Miracles in Manila,
thanks to Hawaii group

The Alger Foundation helps the Filipino
poor, offering shelter, vision, hope

By Susan Kreifels

MANILA -- The Rev. Rocky Evangelista spread the weapons on his desk: a jagged tomahawk, a razor-sharp butterfly knife, rusty brass knuckles, an ice pick. The survival kit of Manila streets.

The boys who carried them had been abandoned by family, government and society. They were victims of crime syndicates, pedophiles and police. Yes, the young priest admitted, some of the 93 boys who lived in his shelter for street children had killed -- five people whom he knew about, maybe more.

But "when the bad become good," Evangelista said sincerely, "they're really good. If you don't redirect their lives you have potential bombs. They must have a vision."

Vision is a word heard frequently at the 50 Philippine projects sponsored by the Alger Foundation, a Hawaii-based, nonprofit organization that spends $5 million to $6 million a year on projects to help poor and abused women, children and families. About 75 percent of the funding goes to the Philippines, the rest to Hawaii. The foundation was established in 1988 by the late Consuelo Zobel Alger.

Two years ago, the foundation was one of 13 nonprofit groups around the world to be featured on a Public Broadcasting System TV series called "Visionaries."

Alger visions are on the cutting edge of social reform in the Philippines, where the benefits of an emerging economy have yet to trickle down to the poor. Its projects have raised the national consciousness on a number of social issues like juvenile justice, street children, sexually abused children and squatter resettlement. The foundation received a 1996 Presidential Award for Filipino Individuals and Organizations Overseas from President Fidel Ramos.

Patti Lyons, president and chief executive officer of the Alger Foundation, speaks almost mystically about its success.

"There have been so many miracles," said Lyons, who headed Child & Family Service before going to the foundation in 1990.

'A shower of roses'

Alger was a Filipino American who had lived in Hawaii for 20 years with her husband, Army Gen. James Dyce Alger. Consuelo Alger was an heir of the Ayala family, one of the richest families in the Philippines. She had no children and decided that her greatest legacy would be to help children and families. Alger, who died of cancer in 1990, devoted virtually all of her fortune to start the foundation in 1988.

Trying to pattern her life after St. Therese of the Child Jesus, she told Lyons that she wanted to "let fall from heaven a shower of roses. ... I will spend my heaven doing good on Earth."

Many of the 93 boys, ages 8 to early 20s, who live in Evangelista's Tuloy Foundation for street children believe they have been blessed by the foundation. "Tita Patti is a gift from God," said Ron, 22, who lives at the shelter.

Ron, who didn't give his last name, had lived on Manila streets for a year before the Tuloy staff, mostly volunteers, approached him one night last year and asked if he wanted to stay at the shelter.

"Drugs, prostitution, stealing for syndicates," said Ron, who kept his eyes down as he described life on the streets. "We don't want to do these things but just to live. xxx If you try to leave, they will kill you. You must be king of yourself to survive."

Ron wants to be a teacher now that "life has meaning."

When the boys arrive, "they're il,15p,5p not human beings anymore," Evangelista said. "They don't have human feelings. They've lost their sense of smell" from eating out of garbage bins.

None is coerced to come to the shelter or to give up weapons. Trusting them is the key: Everything here is voluntary. As the boys decide they want to stay, the rules become stricter.

"First we just make them feel good, then do good, then do better, then dream," Evangelista said.

What makes the shelter different is that "we prepare them for life," he said. They are educated on values and self-worth, mechanics and carpentry. The staff helps them find jobs and places to live after they leave.

75,000 on the streets

An estimated 75,000 young people live on the streets. Tuloy's retention rate is 45 percent compared to 10 percent at locked government shelters. Evangelista's dream is to build a version of Boys Town in the United States.

Last January three boys, ages 12 and 13, were accused by their principal of stealing chocolates from their school canteen in Manila. The police were called and the boys ended up in a prison with adult criminals for a month.

"We have a system that doesn't understand children," said Ray Dean Salvosa, president and chief executive officer of Child & Family Service Philippines Inc. "There is no justice for children."

Salvosa, with help from the Alger Foundation, started a home for sexually abused children and focuses on legal rights of children. "Victims of rape and incest came, more than we ever imagined," Salvosa said. "Too many mothers work abroad, leaving kids with fathers and stepfathers. There is a traditional taboo against prosecuting this."

