Empowering Children in Need: An Interview with Catherine Scerri, Deputy Director at Bahay Tuluyan in Manila, Philippines

 

Tell us about the background of Bahay Tuluyan, starting from when you established a drop-in centre for street children in Manila, to then running centres in Laguna and Quezon?

Bahay Tuluyan has always evolved to meet the needs of the children, youth, families and communities it works with. It was formed by a group of concerned individuals in the aftermath of the Marcos regime in the Philippines. At that time there were large numbers of children living or working on the street in the area of Malate, Manila and Bahay Tuluyan was established as a Drop-In Centre to cater to the needs of these children. Before long it was realised that there were many other ways that Bahay Tuluyan could help children achieve their potential and a variety of different programmes developed. Over the years these programmes expanded to Laguna and Quezon. The first centre outside Manila was set up in Quezon as a result of the children of Bahay Tuluyan expressing their desire to have a place where they could get away from the difficulties of life on the street in Manila. That centre was first established in 1999. Laguna was established a few years later (2003) when an opportunity to grow in that area arose.

How do you identify children to be supported at the centre and what type of programmes and support are able to offer? Also tell us more about the work of the Mobile team which works directly with street children.

Children come to be involved in Bahay Tuluyan in a variety of different ways. Some first come in contact through our Street Education and Support programme. This programme operates a mobile unit that is a colourful customised van that goes to visit children living or working on the street around Manila. It visits three different areas each week where youth facilitators from Bahay Tuluyan run child-friendly activities aimed at keeping children as healthy and safe as possible while helping them transition off the street and access key social services.

Other children walk in – often into our Drop-In Centre, which is a safe place for children to rest, play, shower, sleep, eat and access services. Concerned citizens, family members, NGOs, governments and friends refer some children to us, too.   We run nine services directly benefiting children, youth and families and no child’s path through these programmes is the same as another child. We aim to implement a non-linear, holistic approach where children and young people are able to access the services that they need and we work to customise the services we offer to them based on their needs. For example, one child might come to know of us through our mobile unit team and start attending sessions at our Drop-In Centre and then become involved in our social enterprises. Another may be referred by government into our Alternative Family Care programme for shelter and then become involved in various other programmes.

Bahay Tuluyan has a unique approach to child development, which you call the ‘Child to Child’ approach, can you tell us more about this?

The Child to Child approach aims to empower children with the skills and knowledge they need to not only help themselves but also to be able to reach out and help those around them. We believe that giving children opportunities to be able to build their community, by directly sharing their skills to help others, is very important for their sense of dignity. Bahay Tuluyan’s work uses a rights-based approach that recognises that children are rights-holders and aims to assist them to be able to claim their rights. We believe that ensuring that children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled requires everyone to be involved and participating, especially children. Thirty years of working with children in difficult circumstances has also helped us to realise the effectiveness of peer education for engaging ‘hard to reach’ children. Our Junior Educators, Youth Facilitators and Youth Mentors are much more effective role models for the children we are working with than our professional staff can hope to be.

Bahay Tuluyan has also developed programmes for young adults, designed to help them integrate back into society. Can you expand on this approach and the programmes you have developed, such as your Independent living skills and Youth leadership programmes?

We strongly believe that if we want to break the cycle of poverty in children and young people’s lives then we need to give them the skills to be able to become happy, healthy, independent adults. We originally developed our Independent Living Skills Programme to cater to young people who were leaving residential care however before long we realised that young people from many different backgrounds could benefit from the programme. We now offer the programme to a mix of centre and community-based children. Through this programme we provide very practical skills to help young people (15 – 22 years old) to be able to effectively plan for and manage their own futures. This programme is delivered through holistic modules that cover a wide range of topics including relationships & reproductive health, career planning, critical thinking and money management.

We also give young people hands-on, real-life experience at opening bank accounts and saving money, managing their own home and earning their own income. We also provide opportunities for children to work in social enterprises wherein they gain valuable vocational skills and also earn income. We also provide support to enable young people to undergo tertiary education and we have many stories of children coming from extremely difficult circumstances to become successful professionals that are able to effectively support their own children, keeping them in school and safe from abuse, violence and neglect. Throughout their involvement with our Independent Living Skills Programme and Social Enterprises, we encourage and support young people to continue to actively engage in youth leadership and social change through our other programmes. In this way they become important role models for the younger children coming through our programmes.

Community development is one of your key objectives How did you become involved with these communities and how has this interaction assisted your programmes?

Enabling child-friendly communities is one of our four strategic focus areas. We operate two programs in this sphere. One is our Children’s Rights Education program. Through this program we aim to equip the duty-bearers of children’s rights to be able to understand their roles and responsibilities and more effectively fulfil these. We provide training to various members of the government including police, teachers, social workers and tourism industry front liners. We also provide education to the wider community, seeking to prompt deeper engagement with the children’s rights engagements occurring around them.

