My life living on Manila’s streets for 9 years

Blog written by John, 19, former street child

I was 9 years old when I decided to quit school — I was then in Grade 4 — and started living on the streets of Manila. That was 2009.

I and my friends wandered in Luneta, Intramuros and Divisoria. Anyone familiar in Manila know that these are not the best places for young children to spend most of their times with. But there I was.

I only go home once every year. I never wanted to go home because of family problem. My father would always scold and beat me. I had a rough time with him. That was why I’d rather be in the streets than in our house.

Me and my friends were mostly living off our wits, scouring the streets for whatever we could find to subsist and sleeping nights from one friend’s house to another. While most young children spent their childhood with their parents, I spent mine with my friends. I was happy with my friends. We were like brothers to each other. We helped and protected each other.

Me and my friends would usually collect and sell junks. We earned between Php200 – Php300 each day which we mostly spent playing online game.

We were hooked then in the war game called Crossfire. We bet our day’s earning there. If you lose, you’ll have to pay the other team Php500. If you win, your team has Php500. A team has five members. Sometimes we won, sometimes we lost.

When we lost and had no money, we would walk Manila’s alleys and streets, keeping watch for both trouble and help. We would pass time sitting in parks or markets and watched people go by. The streets of Manila, the Philippine capital, were always crawling with traffic and full of people, all types of them. Most were hurrying to and fro, some were carrying goods on their shoulder or in an oversized tricycle, and some are going to work. I would oftentimes see beggars, lunatic people talking to themselves then to the trees.

I never tried illegal drugs but I smoked cigarette. Later, I learned to drink alcohol.

Life was easy and fun until me and friends got involved in a big, serious fight with another group. While I was a brave one in Crossfire, I wasn’t in real life. My fear of something wrong happening to me made me think of my family and felt a tinge of longing for them, especially to my mother. I didn’t want anything happen to me without seeing her. That was my turning point. So, after nine years, I decided to go home. That was in 2018.

I avoided my father around that time. I would do all sorts of menial jobs nearby just to stay out of the house when he was home. This way, we wouldn’t have confrontation.

Lately though, I noticed a change in my father’s behavior. He got mild and never beat me anymore. Once, I overheard a neighbor talking about how my father started noticing my indifference towards him. A year after my return, me and my father had a profound father-and-son talk. I would say our relationship has become better after that.

To help in the family’s daily needs, I sell ice cream around the neighborhood. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, I would see schools swarmed with students, by themselves and in groups. I would remember my school days, my classmates, and teachers. I should be in high school now. Since I stopped school when I was in Grade 4, I read very slow. I am now 19 and yet I read like an elementary student. So, I made up my mind. I would to continue my study thru the Alternative Learning System. When I heard that World Vision and Czech Embassy Manila has a Bridge to Employment Project that offers assistance to youth like me to continue our education, I immediately joined.

My class is held online on weekdays, usually in the morning. The BTE Project provides me with Internet allowance for a month. This helps me save what little money I’m earning. After class, I go around the village to sell ice cream. This is my way to make up for my family after leaving them for years.

When I was young, I was once asked what I wanted to be when I grow up. My reply was ‘I just want to be with my parents.’ A World Vision staff asked me the same question: “What would I want to be someday?” I still have the same dream: I wanted to get a good job and help my parents.