“They burned you with an iron?!” Jemuel can hear the panic, the rage, in his father’s voice as the man talks with his wife, on the phone. She is thousands of miles away, working in Saudi Arabia to send money back to her family, like so many other Filipino mothers and fathers. “You should come back home,” he says. “We will make it. I will find work. Come home now, honey.”
Population growth and a lack of employment for unskilled laborers in the Philippines has resulted in many situations like this. A parent leaves their child to go to another country to find work. They aren’t prepared, however, for the abuse that often follows their paycheck and the heartbreak they feel every time they talk with their child on the phone about another life milestone they have missed.
Jemuel’s mother’s employers had burned her hand with a hot iron. He was sure she would be home soon, unless… He started to wonder what more could happen to her, ‘What if…’ thoughts of the worst kind flooded his mind. Every morning he anticipated coming home from school to see her there. He began running back from school, hopeful, scared.
One day, from distance, he saw people gathered around his house. Hoping it was a greeting party for his mother’s return, he rushed towards the crowd. He did not find his mother, however, but the body of his father, who had died of a sudden heart attack. “He was my inspiration!” Jemuel says. “He always told me, ‘Finish school because through it, our lives will get better. You can give a good life to your own family in the future.’ When he died, though, all my aspirations to finish school died with him.”
Jemuel’s mother came back soon after, but she couldn’t find work to buy food, let alone send her son to school. His dreams shattered, his father gone, Jemuel resigned himself to the same life of poverty that his family had always known. That would have been the end of his story if not for the volunteers of Sidewalk Children’s Ministry. “I started going to Sidewalk only looking for free toys I could play with. I didn’t know it would eventually change my life,” he says.
Every weekend in the slums of Metro Manila, thousands of children huddle together gather in groups with a Sidewalk mentor that teaches them about identity, purpose, and God’s love and plan for them. This enables them to rise above the squalor of their surroundings. The ministry isn’t all talk, though. It also provides them with food, clothing, and scholarship opportunities. Sidewalk Children’s Ministries was started ten years ago by Joanne Luciano with the vision to reach out to children like Jemuel in the squatter areas and railroad yards in Manila. She wanted to transform the minds of these children and help them dream bigger.
Lemuel came to know God as his Father and his Friend through Sidewalk Children’s Ministry. The stories Jemuel heard, the songs he sang along with, the friendship he built in Sidewalk slowly started to work on fueling hope and a vision in Jemuel.
“There was one mentor who pushed me to become a teacher to the younger kids at Sidewalk because she saw a potential in me”, says Jemuel. “I only wanted to be an attendee. I never realised I had the potential to teach, but she encouraged me to be a teacher.” Jemuel attended the teacher’s training and started to mentor and disciple young teens in his assigned areas.
The Sidewalk leaders believed Jemuel could rise above the squalor of his surroundings and lead. Lead his own life. Lead his friends. Lead his family out of poverty. Jemuel proved himself faithful and Sidewalk ministries started providing the funds to send him back to school.
“I was comforted from my father’s death through the love I received from Sidewalk Children’s Ministries. I felt their love despite the emptiness that my father’s death left in me. They showed me God’s love, they embraced me, they told me words of encouragement and advice. This inspired me to keep on pursuing my dream to finish school”, says Jemuel.
Jemuel is now a third year Financial Management student in college through the support of Sidewalk Children’s Ministries. “Ever since my dad died, and my mom left her work, Sidewalk has been making it possible for me to go to school. God provides for me every time I don’t have money to go to school, through Sidewalk,” he says. He adds that “because of them, I can go to school and study, and one day, get my degree. With one-year left in college, they still provide me with financial help.”
After he graduates, Jemuel aspires to support his mother and continue to assist Sidewalk ministries in reaching out to young people. “I want to introduce God to the kids the way Sidewalk introduced God to me. Whoever you are, whatever you don’t have, as long as you have God, you can have everything,” adds Jemuel.
Jemuel is one of the 10 college students receiving a full scholarship this year funded by the friends of Sidewalk ministries.
Through Emerge, you can help by volunteering on the ground in Manila as a member of Sidewalk ministry, by donating to the ministry, or by sponsoring children like Jemuel through school.
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