The problems of the Filipino youth are real – delinquency, early pregnancy, drug addiction, prostitution and gangs. In the crammed squatter community of Escopa in metropolitan Manila, these social ills are a way of life.
Kenh is one of the young people living in Escopa, and today he has a chance to help solve these problems. Kehn, 16, was recently elected as one of his neighborhood’s youth officers, and already he has initiated the distribution of free bags, pencils and papers to little children, using local government funds.
“I believe that education is the key to helping the youth and straightening their lives,” he says. “If only they will stay in school, then they will be drawn away from youthful evils.”
Kenh’s involvement with the local Youth Council is political in nature, but poverty is not just political rhetoric for Kenh. It is reality.
As a young boy, he scoured garbage piles on an empty stomach to look for a few coins to buy food. He and his buddies used to dive in the dirty creek to wait for passers-by to drop a few coins. He used to push a wooden cart around the neighborhood gathering scrap metal and old newspapers to sell for a few centavos per kilo.
Now a teenager, Kenh works as an errand boy for a car repair shop. He works for long hours after school. His sister lives with relatives in Mindanao, the southernmost part of the country, because their parents just don’t have enough to feed all of them.
His father, Quineres, 43, works as an officer at the Town Hall and gets paid U.S.$71.42 a month, while Kehn’s mother washes clothes to help augment the family income.
Kenh balances work, community service, school and church. As a Compassion-sponsored child at the Lifestream Student Center, he is an active youth member of the Capitol City Foursquare Church.
Kenh says the student center gives him “inspiration to improve myself because I know that God is with me.”
Although Kenh still considers himself too young to make big decisions with social consequences, he in fact has already accomplished significant advances in the community by initiating focus programs for youths.
“It was my father who convinced me to run for the (youth officer) position. I was afraid. I’m not really popular in the neighborhood, and I’m not very keen in talking in front of people.”
To date, Kenh has initiated several youth projects, including a successful Summer Basketball League designed to educate youths about the evils of illegal drugs.
“I know these young people. I mean I know them, they are my friends. Many of them have stopped studying because they got hooked on drugs or have inadvertently begun a family. Some even, sadly, became prostitutes when they were only 13 or 14 years old.”
This, he says, is why he is motiviated to help educate children in the community.