A better future for Filipino children
By Jess Far
In the Philippines, there is a huge number of streetchildren roaming the streets. UNICEF, through its Child Protection Section, is working with government, NGOs and communities to uphold the rights of these children and give them a new lease on life.
I didn’t really know who Charley Boorman was when I first heard he was visiting the Philippines. I only learned more about Charley when my colleague Marge Francia, Communications Specialist of UNICEF Philippines, informed me about his involvement in UNICEF as UK National Goodwill Ambassador. When I heard I will be accompanying him on his first field visit here, I considered it a great opportunity not only to meet him in person but also to join him in action and tell him how we are helping children here.
Together with the crew of his new show By Any Means, I took Charley to film UNICEF’s street children program. I have been working as UNICEF child protection officer for several years with special focus on streetchildren. In the Philippines, there are around 250,000 streetchildren, many of them adolescents whose parents have separated. Curiously, these children are on the streets not mainly because of poverty, but because of unfavorable family conditions such as physical or domestic abuse. You will be surprised at how creative and resilient they have become from their life on the streets, but yes, they are still children who long for play and interaction, and who yearn for compassionate adults who will care for them.
As part of our child protection work in UNICEF Philippines, we partner with government and non government organizations to help look after these children. We help them through direct services such as street education classes and psychosocial support, capacity building such as trainings for street educators or social workers, and also through advocacy so that their rights will be looked after.
For this trip, I took Charley to see an Alternative Learning Session (ALS) being implemented in partnership with Childhope Asia Philippines, a local NGO. In this interaction, Charley joined a group of out-of-school youth on their outdoor ALS class in Binondo Plaza, Manila. I saw that Charley was a natural when it came to bonding with children, and admired how he could easily relate with them and their problems. He formed a unique bond with Jason, a street child. Jason recalls his difficult life as a street child—he doesn’t even know where his real parents are. He brought Charley to the places he frequented such as the Divisoria public market where he was forced to work with fellow street children. Jason also showed him his sleeping space – folded boxes laid on the ground next to where delivery trucks are parked – where Jason takes refuge to endure chilly nights sometimes coupled with rain. This is the reality that touched Charley’s heart.
Charley also had a conversation with Butch, himself a former street child who is now a street educator facilitating the ALS. Butch explained that despite the challenges his work with street children brings, he is very motivated to encourage them to attend the ALS, having come from a life of hardship himself.
It was a great seeing Charley empathizing with the street children he met during that day. It was also inspiring for me to see how people like him genuinely care for vulnerable children. He said he has high hopes and optimism for them. He firmly believes that collaboration among local organizations in the country, as well as the participation of street children and their families will pave the way for a better future for all of them. With UNICEF helping working with the government, NGOs and other partners, we hope that we all can make this happen—by any means.