More than 200 street children who were rescued from the streets of Manila have completed the anti-drug education program Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) being implemented by Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada.
The 200 street children, aged eight to 14, are the first batch of homeless children at the Manila Boystown Complex in Marikina City—a halfway house for orphans, juvenile delinquents, and former drug dependents being run by the city government of Manila—to undergo DARE lessons.
In simple recognition ceremonies at the facility, Estrada called on the young DARE graduates, some of whom were the so-called “rugby boys” or substance abusers, to shun drugs and other vices and instead go to school to start a new life.
“You’re probably thinking that no one cares for you and that you no longer have any chance at all,” Estrada told the street children in Filipino.
“It’s too early for you to give up life. You still have a bright future ahead of you,” Estrada said.
“But you can’t have a future if you continue using drugs. Stop it, it won’t do you any good,” Estrada added.
For those wanting to go to school, he said public schools in Manila are tuition-free, including school supplies and uniforms.
The city-run Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (PLM) and Universidad de Manila (UDM) also offer college degrees, free of charge, to poor but deserving students, Estrada added.
To inspire the street children, Estrada reminded them that many former orphans at Boystown have become successful in their chosen fields such as actor Enrico Torralba, businessman Herbert Yu, and Romnic Toledo, a youth rights advocate.
“But I must remind you: Manila loves you. And as father of Manila, I love you,” Estrada told the street children.
Originally from the United States, DARE is a classroom instruction program that taps active duty police officers to teach Grades 5 and 6 students good decision-making skills to keep them away from drugs and other vices.
The Manila Police District has so far 32 highly-trained personnel dedicated to teaching DARE lessons, according to MPD director Chief Supt. Joel Coronel.
Since 1993 when Estrada introduced the program in the country when he was vice president and head of the Presidential Anti-Crime Commission (PACC), more than 1.5 million students have underwent DARE instructions.
Estrada now serves as chairman of DARE Philippines Inc., a private non-profit organization that implements DARE not only in Manila but also in the entire country.
According to Donna Gasgonia, the organization’s executive vice president, the 202 street children from Boystown were given special DARE lessons by Manila-based DARE officers.
“They really did participate in the lessons so the Mayor thought it’s only fitting that we give them recognition. They are the first batch of children here to complete DARE,” Gasgonia said of the street children.
She pointed out it was Estrada’s wish to save these children from drugs and criminal activities and give them another shot in life, thus, the introduction of DARE at Boystown.
At the facility, the children are enrolled in the Fugoso Integrated School that offers Alternative Learning System (ALS) for free. They are also provided with decent shelters, clothes, foods, medicines, and proper healthcare.
As for the adults, they are made to undergo development activities such as skills and livelihood trainings and basic business management courses. Upon their release, they are referred to the Public Employment Service Office (PESO) for job referrals.