Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Home Without Bars (Tahanang Walang Rehas)

Street children represent the most disadvantaged and marginalized sectors of society.  Many ran away from difficult home situations, often exacerbated by abuse and extreme poverty. The children with whom the initiators worked with painted a grim picture of the poverty situation of their families. Some of them had spoken of considering it lucky if they were able to eat at least a meal a day.   Levels of stress in the family correlate squarely with economic circumstances. Studies undertaken by experts to determine how mental health of those affected by economic recessions indicated that job loss and subsequent poverty have been found to relate closely with violence in families, including child and elder abuse. Poor families have experienced much more stress than middle-class families. Besides financial uncertainty, these families have more chances of being exposed to series of negative events and would seem to live a life of bad luck including illness, depression, eviction, job loss, criminal victimization, and family death. Parents who have experienced hard economic times may become excessively abusive and often the people at the receiving end of their abuses would be the least powerful members of the family – the children. This was validated by the children themselves in their stories they shared with their new found big brothers and sisters.   

To cope with the hard life in the streets, street children resorted to crimes to survive and most often end up in jail.  Prior to the passage of the Juvenile Justice Bill in 2006,  it was estimated that in  2005 over 4,000 children were in jails and detention centers all over the Philippines  – many of them mixed with adults. Children as young as nine years of age were arrested and detained for many months, even while awaiting the resolution of their cases. Most were charged with minor crimes, such as petty theft, sniffing solvents, and vagrancy. One of the aims of the Justice Bill was to remove children out of the criminal justice system and to keep them out of adult jails.

Helping the children they took under their care that they may not come into conflict with the law was a big challenge to the volunteers. They talked with the parents and together they evolved a way to address the issue. With no resources at their disposal, they sought the help of interested agencies to help them out. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) granted the parents of the children start-up funds to enable them to start small business that t would enable them to earn some income to support their families. DSWD also provided temporary shelter to some of t the kids who would still need to be re-united with their parents. Some agencies also gave scholarship grants to the children to enable them to continue with their interrupted studies. The initiators were happy that their efforts showed results.

They were jubilant with the outcome of their work but the initiators knew that the problem of children in the streets could not be sustainably dealt with if interventions would only be focused in helping children already on the streets and not on strategizing for ways to prevent that from happening. They believed that until the children would be freed from the prison of poverty, abuse, discrimination and oppression, they would  continue to find ways to escape from the walls of those prisons.  Again the initaitors were up to another challenge. It was not enough to just believe. They must turn their belief to action. Confident that they could do it, they set up an organization that would help them put their ideas to work. The Tahanang Walang Rehas (Home Without bars) Foundation, the forerunner of Children First, came into being. The name of the organization spoke of their vision. A home without bars for all children.     

Thursday, October 13, 2011

How It All Started.

They started it all. The initiators with the street children of  Baguio City

An after lunch photo at Burnham Park. The children eating their ice cream dessert.  

Five young people saw the need to address the problem besetting the street children in the City of Baguio, Philippines. Rather than wait for others to do something for the kids, they decided to do what they could to help the children out. We fondly refer to them at Children First as the "Initiators".

They initiators realized that if they were to work at finding ways to help the children, they needed to get to know them better. It was not to be easy. The children had long learned the ways of the street and did not easily trust people. This was especially true with strangers who started being nice to them. In their young minds, they had learned that there was no one there who cared for them. They had only themselves to rely on. Anyone who came bearing gifts was a suspect.

Everyday, they tried to find time to meet with the children and spend at least an hour talking to them. Dipping into their own pockets, they started inviting the kids to picnics in the city park. At the start, the kids just joined the picnic for the food and usually left as soon as they were finished eating but soon they started to linger. The relationship began to change. The kids had found their big brothers and big sisters whom they addressed as such in their greeting not only that they found new friends.

Revisiting the Vision, Mission, Objectives, Programs and Activities of Children First


The Children First International envisions a world society where children's basic human rights are protected and their human dignity upheld.


It is the mission of the Children First International to work with children and for children towards building for themselves a secured future worthy of their human dignity.


A. Facilitate the enabling of people’s organization to establish their own community managed structures, mechanisms and programs that are designed to effectively respond to the needs and problems of children in their communities.

B. Encourage, support, facilitate and implement community-initiated campaigns, advocacy, and participatory action research programs meant to respond to the issues of child labor, children in prostitution, street children, children victims of sexual abuse, children with disability and children victims of armed conflicts.

C. Facilitate the access of children in difficult circumstances to basic health, nutrition, education and other welfare and social services.

D.Encourage, support and facilitate people’s actions promoting children’s right to ecological security and sustainable future.

E. In partnership with the indigenous peoples, develop and implement programs that are designed to promote and protect the interests of indigenous children.

F. Set up a center that would provide the necessary institution-based assistance and service to children victims of sexual violence and other children in difficult circumstances.

G. Facilitate and strengthen networking and solidarity among and between groups advocating for children’s rights and welfare both in the local and international level towards the achievement of a child-friendly world society.

H. Contribute to the over-all struggle of protecting and defending children’s basic human rights.

Programs and Activities

Community Organizing - setting up of community-managed structures and mechanisms that would enable people’s organizations to deliver the needed services to children in their own communities

B. Action Programs - Strategic actions designed to effectively respond to the basic needs and problems of children:

1. Children's Health Project

a. Child to Child Health Project
b. Nutrition Education

c. Children with Disabilities

2. Children Victims of Armed Conflict Survivors Project (In partnership with Peoples Action)

3. Partnership for Development Program

a. Young People to Young People Project
b. Migrants in Partnership with Children in Need Project
c. Celebrities For Children's Cause Project

4. Indigenous Youth Alliance for Culture and Arts (IYACA)

5. Community Action To Stop Child Labor (In partnership with Peoples Action)

6. Children's Action For Environmental Security - CAFES ( In partnership with the Society for Human and Ecological Security)

7. Artists from the Dumps Talent Center

8. Children Against Prejudices (CAP)

C. Research and Documentation - Study of child-related issues in communities and the appropriate interventions.

1. Documentary on the issue of children victims of sexual abuse in the Philippines
2. Documentary on the issue of children victims of prejudice (bullying, homophobia, etc.)

D. Children’s Center - Provision of an institution-based service for children and youth victims of sexual abuse. (In partnership with Huwomanity)

E. Networking - building solidarity relationships with other groups working on children’s concerns both at the local and international level.

F. Campaign/Advocacy - Generate public support and action on children’s issues and concerns.