Lasallians gives hope for minors and children in conflict with the law in the Philippines
By Rechilda Estores
The House of Hope (“Bahay Pag-asa” in Tagalog) is a transformational Center for Children-In-Conflict with the Law (CICL) and minors with court order who are petitioned for involuntary commitment, built and located in two Catholic La Salle universities in the Philippines.
Brother Gus Boquer, a Lasallian Brother, former president of the University of St. La Salle (USLS) in Bacolod and former president of De La Salle University Dasmariñas (DLSU-D), is one of the primary founders of the House of Hope (Bahay Pag-asa) in the Philippines.
During an interview with Vatican News, Ms. Anna Besa, a Filipina, Director of the youth center in USLS Bacolod, shared that she has been involved in the House of Hope for 11 years.
“The Center opened its doors in 2002 and the current juvenile justice reform laws were not yet in existence and large numbers of minors were being detained, often in a company of adult offenders,” she continued. “There was a great sense of urgency in the establishment of the youth center. Social and political leaders in the Philippines were working to pass legislation that would remove children in conflict with the law from jails and establish a community-based procedures as well as intervention and rehabilitation programs to protect, guide, and redirect youthful offenders.”
Mr. Jose Ritche Bongcaron, a Filipino, Concurrent Director of youth center in Dasmariñas, also expressed the needs in taking care of the children. “Instead of detaining them, the children are being cared for to administer holistic formation program, provide competent and committed legal assistance, and implement a post-release program,” he told Vatican News.
The Filipina director of USLS youth center said that believing in children and making opportunities for them gives hope to the future.
“Children and young people need hope as much as they need food and shelter,” she emphasized. “Hope provides a reason for the struggle to grow and develop into the kinds of people the world needs. Hope gives meaning to our lives and sees us through the dark stretches.”
She also reiterated the tagline of the belief of the children in the center that “hope is the promise of faith that God is directing our lives and has plans for each of us that will transform us and the world.” As the Bahay Pag-asa’s residents’ tagline states, “We Can’t Change Our Past But We Can Change Our Future”.
Ms Besa said that “children become involved in illegal activities due to poverty, peer influences, interrupted or inadequate education, and dysfunctional families,” she added. “Helping these special groups of young people is important as they are also victim of circumstances, and they deserve the second chance to be law-abiding, productive, and self-reliant individuals.”
The Filipino Concurrent Director of De La Salle Bahay Pag-asa Dasmariñas (DLSBPD) expressed the needs in spreading hope in the community. “We give young people hope because they themselves are the bearers of hope. DLSBPD is driven by only one reason: to give young people hope and while they are with the Center, we make hope happen for them.” he said.
He also said the institution follows the Word of God in bringing hope to people. “The message that Jesus brings to humanity in His mercy and love is hope,” Mr. Bongcaron said. “Holding on to hope is what keeps us moving forward with a sense of dignity and respect. Hope is what helps us respond to people in need, people in the periphery and those who are lost, last and least.”
He said that the establishment of the youth center “paved the way for the community to have a clearer appreciation to always protect children especially those who, despite committing violations against the law, are actually victims of mostly domestic problems that led them to commit these violations.” he discussed. ”The center served as an eye-opener for the community to commit to do something – especially through education – to uphold the rights of the children and provide them with hope.”
Education and care for children
The directors shared that they have been educating the children inside the youth center.
“As a Lasallian institution, education is our most important gift to the Residents. All the Residents are provided opportunity to study,” Mr. Bongcaron said. “As part of the overall intervention programs, they also go through livelihood and skills to help them prepare when they are ready to be re-integrated to their respective communities and families.”
The Filipino director added that “education and nurturing of children and youth are the most essential works that we can engage in to ensure that societies are able to become productive, humane, future-oriented.”
Mr. Bongcaron believes that the works of the center “is our way of living out our Catholic Lasallian identity and vocation to love and serve. Our goal as an academic institution is not just to teach our students but also provide them opportunities to serve and show acts of solidarity.”
He also highlighted the role of taking care of each other “because we are by nature meant to really care for one another. That is our calling. Our vocation to love and care that can only happen if we uphold the dignity of each one as creatures created in the image and likeness of God.”
Ms Besa also pointed out the importance of caring, because “it helps creates individual lives which can then transform others. This is how societies develop into positive forces for human development and fulfilment,” she furthers. “It is humane in that it is a response to the belief that, as humans, we are sons and daughters of God, and therefore possess a dignity which must be recognized by society.”
Strengthening the faith of young people
The directors of the centers discussed that they also strengthen the Catholic faith of the children.
The Filpino concurrent director shared that the youth center “have always been guided by what the Church teaches about solidarity and care for the vulnerable, especially children whom Jesus loves.”
The Filipina director added that they give children a chance to engage in God because “Church teachings are integrated in the Center’s work both formally and informally. Part of the program is the spiritual development of each resident.”
She also pointed out that the institution is also integrated to the Church.
“The work of USLS Bahay Pag-asa is a direct expression of Catholicism’s corporal and spiritual works of mercy. It provides a pathway toward salvation for both the youth it serves and the staff and volunteers who provide those services. It stands as evidence of faith.” Ms. Besa explained.
“The center's programs and activities gives each resident the opportunity to grow in faith and spirituality, it also promotes the same growth for the members of the larger community who witness the transformation action of the Holy Spirit.” Ms Besa said.
Helping each other
The directors shared that the centers are managed and facilitated by many different people such as “the staff, social workers, security personnel, educators, Lasallian Brothers, volunteers, and others” to help and guide the children.
Mr. Bongcaron added the DLSBPD “allow people to “come and see” for themselves the kind of ministry we have for these children. We provide them opportunities to be of support and help in ways that will help strengthen our programs for the Residents.”
The directors also shared the struggles they are currently dealing in the centers.
Ms Besa said that the USLS Bacolod “Center has been operating for 22 years and has helped almost 200 residents from different cities and municipalities of Negros Occidental. Among the Center’s struggles is the high cost of meals, medical needs and educational services because our operation is dependent on donations. As of now, the Center, through the USLS, is searching for regular donors who can help cover the meal expense.”
The DLSBPD director also expressed their challenges encountered.
“DLSBPD has been in operation for 11 years and while it remains committed to provide transformational opportunities for the Residents entrusted to its care, it also faces challenges in its over-all operations.” Mr. Bongcaron revealed. “We are also governed by Philippine laws that protect the interest of children - through the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) - we are also cognizant of the need to continue to keep our facilities in good shape and our programs sustainably running to address the needs of the Residents.“
Paving way for the future
Mr. Bongcaron said that the institution will continue to further spread the hope.
“With the current president of DLSU-D, Br. Francisco de la Rosa VI, committed to uphold and sustain this legacy of hope started by Br. Gus,” he emphasized. “We are certain that through DLSBPD, there will be a steady supply of opportunities to spread hope and faith.”
He shared that “the good we do to children is good we do to society and even to the Church.”
Ms Besa also invites others to also engage in helping the children.
“We can further spread hope and faith in the future by continuing, in a spirit of faith and zeal, the work that was started here,” she encouraged. “By continuing to answer the call to help children in conflict with the law, and communicating to the society outside our experiences and stories of hope, we can spread the hope and faith, that all of us have found here, far beyond our walls.”
She concluded the interview by urging others to “seek to include others in our mission of the transformation of youth.”
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