Police, prosecutors, judges and social agencies lack training to deal with abused children or those in trouble with the law. The juvenile court system was abolished in 1973 and incorporated into family courts.

Salvosa, with the help of the foundation, Child & Family Service in Hawaii, the East-West Center and the Honolulu Police Department, trained a Baguio policewoman to deal with abused children. Salvosa sat in on juvenile court hearings in Honolulu, watching various agencies discuss the future of children.

"You give kids every possible chance," he said. "You don't see that in my country."

Salvosa has set up a Child Advocacy Program in Baguio and has been asked to train police, judges and social workers. "We're setting a trend," Salvosa said, referring to Alger-funded programs.

An investment in the future

Eighty-seven youths from squatter families gathered at an old hacienda outside Bacolod City on Negros island. They had never been out of their village of San Carlos, a two- to three-hour bus ride away. To buy them new T-shirts and towels for this three-day trip was a major investment for their poor families.

But it was an investment in their future.

The three days were spent on "visioning" -- breaking out of their shell of poverty to see a bigger picture.

Daniel Urquico, chief operating officer of Alger Foundation in the Philippines, told these youths of the slums they could be leaders and make a difference.

"You can be one who makes things happen or watch things happen," Urquico told them.

The Alger Foundation is helping relocate close to 1,000 squatter families on Negros. Government resettlement has often been violent and provided nothing to help sustain relocated families. Urquico hopes the Alger project "can be a model to move peacefully."

"The Philippines is looking more to the poor because the poor are demanding it," Urquico said. "Since the end of Marcos, nongovernment organizations are teaching them to know their rights."

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
Tita Miller hugs her mother, wearing the lei, as family cheers on.
They just surprised mom and dad with a new home they built with
sweat equity in the Ke Aka Ho'ona housing project
in Waianae, funded by the Alger Foundation.

Foundation helps
isle people, too

By Susan Kreifels

When Evan James and Yolanda Campos Burke moved into their new Waianae home in May, they knew every nail, board and puttied hole in it. They also knew the same about the homes of their seven neighbors.

For 10 months, they and seven other couples spent every Saturday and Sunday, 10 hours a day, building eight homes. The payoff: the keys to the houses and affordable mortgage payments.

"I never thought I'd own a home, maybe in 10 years," said Evan Burke, 28. The couple and their two daughters had lived with family to save money.

The Ke Aka Ho'ona housing project is funded by the Alger Foundation. It offers low-income families the chance to own homes if they're willing to swing a hammer and sweat in the Waianae sun. Twenty-eight families live in the housing project, and plans call for a total 76 homes. The first families arrived in 1994.

To qualify, families must earn 80 percent of the state's median income or below and must pass stringent requirements. But the commitment goes beyond the supervised construction work on weekends. Alger believes in building communities as well as houses, and the families must sign a covenant calling for a community free of violence, drugs and alcohol.

They must promise that they and their children will give back to the community and to the needy through volunteer service.

"I love the rules," said Leihua Kaauwai, whose family earned their home in 1994. "I want my children to be winners, but they have to follow rules. I want them to be productive members of the community."

Last year the Alger Foundation became the first Hawaii organization to win a nationwide Peter F. Drucker Foundation Award for Nonprofit Innovation, named after the renowned business management expert.

Joey Kahala, project manager, said 200 families applied for eight houses during the last round. Some have overcome many obstacles to own their homes. One single parent of five shared the construction work with her mother. Another woman, who didn't graduate from high school, became the first of 16 children in her family to own a home.

The homes are worth about $57,000 and the land, which families can buy later, about $72,000, Kahala said.

Families said mortgage payments run from $484 to $600 a month.

Alger also sponsors programs for children and youth, helps pay for summer education programs, and offers adult classes on stress, money management and other coping skills.

Kaauwai said Ke Aka Ho'ona families gathered at Alger's grave over Memorial Day to "talk story" and to reflect on the gifts she left them.

"There's never a day that goes by that I don't count my blessings," Kaauwai said.

"We live the values we learned in the program.

"I'm so grateful to give back to people what was given to me."

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