned children and elderly people. I also went to day-care centres where hundreds of children each day receive free education and where parents were keen to learn parenting skills. I took part in feeding programmes organised by the rotary clubs providing cooked food for those who had none. One orphanage that cared for 85 sick children was run by six Catholic nuns and six volunteers.
In contrast I visited the huge rubbish tip just outside Manila known as Smokey Mountain. This was something I will never forget. I saw adults and children clambering among the rubbish making their living by searching for plastics, paper and metal for recycling. People live here and survive by eating from the rubbish. It strikes home just how privileged I feel to live in a country where we have a welfare system and free education and health care.
I know that there are children living in third-world poverty experiencing abuse of many kinds but there are also unknown numbers of people trying to help give them a voice.
Diane Anson is a youth offending officer with Cumbria social services.
- Republic of the Philippines covers 300,000 sq km (about a third again the size of the UK) and has a population of 81.2 million.
- Ethnic groups: Christian Malay 91.5 per cent, Muslim Malay 4 per cent, Chinese 1.5 per cent and others 3 per cent.
- Religions: Roman Catholic 83 per cent, Protestant 9 per cent, Muslim 5 per cent, Buddhist and others 3 per cent.
- Languages: Filipino (official, based on Tagalog), English (official).