Councilor plans to ask Unicef: ‘Help street kids’

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Monday, January 6, 2014


CEBU CITY -- The Parian Drop-In Center has served 4,702 children since it opened its doors 22 years ago.

Sadly, financial trouble is hounding the center, which is operated by the Children of Cebu Foundation Inc. (CCFI).

In a draft of a letter addressed to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) Philippines, Cebu City Councilor Margarita Osmeña asked for the organization’s help.

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Osmeña is the brainchild behind the drop-in center and the Cebu City Task Force on Street Children (CCTFSC), which is CCFI’s partner in operating the center.

“The center’s financial capability to continue serving our children is fast declining. For the first time in years, donation is getting scarce,” Osmeña said in the letter addressed to Unicef Philippines country representative Tomoo Hozumi.

Grace Yana, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD)-Central Visayas focal person on children, encouraged administrators of the drop-in center to write a letter requesting the DSWD for assistance.

“They may write to our regional office and we will see how we can help,” she told Sun.Star Cebu in a phone interview.

Parian Drop-In Center coordinator Redentor Betito, interviewed separately, enumerated four reasons the foundation’s financial resources are dwindling.

For one, the abolition of the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) has hit the center hard.

Among those who gave part of their PDAF to the center were Senators Francisco “Chiz” Escudero, Francisco “Kiko” Pangilinan and Juan Miguel Zubiri.

16 children

Representative Raul del Mar (Cebu City, north district) and former congressman Tomas Osmeña, the councilor’s husband, also gave parts of their PDAF to the center.

Betito said that sometimes, the center could get as much as P1 million from the PDAF of a legislator.

“We could stretch this for a year because we cannot use the PDAF for the salaries of the staff. We used it for the food and medical care of the children,” said Betito.

There are 16 children in the center now. The youngest is a three-year-old girl whose family lives on the street.

Betito said the girl’s family was convinced to leave the child in the center, where she could have a bed to sleep in every night.

The oldest is a 16-year-old girl from Negros, who came to Cebu City to work as a house help but was maltreated.

Betito said the center is in touch with a social worker from Negros to do a background check on the girl’s family.

Donations

Another reason the center is short of funds is Typhoon Yolanda, which displaced around four million persons when it struck the Visayas last November 8.

“We used to have walk-in donors who just dropped by and gave P10,000 or P20,000 or even a group of students who donated P5,000. We used to be the beneficiaries of benefit shows but that changed with Yolanda,” said Betito.

Yolanda survivors have become the main beneficiaries of donations and benefit shows.

This brought Betito to the third reason, which is the lack of support from an international organization. He said that most of the local organizations have international support so that financial help comes regularly.

Annabeth Cuizon, the former executive director of the CCTFSC, named a Japan-based group, Felissimo Corp., as one of the regular benefactors of the center.

The company sells Philippine-made products and part of its revenue goes to the center.

“In terms of food, the center can manage because there are still donors who occasionally give rice and canned goods. It is in the administrative cost where the foundation needs to raise funds,” Cuizon told Sun.Star Cebu.

Fewer people

This is the fourth reason the center is low on funds.

Betito said there are just seven personnel manning the center, when there used to be as many as 37 from the CCTFSC. The personnel then were under the payroll of the Cebu City Government.

However, the services of some of the personnel from the task force were not renewed starting in 2012.

As of now, the remaining aid from the City to the center is the provision of three guards from the Civil Security Unit (CSU) and a bus driver.

Betito said that the center operates at a cost of P150,000 a month and the bulk pays for the salaries of the three house parents, a social worker, a finance and administrative officer, driver and coordinator.

Betito said the regular donors are still there. But most of the time, it is the CCFI who initiates the process and solicits from the regular benefactors.

Communication

He admits that the center is not low on food, especially since there were many donations last December.

“But we cannot feed the children canned goods and noodles every day,” said Betito.

Mayor Michael Rama, for his part, said he placed Catherine Yso at the CCTFSC so that the task force can communicate with the City Government on the needs of the center.

“Despite the hardships that we are facing, our passion and commitment to serve our less fortunate children remain the same. As we continue to make the children’s lives better through the years, we would like to ask for your help again,” read Councilor Osmeña’s draft letter to Hozumi.

It was unclear when and why the support of Unicef to the center or foundation was cut.

The DSWD’s Yana said the responsibility to provide shelter to homeless children was devolved to the local government units with the passage of the Local Government Code in 1991.

The role of the DSWD is to provide technical assistance and to augment resources.

Temporary

She said the DSWD-Central Visayas used to operate shelters for street children, including one in Cebu City. When the Local Government Code took effect, the DSWD converted the facility in Barangay Labangon into a shelter for abused children.

The other shelters in Toledo City and Dumaguete City in Negros Oriental were turned over to the local government units, through a memorandum of agreement.

Yana said the DSWD does not have a specific budget for shelters for street children but it may help provide the needs of children in Parian Drop-in Center through existing programs such as those offered in the DSWD Crisis Intervention Unit.

“We’ve always encouraged centers run by non-government organizations and local government units to submit a quarterly report to us not just on their accomplishments but also on their problems, so we will know how to help,” Yana said.

When asked until when the center can operate without additional help, Betito was unfazed by the hardship. “This is just a temporary setback,” he said. “I believe that Sto. Niño will provide.” (Sun.Star Cebu)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on January 07, 2014.

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