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Fr. Rocky Evangelista, SDB and the children and youth of Tuloy Foundation. This picture was taken during the send-off of Pope Francis at Villamor Airbase in January 2015. The Tuloy kids were privileged to be among the children to bid him farewell. Photo courtesy of Tuloy Foundation, Inc.

“Loving presence matters.” It is so powerful it can change lives. For abandoned children and street kids, love and presence can be transformative. It can help them find hope, and give them the strength to dream of a better life.

This message was clear during the presentation of Fr. Marciano “Rocky” Evangelista, SDB, Founder of Tuloy Foundation Inc., and his team of lay volunteers, religious priests and sisters during the fifth session of this year’s Ongoing Formation Series: Accompanying Families in the light of Amoris Laetitia held on November 14 in DBCS.

Tuloy, which in Filipino means “welcome” and also “to continue until the finish line,” is a foundation for street children that began in 1993. Here poor children, many of whom have been neglected or abandoned by their own families, find comfort and hope in the care of dedicated volunteers and staff who show them the kindness and attention they long for.

Moreover, Tuloy is not just like any social welfare institution. Its programs are very much anchored in Catholic Christian values. Faith formation and dependence on God are primary. As Fr. Rocky said, God is indeed the most important, and the reason for any success that they have been blessed with. In fact, he and his team all had a nice shiny button pinned to their shirts that read “Godliness.” It is God’s grace that makes any human effort, care, and attention truly transformative.

Since its inception, Tuloy has served thousands of boys and girls through its residential and education programs, providing holistic care and nurturing their mind, body, spirit, heart. It addresses the specific needs of street children who are often also out-of-school youth. The curriculum features the alternative learning system that allows students to finish their studies faster than their counterparts in the formal education program. In addition, vocational courses are offered so that they can find employment and live independently after their stay in Tuloy.

Aiming High

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Tuloy graduates Badong and Glory Anne are now pursuing their dreams.

Among the Tuloy beneficiaries is Badong. Now 28 years old, this young man has certainly turned his life around thanks to Fr. Rocky and the Tuloy family.

“My parents were separated,” he shared. He described his life on the streets as difficult and directionless. Like many children who are ill-equipped to support themselves, he engaged in collecting garbage and reckless behavior.

Many children on this path are doomed to a life of petty crime and substance abuse; many also fall prey to criminals or drug syndicates; some end up in prison; and it is no surprise that some die or get killed at a much too young age.

But Badong was thankfully not one of them.

“Tuloy gave me an opportunity to study. My first teacher was Sir Jojo Perez [now the school principal of Tuloy] when I started as a Level 1 student. Before I came to Tuloy, I was a bad boy. But here I learned discipline; I played sports. Tuloy cared for me for twelve years until I completed Computer Technology.”

Badong now works in Unilever and has his very own house through the government’s PagIBIG housing loan. “I found success in Tuloy. And this is my second time to give testimony; I want to express my gratitude — to show that all they have done for me was not wasted. It is my way of saying thanks. I have a stable regular job and my own house in Cavite.”

What is more is that Badong, like other wards of Tuloy, is heeding the call to give back, and to pay it forward. He is still single and supporting the education of his younger siblings. “I have eight siblings, but I only knew four of them before I came to Tuloy. After I finished the program, I came home and found out that I have four younger siblings now. I’m supporting them in their studies. And two of them are now students in Tuloy.”

This joyful, bright-eyed young man can hope for even more good things in the future as he continues to work hard and live the values he learned in Tuloy.

Like Badong, young Glory Anne did not really expect much about her future before she came to Tuloy. Her dream was just to work at a fastfood chain, that was enough. Formerly a non-resident student of Tuloy (the foundation’s education program also accepts poor children who live with their families), Glory Anne was given the opportunity to live in Tuloy so she can devote herself to completing the Culinary Arts program, one of the newer courses being offered.

“I became disciplined – we were not allowed to use cell phones and we had to rise early in the morning. I learned how to aim for higher things.”

Glory Anne, who was very shy, shared that Tuloy taught her to believe in herself; to be brave. “For our on-the-job training, five of us were sent to Sofitel for an interview. In Tuloy we were trained to be confident by performing on stage. I was always assigned to be the emcee. And during the interview, I remembered what Fr. Rocky would tell me ‘Pag nasa stage ka, lahat ng kapal ng mukha mo labas mo na (If you’re on stage, bring it on, hold nothing back).’ So that’s what I did. And fortunately it worked! I was the only one chosen by Sofitel.”

