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For the love of the street children of Cebu

By: Patricia Erlaine N. Luardo, Rosalie Abatayo August 06,2017 - 10:39 PM

The Spring Rain Voices together with the Classic Youth Orchestra and the Mandaue Children’s Choir perform during the Philantrophy in Music concert at the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Roque Parish in Mambaling. (CDN PHOTO/CHRISTIAN MANINGO)

Melame Carza, 9, still does not know how to read as she has just started to learn the basics, entering the public school system for the first time as a Grade One pupil at the Pardo Elementary School in Barangay Pardo, Cebu City.

Melame has six older siblings, none of whom has completed the elementary education.

Their mother left them for Manila when Melame was four, while their father barely has enough money to buy them food and rent the small room that they are occupying at the densely populated sub-village of Alaska in Barangay Mambaling, Cebu City.

Thus, school was the least of her family’s priorities.

Melame says she also wasn’t able to go to school because she doesn’t have a birth certificate.

Fortunately for Melame, she has a priest on her side, Fr. Mhar Vincent Balili.

It was Father Balili, the parish priest of San Roque Parish in Mambaling, who processed her credentials and gave her the chance to get a formal education through the parish’s program, “Atong Gugma Alang sa Kabataan” (Agak), which means “our love for children.” (Agak is also a Cebuano word that means “to help”
or “to assist.”)
Melame is only one face of the more than 60 street kids under Agak who long to be given the chance to study, realize their dreams and live a future where they don’t have to beg for alms and sleep on sidewalks.

Sound of music

The children’s dreams take a step closer to getting realized with Philanthropy in Music, a concert for a cause of the Spring Rain Voices with the Classic Youth Orchestra and Mandaue Children’s choir held on the night of July 29, a Saturday, at the Archdiocesan Shrine of San Roque Parish, Mambaling.

The church reverberates with the sound of music, of the choir singing Disney favorites — Can You Feel the Love tonight, Something There, and When You Believe; worship songs, such as the Lord’s Prayer, Prayer of St. Francis, O Señor Santo Niño, Pie Jesu and Tears in Heaven; as well as inspirational songs Like an Eagle, and You Were There.

The orchestra was conducted by world-renowned music lecturer and pianist, Dr. Rey Roa.

Balili says he was first hesitant to accept the offer of Glenda Miro-Antonio, the chief operating officer of Spring Rain Voices, to hold the concert because of the production cost.

But Balili says Antonio decided to take on the task of raising the fund and making the concert happen mainly because she believes in the goals and aspirations that gave birth to Agak, alongside her personal advocacy of philanthropy in music.

“We (San Roque Parish) did not spend anything, even in the ticket printing,” reveals Balili.

The parish priest says he was grateful to audience who spent their time and resources to see the event. The tickets were sold at P1,000, P500, P300 and P100.

The proceeds of the concert will solely be for the benefit of the children and their families, according to Balili.

The help

Of the 60 children beneficiaries, Balili says they hope to send 10 children to school and provide the parents of all the Agak beneficiaries with a livelihood program under the condition that they will look after their children’s education and welfare.

“Mohatag pud tag mga pagkaon, bugas, kay kaning mga street children aron makaskwela sila, kinahanglan man nig nutrition. Kana ang problema ani nila wa ni silay kaon (We will also give them food, rice, because these children need nutrition when they go to school. That’s the problem because they cannot eat regularly),” says Balili.

At present, the parish is offering the kids with a feeding program, catechism, daily tutorial and aids for them to attend school.

Balili hopes that Agak’s programs will continue even after his term in the parish ends in 2019, through the help of Agak volunteers coming from the parish’s lay organizations.

The volunteers

Agak Volunteers president Leobena Marine is a public elementary school teacher but finds time to do volunteer work for Agak, saying it is their love for the kids in Agak’s care that keeps her and the other volunteers going in tending to the children.

“Kanang mga istorya nga simple lang pero ma-touch g’yud ka ba. Makita man gud nimo na nag kinahanglan g’yud ning mga bata more than sa pagkaon nga ilang madawat, sa mga material things. It is the simple nga pagtawag nila, sa paggakos,” said Marine.

(Their simple words that would really touch you. You can really see that they need you more than the food that they receive, the material things. It is the simple gesture of calling them, embracing them.)

Marine cites one of the street children’s words to Archbishop Jose Palma as they celebrated Agak’s first anniversary in April: “Father Bishop (Palma), salamat kaayo ha nga bisan namatay na akong papa nakaanhi gihapon ko’g Jollibee.”

(Father Bishop, thank you so much that even if my father is already dead, I could still come to Jollibee.)

According to Marine, Agak, previously called the Parish Outreach to the Less Fortunate Children (POLFC), was formed to flesh out the Year of Mercy in the Catholic Church Calendar. POLFC was renamed to Agak when Balili came to the parish in 2016.

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