MANILA, Philippines – Thirty-four-year old Niño Constantino never thought that a pandemic would give him the chance to redeem himself.
From being a vagrant who eschewed a purposeful life, Constantino found himself becoming a “house parent” in a shelter for homeless people like him who are trying to keep themselves alive as the deadly virus rages on.
Constantino is in charge of the shelter in Malate Catholic School which now takes care of 96 homeless people. The school is among the substitute shelters born after authorities forced the closure of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center in Manila last March, citing community quarantine rules.
Kalinga, which stands for Kain at Ligo nang Ayos, or “eat and bathe properly“, has become a caring haven for hundreds of homeless people in the city since Fr Flavie Villanueva, SVD, set it up in 2015. It was in Kalinga where they had decent meals twice a week and took a bath to feel refreshed.
Kalinga center also provided a holistic formation program to help individuals recreate their self-image and restore their self-worth.
Constantino said that he went to Kalinga center during the lockdown as a beneficiary, not thinking that he would be given the responsibility to care for others.
“Sa akin naman, una talaga di pa ako ready pero kakayanin ko po. Naghahanap ako ng paghuhugutan ng lakas para sa mga taong nangangailangan. Bilang house parent, sa akin nakasalalay ang inventory of goods, repacking, pagpapakain. Sa akin nakaatas, ako ang pinaka-tatay dito sa loob. Pag may mga problema, inaayos ko,” Constantino said.
(I am not really ready for this but I will do my best. I find strength from everything around me so that I can help those who need help. As a house parent, my responsibilities include the inventory of goods, repacking, and feeding. I am the father figure here. If there are any problems, I fix them.)
“Pag nasa kalsada nandoon ang temptation, naging addict ako, pagala-gala lang. Ang usual na ginagawa ng taong kalye, pag nakakuha ng konting pera ibibisyo pa,” Constantino added.
(There’s temptation in the streets. I became an addict, I was a vagrant. I do what a street dweller does. Whenever I got a little money, I’d spend it on vices.)
Constantinto sees his role at the Malate shelter as a chance to show his worth and prove to his family that he has changed. He hopes that they can welcome him back into their home after the lockdown.
Villanueva called house parents like Constantino “BeVolts or beneficiary volunteers”.
“The beautiful thing is, among the beneficiaries who have come and gone, there are special people who decided that they would want to graduate from ‘lingap’ and they would want to volunteer,” Villanueva said of the BeVolts.
The BeVolts are assigned to serve as house parents in 8 different safe shelters caring for over 400 homeless guests.
Another house parent, Roel Estrada, 39, started going to Kalinga center in 2017. Volunteering has allowed him to graduate from high school through the center’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) program.
“Malaki ang nabago sa buhay ko kasi noong una hindi ako makauwi sa amin, kala nila habang buhay ganoon na ako. Buong barangay sa amin hindi natutulog pag umuuwi ako kasi binabantayan ako, ngayon hindi na ganon. Nakikita nila maayos na ako ngayon,” Estrada said.
(My life has changed a lot because at first, I couldn’t even go back to our house. They thought I’d be the same person forever. Our entire village was on guard and did not sleep whenever I was there. But now, they see I am a better person.)
As a BeVolt, Estrada is in charge of delivering daily needs to various shelters and bringing those with medical conditions to the hospital.
“Masaya ako pag nakakatulong ako, lalo na pag nakakarinig ng salamat sa mga beneficiaries, na o-overwhelm ako ng husto,” Estrada said.
(I am happy whenever I am able to help, especially when I hear a ‘thank you’ from the beneficiaries. I get overwhelmed.)
At the College of St. Benilde where there are 64 guests, Lorena Fortu finds herself not just attending to their daily needs but imparting lessons she picked up from her own formation at Kalinga center.
“Sa totoo lang hindi ako handa sa naibigay sa aking responsibilidad pero sabi nga nila misyon so kailangan tanggapin at gawin. Ako ang tumutulong sa mga tao dito, tinuturuan silang makisama sa kapwa, magpasenya, gumalang. Although nahihirapan ako pero kinakaya ko naman po,” Fortu said.
(In truth, I am not ready for the responsibility given to me. But as they say, this is a mission so I need to accept it and do it. I help the people here. I teach them to act together, have patience, be respectful. Although, I also have a hard time but I give my best.)
She said the trust given to her allowed her to regain confidence in herself and in others despite her painful past. At Kalinga, she learned to pray.
“Nabago ang sarili ko kasi doon ako natutong humawak ng bible, natutong magdasal at bumalik ang tiwala sa sarili, lalo na sa Panginoon na hindi ko Sya kilala noon. Sa Kalinga, natutunan kong tanggapin ang pagkakamali ko at natuto akong magtiwala ulit sa tao at higit sa Diyos,” Lorena added.
(I was able to change myself because it was there where I learned to hold the bible, where I learned to pray and be able to trust myself again and especially trust the Lord because I didn’t know Him before. In Kalinga, I learned to accept my mistakes and I learned to trust others and most especially, God.) – Rappler.com
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