MANILA, December 20, 2003 (MANILA TIMES) DOUBLETAKE By Eric F. Mallonga Hope in sight: MEDECINS SANS FRON­TIERES (MSF), meaning “Doctors Without Borders,” now headed by Thomas White, invited me to a cultural program at the Cultural Center of the Philippines showcasing the talents of their street children beneficiaries. Last night, I was pleasantly surprised to see the streetchildren, some of whom I had helped released from Metro Manila’s prisons and many of whom MSF had rescued from the dark, dangerous streets of Manila, performing world-class ballet, displaying their varied talents, and spiritedly singing their own creative compositions about the miserable lives that Filipino children continue to experience.

Every day and night, thousands of children are present on the streets of Metro Manila, sniffing solvents, injecting illegal drugs into their frail bodies, escaping domestic abuse and incest. They are dangerously exposed to criminal syndicates, police brutality, commercial sexual exploitation, and hazardous forms of child labor, from an early age, escaping the harsh realities of the slums to the harsher environment of the streets. While the rest of the world looks on, the problem of Metro-Manila’s streetchildren is increasing in magnitude. But MSF has made a powerful humanitarian decision: MSF will not just stand by and see these children suffer slow, excruciating deaths on the streets.

MSF is an international medical, nongovernment organization founded in 1971, with the main objective of providing indiscriminate humanitarian assistance to populations in danger, to victims of natural or man-made disasters, and to victims of armed conflict, with priority given to the most vulnerable and marginalized sectors. MSF provides medical assistance in emergency situations, and advocates on behalf of those populations in danger. Areas of intervention include curative and preventive medicines, nutrition, epidemic control, vaccinations, surgery, basic water and sanitation, including water supply, hygiene and sanitary measures, rehabilitation of dispensaries and providing hospitals, logistics and administration. Operating in over 80 countries worldwide today, MSF was recognized for its international humanitarian efforts and advocacies and awarded the 1999 Nobel Peace Prize.

MSF started working in the Philippines in 1986 in response to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo Volcano in Zambales Province. Since then, MSF has intervened in various disaster situations in different settings, from medical emergency response to flood victims in Malabon and Mindanao, setting up water and sanitation projects in urban slum settings, to more disease specific projects such as TB and STI/HIV/AIDS, and a Pharmacy Cooperative in Sulu Province in cooperation with the Integrated Provincial Health Office. MSF currently provides medico-social-legal services to streetchildren in Manila, while MSF continues active surveillance of potential areas of medical intervention.

The streetchildren project of MSF-Switzerland was created in 1997, aiming to empower the child, bringing development through physical, social and mental assistance, advocating for a better, more holistic medical-social local response to the streetchildren problem. While a mobile MSF team of social workers and street educators are in the streets during the night, a medical and social team in the MSF Day Center offers daily psycho-social counseling, medical consultations and basic medical care, and referral of children to government health structures and other rehabilitation programs, including paralegal and legal assistance.

Last night, MSF had proven that street children, who have been treated as “dregs of society,” abandoned and outcast by their own families, possess the potential of transcending their miserable existence to become world-class performers. Milena Osorio, MSF Streetchildren Project Coordinator proved to our government and to the world that these children have a bright future. They only need the care and nurturing of compassionate individuals willing to share their time, efforts, talents and resources with these marginalized children. There are not many people in this world like Thomas White or Milena Osorio who would dare leave the comforts of their own homes and the security and progress of their First World countries. But in MSF, wherever it is present, whether I the Philippines or elsewhere, there is an abundance of loving and caring people, compassionate about their advocacies for a better world for our children. At MSF, care and compassion is what such organizations stands for, and all its missionary volunteers struggle and suffer together with the children they serve. To these volunteers, misery can be overcome while poverty can be conquered. There is hope in sight.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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