An oasis for street children

ABTANAN sa Kaluoy (ASK) or “Oasis of Mercy” is the response of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Cebu to the problem of children living in the streets of the city. It is a five-storey (including the roof deck) building within the compound of the St. Joseph the Patriarch Parish in Mabolo, Cebu City which expects to be open by mid-June.

According to project coordinator Maria Georgia Cogtas, the purpose of the building is to be an activity center with the following services:

• Profiling and late registration of live births

• Bathing and hygiene

• Medical and dental services

• Feeding programs

• Fun play activities for kids

• Values formation and good citizenship training

• Informal academics and tutorial.

It is not a dormitory, emphasized Cogtas, but in case of an emergency, children can be housed there.

Cogtas said that when the program of ASK formally begins, it will gather six children from each of the city’s barangays for a day’s activity that will include profiling assessing each of the children. If they need baths or haircuts, that will be given them, as well as medical and dental care. They will have space to run around and play. There will be informal lessons in the arts. Children-appropriate movies may be shown. Other activities will be organized “to encourage learning good moral values, good citizenship.” There will be exercises for physical fitness and, of course, prayers. When the day activities end, the children will be brought back to their respective barangays.

Children need not be Catholics to be beneficiaries of this program. Cogtas further explained that ASK will essentially be “a training ground for the children to be integrated back to society; for the children to go back and stay in school to finish their studies; to give the children self-dignity; to learn core values and for them to realize their dreams.”

A companion program to ASK is the Sakyanan sa Kaluoy or “Vehicle of Mercy,” so some children can be met and helped where they are. According to Cogtas, the hope also is for the presence of the vehicle in the parish to encourage the priests there to do their own outreach for the street children in their area of responsibility, even if it is simply by making it possible for the children to take baths.

Abtanan is not yet operating, and the rooms, though ready for occupancy, were mostly empty of furnishing—though there are school-type chairs in the first floor hallway. But the place is really ready for occupancy (except for the exteriors, meaning the surrounding grounds, and the roof deck which needs an interlink enclosure for safety). In fact, it had already housed more than a hundred delegates to the recently concluded National Youth Day activities, delegates who, in the spirit of the place they were in, also reached out to about a hundred street children for a taste of what Abtanan will offer them when it opens.

The children in the Abtanan program are encouraged to go back to school. When they do, they can visit Abtanan anytime if they need tutorials, to research for their lessons or whatever else they may need. Executive director of the program is Rev. Fr. Carmelo Diola.


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