Now a confident young woman, Glory Anne is working in Four Seasons, Dubai and is just in the Philippines on a short vacation. She is among twelve graduates of Tuloy who made it there and have impressed the manager because of their dedication, discipline, and hard work.

“I hold on to my faith and do my best in everything. I try to live out what we were taught in Tuloy, ‘Do your ordinary duties extraordinarily well to succeed in all things,’” she said with a smile.

God Works in Mysterious Ways

These young people are proof that indeed God works in ways we can never completely fathom.

Even Fr. Rocky testifies to this. In fact, in the beginning he never imagined having anything to do with a street children program. But as he put it very well, “When God calls, He dismantles you.”

A scholar for many years of his life as a Salesian, Fr. Rocky studied in Hong Kong and Rome before he was ordained by Paul VI along with 271 other priests on Pentecost Sunday in 1970. He would later take up post-graduate studies.

“I never wanted to work for the poor. That would appear to be a waste of all that I learned. I was always a scholar; a problem solver.”

But God had other plans. During the time when he was Parish Priest in St. John Bosco Parish Makati, the unthinkable happened. “I had a dream in 1992 that I was walking with street children. And they grew by the hundreds. We had nothing to eat. So we sat on the ground, and the ground became green. Then we saw a brown gate. Inside it was beautiful. ‘But it’s too beautiful for us, we’re poor,’ said one child.” Not very long after that, he found himself volunteering to take charge of a program for street children during a meeting with his confreres. And he would focus on excellence – on beauty – because poor children also deserve the best.

It would be a long and difficult journey after that, Fr. Rocky shared. He was misunderstood even by his own father. “But I guess that’s how it ought to be. I realized it’s not about me. It’s about God; Tuloy only succeeded because of Him. It’s all because of Him. Indeed, after everything that happens, God brings you home. And Tuloy is my home.” This became evident when on his 25th anniversary as priest he asked to devote his life to Tuloy.

From a small room in the Parish, Tuloy has definitely grown. The 3.5-storey residential building and the 2-storey school building in Makati eventually became too small, and so Tuloy moved to a 4.5-hectare property in Alabang where the Tuloy sa Don Bosco Streetchildren Village is now located. Here the foundation is serving up to 1,000 kids. It is the biggest village for street children in the world. Expansion projects are also underway with new facilities in Angeles, Pampanga and Binan, Laguna.

Supported by donations, it is unimaginable how Tuloy is able to continue its operations month after month with a budget of at least PhP 5 million.

Someone once asked Fr. Rocky about his “big problem” of raising funds. And the priest replied, “It’s not my problem. I have no money. It’s people like you who have money who have a problem. What are going to do with your wealth?”

For people who are exposed to Tuloy, it is not hard to see that the impossible is becoming possible; and miracles are truly happening here, as some donors have pointed out. One of their biggest donors told Fr. Rocky that he must never stop talking about Tuloy and letting people know about it because “Tuloy isn’t yours anymore. It is your country’s. It is the world’s.”

Fr. Rocky repeatedly credits the people who work with him, including the lay volunteers, Salesians, and Franciscan Missionaries of the Infant Jesus (FMIJ) sisters who are also part of Tuloy’s management committee. Among them is Fr. Sylvester Casaclang, SDB who shared that most street children centers harp on misery, but “in Tuloy we focus on potential. Every child has an individualized program… The encounter with God — meeting God in Tuloy — is the most important…. The empowerment of the laity that came with Vatican II is very evident in Tuloy.”

In fact, Tuloy has many full-time and part-time volunteers who have devoted so much of themselves to the care of street kids. Among them are the lay members of the management team: Cathy Go (Finance), Dadel Bonzon (Child Development), and Jojo Perez (School). Ms. Go, one of the first lay volunteers and co-founder of Tuloy, was a very successful banker. But when she started giving donations, and then also her time to Fr. Rocky’s work, she decided to commit herself fully in the service of street children.

Fr. Rocky challenged the audience, composed of seminarians, religious and laity, to follow suit: “Those who do not serve those in need are unhappy persons. Priests and nuns who do not serve the poor are incomplete. You need to refresh the heart by caring for the poor…. Go back to basics. Wherever we go, we are looking for happiness. I am one of the happiest persons in this universe, because I am finally home. Home is where God wants you to be. And as Pope Francis reminds us we need to be where Jesus was when He came to the world: with the poor.”

 
Maria Divina Solano, MRS, MATh is a graduate of DBCS. She is Coordinator and Consultant of the Research Office and Guest Professor teaching Theology and Spirituality of the Laity.

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