by Nitz Nicolas
(Re-posting from the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) Annual Report.)
“Transformed ghosts. Transformed spirits.”
Yes, this is how Nanay Tita describes the 11,000 individuals living inside the Manila North Cemetery (MNC), most of them are children and youth, today.
For the past many years, the children and the young people living inside the Manila North Cemetery had been bullied.
“You live with the dead, you are ghosts, and you are bad people!You don’t know anything, you are spirits without sense,” many would say.
Since 1990, when Nanay Tita and her family transferred to Manila North Cemetery, she has seen and experienced the bullying.
When MNC children attend formal classes in public school, most of them are bullied because they could not write nor draw. They could not even say their own names. They were shy and helpless.
The MNC youth are discriminated whenever they go out and mingle with other young people of their age. They could not find jobs, even menial one, because of the stigma that goes with living with the dead.
Because of their hopeless situation, the children did not attend classes anymore, while most of the young people where dragged to substance abuse.
As a mother to four children, Mrs. Tita U. Villarosa, also known as “Nanay Tita,” has realized that she has to do something to protect and change the lives of her neighbors, especially the disadvantaged children and youth.
In 1996, she was elected president of their organization, the Samahang Mangagawa at Tagapangalaga sa Norte (Samantaganor). The main objective of the organization is to protect the people living inside MNC against illegal demolition and the protection on the rights of children and youth, and the improvement of their lives.
As president of Samantaganor, she made connections with different churches and organizations. She asked for help and support for the families living in the Manila North Cemetery.
One of these organizations is The All Together in Dignity (ATD) Fourth World Movement, an international non-governmental organization dedicated to overcome extreme poverty. It has helped foster learning and empowerment activities in MNC through tutorial classes to children 6 years old and above, reading, storytelling and cultural activities and values formation.
On the other hand, since 2007, KKFI has been making connections with Nanay Tita through its field works program, where students of Social Work from the University of Rizal in Montalban and some KKFI staff were deployed to live with the people, and experience the day-to-day life struggles of the people living inside the Manila North Cemetery.
In 2011, KKFI launched its Day Care Program for the children and Alternative Learning System (ALS) for the young people.
These programs are in cooperation with the Sta. Mesa Heights United Methodist Church, which provides the venue for the classes, and Hope Ry Foundation, a Finnish foundation represented by Mr. Juha Kauppinen, and the General Board of Global Ministrties of the United Methodist Church, U.S.A. which provides financial assistance.
According to Nanay Tita, since the children started studying at Day Care, they learned how to write, draw, and recognize different colors. They are not speechless anymore. They can talk and can appreciate things around them. They are not ghosts anymore. The children’s condition and appearance have changed.
One of Nanay Tita’s daughters, Marrianne Villaroza-Cruz, now married, is a volunteer teacher at the KKFI Day Care program in Sta. Mesa Heights UMC. Nanay Tita saw in her daughter’s eyes that she enjoys teaching. She saw herself through her daughter, her dream of becoming a teacher was fulfilled by Marrianne.
Nanay Tita’s dream for her people of having a decent life, better education, and becoming skilled workers especially the children, the youth and their family, is now turning into a reality. The KKFI through the Alternative Learning System (ALS) have inspired our young people to pursue their education.
Six of the first batch of ALS students in 2012 have passed the Accreditation and Equivalency Test given by DepEd and are continuing their studies in high school and in college. Four ALS students in the second batch who took the test last December 2013 have passed the test. Three would be enrolled in college this coming June 2014 and 1 for high school.
Nanay Tita was amazed when she learned that the MNC ALS students won third place during the Community Chest 63rd Annual Anniversary last October 2013. They presented a short play depicting the lives of the young people inside MNC. It was the young people themselves who conceptualized the play with the guidance of the KKFI staff.
Lots of changes had happened to them. They are not shy anymore to show their talents and abilities. Their behavior and character have changed. They feel closer to God and to their families now. They learned to shun away from the bad influence of drugs and alcohol. They know now what is right and what is wrong.
Nanay Tita said that KKFI is like a mother who has a big heart. The Foundation has not been selective whom it would serve. Instead, it accepts people as they are, even the people at the Manila North Cemetery who are called Ghosts. KKFI have helped nurture them both in education, spiritual nourishment and livelihood.
Nanay Tita is thankful to God for using KKFI as an instrument to touch their lives and change their ways.
At the end of the interview, she said: “My people at the Manila North Cemetery are not ghosts. They are people with hearts and souls, people with dreams, seeking new beginnings.”