The second programme we run under this focus area is Children’s Rights Advocacy and Research. Through this programme we aim to draw attention to the structural or underlying causes of abuse and violence against children. We conduct participatory action research with children and young people to be able to ensure that policy makers and other stakeholders understand how various issues affect children and where there is room for improvement. We also aim to, in co-operation with children and young people, actively advocate for change where necessary. An example of an advocacy issue that Bahay Tuluyan has been focusing on for many years is the forced “rescue” of street-connected children by government. Our participatory research into this issue in 2008 led the Philippine government to issue new policy guidelines on how this practice should be conducted. We continue to advocate and educate to ensure that the policy guidelines put in place are followed.

Bahay Tuluyan operates several social enterprises that provide young people under your care with both training and an income, in a just and supportive context. Can you tell us more about the social enterprises you operate and what skills this provides the participants?

Bahay Tuluyan currently generates 15% of its operational expenses through social enterprises. The two main enterprises we operate are Makabata Guesthouse & Café and Bahay Tuluyan Nature Farms. 100% of the profits from all of our social enterprises go directly back into supporting the programmes that we run for children. At the same time our social enterprises provide valuable training grounds for young people to gain skills and earn income in a safe and educational environment. After completing up to 12 months training in our social enterprises our staff provide support to help these youth transition into employment, enterprise or further education. Youth can gain a wide variety of practical skills in our social enterprises including housekeeping, guest management, food & beverage service, organic agriculture and marketing. Most importantly, for many of the young people involved in our social enterprises, the most valuable thing that we can offer them is a chance to find their self-confidence and learn how to dream.

Two of your social enterprises focus on farming and creating products from recycled materials. Has this been successful as a business venture? What benefits do the participants in working for these enterprises receive?

Both of these ventures have been successful in various ways.   Most importantly in giving our young people opportunities to gain skills and earn income to set them up for their transition.   Recreate Philippines (creating products from recycled materials) is a fairly small social enterprise that we operate but it still supports both our children and mothers associated with another organisation we work with who produce many of the products.   The young people involved in the programmes receive a number of benefits besides the capacity to earn money. They also receive holistic support services from social workers, opportunities to finish or further their education, participation in a wide variety of other programmes and exposure to real life experiences of work and business.

The Makabata Guest House is a social enterprise that provides year-long training courses for young adults in the Hospitality industry. Can you share some of the success stories from this programme?

Our original intention with the guesthouse was to provide out of school youth with the opportunity to gain the technical skills to be able to get employment in the hospitality industry. As we started running the programme however we have found many of our young people, motivated by their experiences, wanting to do further study to improve their skills. For these young people the experience of working in the guesthouse gave them the confidence to think more assertively about their futures and also access to the services to link them up to further education. While some of them have stayed in the field (we recently had former Social Enterprise Youth Associates from Bahay Tuluyan graduate from Hospitality and Restaurant Management courses as well as Business courses), some have pursued more diverse courses such as finance, marketing, criminology and social work. For many of these young people, the money that they earned while working at the guesthouse was able to get them started in their education. 

One of the social enterprise’s goals is to generate funds to support your work and help you become more financially sustainable. Has this goal been achieved, or are you still reliant on outside donations? What are the obstacles you face in growing the social enterprises further?

In 2017 we generated 15% of our operational budget from social enterprises. We aim to grow this to 30% by the end of 2020. To do this we need more technical support to be able to get our products to market at a consistent and sustainable level. For the guesthouse this means increasing occupancy by better marketing and up skilling our management team as well as improving the curriculum for our youth. For our farm it involves increasing our capacity through improved infrastructure as well as more effectively packaging and selling our food products to the external market (at the moment much of our product is consumed internally). There are some obstacles in the regulatory environment that don’t currently distinguish between social enterprise and regular business and this can put unnecessary burdens on what we do. We could also benefit from the support of people with more specific business expertise – as we are traditionally a social services organisation, managing business is new for us and we are looking for technical and consultative support to ensure we reach our potential.

Are there any other social enterprises that you would like to set up which could enhance the skills of young people as well as generate funds for the charity?

We hope to be able to set up a Rooftop Garden Restaurant at Makabata Guesthouse & Café and we have many plans to develop the social enterprises that we have already started.   Over the next few years we are looking to develop various agri-tourism products that will allow people to have hands-on recreational and educational experiences at our various organic farm sites. If we can develop our existing social enterprises as we hope to we believe we will be able to provide many more young people and families with skills, income and opportunities.   We will also be able to provide high-quality products to the market. 

If given a wish list, what other projects would you like to undertake?

Beyond the ones mentioned above, under the growth of our social enterprise, what we really hope to achieve is the financial sustainability to ensure that our work continues. This will be able to happen if we can fully develop the social enterprises that we have begun so that they can operate at capacity and enable our work to continue to grow and develop. To do this we need capital investment in our farms and investment also in our people so that we can develop the internal human resources to maximise what we have achieved so far.

We are also working hard to upgrade our vehicles that are being forced off the road by new regulations. We need reliable vehicles to be able to transport our children but also to get our food products to market. We are on our way to replacing our Mobile Unit but also need to upgrade our jeep and two farm vehicles.

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