JESSA Mae had just graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in business administration from John Paul II College last March.

A former gang member who frequented the streets more than school, she saw no good in her future and was about ready to just waste away. But she found support from the Tambayan Center for Children’s Rights, a non-government organization working with less privileged and discriminated adolescent girls in the street with ages ranging from 9 to 17 years old.

Dysfunctional family

Jessa is the third among six siblings, her father works as a fisherman while her mother is a housewife. Her parents were always fighting due to scarcity of money. They cannot even have three meals a day. She found solace with her friends.

“Muuli lang ko sa balay para mukaon sa una gikan ug laag, unya pag-abot pa jud sa balay walay pagkaon so mag laag napud uban ang barkada (I’d go home just to eat, but when I find that there’s no food, I’d go out again with my friends),” she said.

Her parents separated when she was in fourth grade. Her mother went to General Santos City leaving them with her father who was not into caring for them and would just go out fishing.

“Akong huna-huna kay: asa man ko paadto ani uy, akong mama wala ug akong papa feel nako dili pud maasahan (I’ve often wondered, where will I end up in; with my mother not with us and my father unable to fend for us),” she added.

With her barkadas in a gang, she would find herself in physical fights with other girl gangs. These fights would be a free for all; all her fears are forgotten because of the thought that she had nothing to lose anyway.

After two years, her parents got back together, but this did not work out. Her mother even sought protection order from the barangay to keep their father away.

She saw her dream of a whole family crumbled and school was not enticing as she was bullied there. Thus, her family was her barkada on the streets.

When she was 14, Jessa’s friend referred her to Tambayan. Her main motivation for joining was because there’s free food and one can also take a bath there. That was enticement enough.

How they work

Starting way back in 1996 here in Davao City but has now also expanded in Digos City, Tambayan, according to Carla Canarias, Tambayan advocacy officer, had developed a holistic approach to street adolescents; not as somebody to extend charity to, but as a partner in their growth.

“We treat children not as objects but as partners knowing that children have their own abilities to decide. They have brilliant ideas but they have to be given opportunities to enhance their talents because in the first place, they know what they want,” she said in the vernacular.

To change a child, it is not enough to just encourage the child to change. The community itself has to change.

Jessa started to be a part of their educational assistance when she was in high school. Girls who opt to return to school get school supplies, uniforms, and school shoes during the beginning of the school year.

If they reach October without dropping out, they get a small allowance as incentive, P25 a day. This assistance is a partnership between the parents and teachers to ensure and motivate the child to stay in school and for the parents to also get involved along the way.

Canarias said the children do not require to maintain a certain grade in school to get assistance. All the girls need to do is stay in school.

Every end of the year, Tambayan holds 'Pagdayeg', a recognition program for all who finish a school year. The girls are treated to a field trip as well.

From the less than 50 percent who made it through one school year when they first started their education assistance, now, survival rate in school is 70 percent. Those who were assisted in high school are offered further assistance for tertiary education – this can be a college course or a technical-vocational course.

Jessa, is the first four-year coursed graduate supported by Tambayan, she is also the first in their family to finish college.

Other than their educational assistance, Tambayan also conducts different workshops for their children contacts from time to time.

Changing the community landscape

Now 22, Jessa said that Tambayan helped her regain her self-esteem.

"They made us feel important through their support and providing for our needs in school even in our projects. We feel that they want us to graduate," Jessa said in the vernacular.

She added that with the intervention of Tambayan, which makes it a point to include parents in all their girls’ activities, she became closer to her mother. The sad part, however, is her mother died before she could graduate.

Canarias said that they are doing what they can do to create an impact in the community, because like other non-government organizations, they cannot stay “forever” as they are just living out through support.

“We look forward to the time when our projects and services are replicated by the community, by the barangays themselves,” she said.

As for Jessa, the community who used to pull her down and discouraged her to dream now respects her. She now looks forward to landing her first job and showing the other girls that there is a better future for them.

“Dili tanan na niagi dira, dira ra (Not all who go through that, will stay like that),” she said.