[NEW HAVEN: As President Arroyo and Speaker Jose de Venecia look on, Congressional Spouses Foundation head Gina de Venecia (right) turns over the symbolic key of the Haven for Children to Social Welfare and Development Secretary Dinky Soliman during ceremonies at the Alabang Town Center in Muntinlupa City yesterday. - Ber Bayot]

MANILA, January 16, 2004 (STAR) By Joanne Rae Ramirez - If he were asked to describe hell on earth, 13-year-old Jerry would not lack for details. Kicked out of their shanty by a cruel stepfather, he was force to live with a bum of an uncle.

The uncle, a drug addict, soon taught him how to steal and use drugs. When the uncle died in a jail riot, Jerry was lured by the freedom of the streets and the numbing comfort of rugby.

Now one of the 300 boys at the newly inaugurated, nine-building Haven for Children in Alabang, Muntinlupa City, Jerry is looking forward to a brighter future. He hopes to be a doctor someday.

Inaugurated by President Arroyo, who pushed for the construction of such a facility during her stint as social welfare secretary in the previous administration, and Speaker Jose de Venecia, the Haven for Children is designed to be a substitute home for young boys rescued from the streets.

"At their tender ages, these boys have experienced more cruelty than we will ever know in our lifetimes," said Gina de Venecia, wife of the speaker and president of the Congressional Spouses Foundation Inc., the moving force behind the Haven.

"By the grace of God, this stops today," she vowed during the inauguration of the Haven, which saw rescued street children all freshly scrubbed and frolicking amidst yellow and blue balloons and colorful ice cream carts. "This will be a place where the miracle of renewal will replace the misery of rejection."

Mrs. De Venecia turned over the ceremonial keys to the Haven to Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman. The Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) will run the Haven, whose construction was jumpstarted with funds from Speaker de Veneciaís Countrywide Development Funds.

"I woke up today feeling crestfallen because of the fate of the Charter change resolution in the Senate. But I knew it was still going to turn out to be a great day because of the inauguration of the Haven for Children," De Venecia said.

The CSFI knocked on the doors of big businessmen, many of whom, like SMís Tessie Sy-Coson, responded generously. The acacia tree-shaded property where the complex now stands was donated by the DSWD, while architect Gerry Contreras designed the nine-building complex, gratis. Four of the buildings in the complex, with bunk beds covered by crisp blue bed sheets, will serve as dormitories for the boys. The other buildings include a productivity center, a therapy center for counseling, a special education center and a recreation center.

Mrs. Arroyo noted that the haven for children and its precursor, the haven for women, are testimony to the success achieved when government and the private sector work hand-in-hand.

"Thatís why nearby Marillac Hills also wants to be adopted by the CSFI, and Joe and Gina have agreed to help out," the President said. Marillac Hills also helps distressed women and children.

The inauguration rites were held at a gym named in honor of Martin Nievera, whose concert "Martin for Children" with the San Miguel Corp. philharmonic orchestra raised the money that built the impressive steel and cement structure. His sons Ram and Robin, the boysí mother Pops Fernandez and his mother Conchita Razon represented Nievera.

Also present during the inauguration were Muntinlupa Rep. Ruffy Biazon, Muntinlupa Mayor Jaime Fresnedi, DSWD Undersecretary Alice Bala, Mila Drilon, Lovely Romulo and the first CSFI president, Cecille Mitra, widow of Speaker Ramon Mitra.

Before the inauguration of the Haven for Children, phase two of the Haven for Women also opened its doors to abused women. Since its inauguration in 1995, the Haven for Women has helped over 6,000 abused women. Several of its "graduates" have moved on to become schoolteachers, businesswomen and have started new lives. One "graduate" is now a member of the Third Order of the Carmelites.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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