DISPATCHES FROM THE PHILIPPINES
CRAIG GIMA / CGIMA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Young children at the Kalinga ng Ama shelter for children are taught by volunteer teachers in this classroom.
Donations from isles lift shelter for kids
DAGUPAN CITY, Philippines » It was a visit that almost did not happen. A last-minute schedule change brought visitors from Hawaii to meet children with eyes that now shine with hope.
About 30 children who have been abused or abandoned by their parents or were living on the street have a home at the Kalinga ng Ama Shelter for Children in Pangasinan.
Star-Bulletin reporter Craig Gima is on assignment in the Philippines, where Gov. Linda Lingle is leading an official visit to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Filipino immigration to Hawaii.
The shelter was built by the United Pangasinan Association of Hawaii in 2004 to mark the sister-state relationship of Hawaii and the province.
The name of the shelter means "serving for the Lord" in Tagalog.
"You go there, you don't have any clothes, they give you clothes and then they feed you," said Devero Compos, 15, who was abused by his father and now lives at the shelter. He hopes to become a nurse one day.
Jason Apostol, 16, was abandoned by his parents when he was 2 years old. An aunt took care of him until she also was unable to provide for him.
He hopes to finish school in two years and keep trying to find his parents.
If it were not for the shelter, he would be "in the streets doing nothing," Apostol said.
It feels good to live at the shelter, he said, "because someone cares for me."
It costs Kalinga ng Ama about $850 a month to run the shelter, said operations manager Kathryn Santiago.
Making ends meet can sometimes be a struggle, Santiago said. They will get an extra day out of a bag of rice that normally lasts three days, by making porridge. Sometimes the staff, mostly volunteers, will cut back on their food so that the children can eat, she said.
The center gets a little less than $20 a month per child from the government. Kalihi Union Church provides the only regular contributions of $150 a month. A group from Kalihi Union Church, led by state Rep. Dennis Arakaki, raises money and sends volunteers to Pangasinan each year to make improvements to the facility.
Gov. Linda Lingle was originally scheduled to make a quick visit to the shelter to present a $3,500 donation from people and companies in Hawaii before leaving on a helicopter to Manila for other meetings.
But she was unable to make it because of a last-minute schedule change, and people in the delegation who support the center pushed for a longer visit to the shelter.
When about 50 people from the Hawaii delegation, elected officials and other citizens who are along for the tour arrived, they were greeted by singing children who swarmed around them. Some pressed the hands of visitors to their foreheads in a gesture of greeting and thanks.
The center started out as a street ministry, Santiago told them, but just counseling street children was not enough. They needed to remove some of them from the streets. That was when the Hawaii donation enabled them to build Kalinga ng Ama.
The children performed a skit that showed how they were rescued from the streets.
It brought some in the delegation to tears.
Someone started passing around a bucket to fill with cash donations.
When it came time to present the official check, people started offering more money.
Alma Mila Medallon and her son Rod pledged to double the $3,500. Other people wrote more checks.
Maria Etrata said she would give $500 a year, every year, for the rest of her life.
"My heart went out to those kids," she said. "Growing up without family, nobody to care for them other than the shelter. I didn't want those kids to grow up without anyone to care for them."
Arakaki estimates more than $10,000 was raised in the hour-long visit.
The money will be used to help build a medical and dental clinic on the property to serve the children and the surrounding community, Santiago said.
"We've been praying for a long, long time. It must be God," she said of the Hawaii visit. "It's a miracle."