Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Streetkids on the beat

They sleep, wake up, walk, sit, run, play, eat--if ever they get to eat--on the streets of Manila. They are the streetkids of Manila. They dress shabbily, if they are lucky enough to have clothes to put on. They are even luckier if they had some kind of footwear as they hit the streets. During summertime, they look even dirtier and their sun-drenched bodies emit even a stronger smell than they do the rest of the year as there’s hardly any rain to at least wash down the stickiness from their young bodies. But the rainy months are a different story for these kids. Its bath-galore time under the rain, and the streets are an instant swimming pool of floodwaters where the kids can jump in and out with wild abandon. Never mind the murky smell and dark color of the waters, that’s good enough for these kids whose heads happily bob in and out of the waters all around, oblivious to some vehicles still trying to negotiate the streets hidden underneath. They are the streetkids of Manila. They run after vehicles, tap on the windows, hands outstretched for alms. They tail pedestrians, poke a finger on passerby to get their attention, the other hand outstretched for alms. They get hold of something resembling a rag, get up on passenger jeeps during the red light, kneel to wipe the footwear of the passengers, then stand up with hands outstretched for alms. They are the streetkids of Manila. They hungrily watch customers gulping their food and drinks at fastfood joints, their runny noses pressing against the restaurants’ cold glass walls that seem to separate the haves and the have-nots. They mix with the crowd at the markets, outside malls, at the parks, at the churches, virtually anywhere where there are people. Hands outstretched, they ask for money to buy bread, to buy food, "kahit konting barya lang po" (even just some loose change), they will usually say. There are some who are moved by the weary eyes looking directly at them and so fork out a few centavos or pesos. But there are also those who are reluctant to help these kids lest they just end up either gambling the money, or turning over their day’s collection to some syndicate whose “big boss” had actually let them loose on the streets. Every now and then, an agency rounds up these kids and places them in shelters. But if, indeed, some of them are able to start a new life through the shelters, other children soon take their place on the streets, with similar hunger and need for care. Every Christmas season, there is sure to be charitable groups that will hold gift-giving sessions left and right for these kids, with some entertainment thrown in. But after those events, the kids are again left to look after their own welfare. Some organizations do try to have a longer-term assistance for the kids, but the funds aren’t always enough, and the kids are always very many. Most of these kids are hardly literate. Most were born on the streets, as their parents, and their parents’ parents, were also born there. There’s no telling if the streetkids of this generation will also build their own families on the streets, or will also perish from this Earth on the streets. Every now and then, the news carries an item on some adult street inhabitant discovered already frozen dead on a street corner where she or he is usually seen begging or hanging around.

Just last night, while I was waiting for a jeepney ride on Visayas Ave., Quezon City, a very slim woman passed by in front of me, with three small very hungry-looking and dirty-looking kids tagging along with her. It was a pitiful sight. I remembered I had inside my shoulder bag leftover food from lunch I was about to bring home. I groped for the plastic bag that contained the food, and called out to the woman to give it to her. Her eyes lit up, and she gave her sweetest smile. "Salamat po (thank you)," she said. The kids quickly dived their small hands into the bag. I wish i could have done more.

’s streetkids, what’s in store for them? If citizens of this country want to know the real state of their nation, they need only to look out to the streets and watch as the streetkids do their daily (and nightly) beat.

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