Thursday, February 14, 2013

Arsenio Children Won't Be 3rd Generation Street Dwellers

Joshua Arsenio, 10 months, will never know
what it is like to live on the street. 
Joshua Arsenio could have spent many of his growing up years on the street like his father.  He could have grown old and died of tuberculosis on the street like his maternal grandfather or could have turned out an armed robber like his uncles. His older sisters Shannawene and Shanamae could have become  druggies like their aunts.  Instead, these children are growing up safe on a rice farm, far away from the dirt, noise, pollution, drugs, and crime of Metro Manila's streets.

Aldrin had a stormy childhood. Unwanted as a baby, his biological mother left him in the care of an older friend, Mommy Virgie, whenever she went off with a man, and came back for him whenever it was convenient. When Aldrin was about eight, his mother finally settled down on the island of Mindoro, bringing Aldrin to live  with her and her new partner.

 Restless even as a young boy, Aldrin got on a boat to Manila  when he was about 11 and found his way back to Mommy Virgie.  Although his mother's friend treated him like one of her own children, she could also be harsh and was once reported by neighbors to the Bantay Bata for hitting Aldrin on the hands with a hammer. Thus Aldrin spent some of his growing years with various foundations that cared for abused children, intermittently running away from them to return to Mommy Virgie's house, or spending nights in parked jeepneys or sleeping on the street.

During one of those nights he met Sonnyboy who influenced him negatively -- taught him how to do drugs --but also did him some good. Sonnyboy introduced Aldrin to a community of street dwellers at a place called Sarimanok,  near Manila Bay. The Sarimanok community was being regularly ministered to by the Kaibigan Ministry of the Center for Community Transformation.

Aldrin was 17 and Rose Ann was 15 when they eloped and began living together at Sarimanok.  Kaibigan Ministry workers reached out to them, introducing them to Jesus, helping them grow both emotionally and in their relationship with God, patiently drawing them back when, on occasion, they went back to their old ways.

The two were among the first few Kaibigan Ministry 'regulars' to show interest in and qualify for resettlement at the Kaibigan Village in Nueva Ecija. Having spent some years living in an agricultural setting back in Mindoro, Aldrin immediately took to farm life. Today, at 22, he oversees the work on a five-hectare rice field. "All-around po ako dito.  Nagtatanim po ako, nag-ooperate ng tractor, nag-papatubig.

Aldrin's eyes shine brightly when he talks of the house he and his family live in.  "Ako po ang nag-ayos niyan," he says pointing to walls covered with sawali (woven bamboo). "Bumili pa po ako ng kurtina!"

He and Rose Ann are married now and are thankful that their children have absolutely no memories of living on the street.

"Napakahirap po sa kalsada.  Lagi kang puyat, pagod, huhulihin ka pa ng pulis.  Lalong mahirap kapag umuulan. Sobra-sobra ang pasasalamat namin na hindi na lalaki sa kalsada ang mga anak namin," Aldrin says.    

Shannawene, three, with her parents.
She  was a baby when her parents left
the streets of Pasay and has no memories of
street life. 

The Arsenios use a solar lamp to light their home
 which is still off-grid.  The lamp (shown at
 lower right) is also a cell phone charger,
 a real  blessing to neighbors --
having their cell phones charged here saves
them a trip to a charging station. 

Aldrin,  here clearing away  banana stalks on
the edge of a rice farm can literally claim the promise
in Isaiah 65:21b -  

 and they shall plant vineyards and eat the fruit of them.