‘Sakyanan sa Kaluoy’
With a thumbs-up sign, Umberto emerged from the shower with a huge smile. This was no ordinary shower but one of four mounted on the left side of a 17-foot long body of an Isuzu Elf. “Sakyanan sa Kaluoy” (“Vehicle of Mercy”) or SSK is a mobile service of “Abtanan sa Kaluoy” (“Oasis of Mercy”) or ASK, inaugurated and blessed on Jan. 29, 2019 inside the compound of the St. Joseph the Patriarch Parish, Mabolo, Cebu City.
Umberto Silensi, an Italian deacon, decided to try out the shower service as the vehicle parked in front of the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral a day after the opening of ASK. The idea to build Sakyanan had come from Ronald Diola, an ASK volunteer, but it was the good deacon who pushed the idea forward.
He was with his local ordinary, Bishop Carlo Bresciani of the Diocese of San Benedetto del Tronto-Ripatransone-Montalto, representing the Italian Bishops’ Conference. As she viewed her husband emerge from the shower, Umberto’s wife, Nicoletta, cried out as she shook her head with endearment, “Matto, matto”.
“Matto” (“nuts”) describes the beginnings of the project well. With no blueprint to work on—a Google search for “bus for street children” yields pictures of either toy buses, school buses, or buses for the homeless—and no budget to speak of, it was providence-inspired joyful persistence that led from the drawing board to the finished product.
Like ASK, the Sakyanan is a fruit of the 51st International Eucharistic Congress and its effort to ensure the dignified participation of the poor. When the actual construction of the activity center for street children began in February 2018, the idea for constructing the aforementioned vehicle once more surfaced.
A team began conceptualizing and designing. Architect Dante Morales, who designed the activity center, once more shared his creative juices with a local team who had worked with street children. Initial designs were then presented before a local vehicle body-builder in collaboration with two engineering professors from a local university. A final design emerged.
Sakyanan offers shower, new clothes, a hot meal, haircut, and other services in collaboration with a parish, the local barangay, the police, and other sectors in the parish. A system of hydraulics allows the sides and the back of the vehicle to open up and serve the children. A big video screen at the back allows short animated films and instructional video to be shown. There is a holding tank for the water to be used in the showers and another one to keep the used water before it is discharged in an appropriate place.
A good shepherd goes out in search of the lost sheep.
The vehicle’s visit to a parish results from active networking. A team is formed beforehand, bringing together representatives from UBAS (Ugnayan ng Barangay at Simbahan) and other sectors. A counterpart arrangement is agreed upon, with certain fixed tasks. The barangay brings in the children and registers them. Sakyanan provides the shower facilities and food. The parish provides parking space and toilets for use before showering.
Other tasks are negotiable, like recruiting volunteer barbers and, perhaps, medical and dental teams. Agreement is secured beforehand on snacks for volunteers, washing of soiled clothing of children, name tags, chairs and tables, a tent for shade, potable water, sound system, music, etc. In due time, a certain “payment” will be asked of the children for them to avail of services: the bringing in of garbage for recycling or proper disposal.
Street children shall have values formation. But these shall be caught, rather than taught. As a teaching methodology puts it, “Show, don’t tell.” The basic values shall have the acronym, “TLIG” or True Love Inspired by God. More concretely, “come on Time”; “fall in Line and stay in line;” “read, listen to, and follow Instructions”; and “manage your Garbage well”. The large video screen shall play a big role in securing the attention of children and keeping them entertained even as values are inculcated, not lectured, by volunteers providing a disciplined yet supportive environment.
Exploratory talks with the police point to their involvement in the good-citizenship aspect of the outreach.
It takes a community to raise a child. It also takes a vehicle to bring the community together.
“Mahimong usbon akong ngalan?” (“Can you change my name?”), Jose (not his real name), one of the 70 street children requested a volunteer who was registering the children. He wanted his complete name to be recorded, not just his nickname. However fleetingly, 10-year old Jose had a glimpse of his innate dignity.
Ordinarily, names and birthdays are not of great concern to many children in the streets. They are used to the sharp, hissing sound (Cebuano “sitsit”) from strangers who view them with annoyance, indifference, or disgust. But this day was different. The community had come together for them.
Soon a playful and colorful graphic sticker will cover the vehicle. It is based on a doodle made by their Manang Maggi, and two graphics volunteers, Cris Maestrado, and Kinwing Lou. A music jingle is in the works.
It takes a community to raise a child. Sometimes, though, it takes a vehicle to bring the community together.