The children of the Tagpuro shelter
Maria Liza is the chief prosecutor of Tacloban, Philippines, the city that in 2013 was severely affected by one of the most devastating storms in history, typhoon Haiyan. It is here that she and her lawyer colleagues, in cooperation with the youth of the Focolare, the volunteers and the local parish of Our Lady of Hope, have started working together in favour of the street children and children at risk who live in the shelter of the Tagpuro area.
The Social Development Center for Children (SDCC) is a children’s shelter located in the area of Tagpuro, in northern Tacloban City, in the central region of Eastern Visayas (Philippines). In 2013, the city was severely hit by one of the most devastating storms in history, typhoon Haiyan. The Center, run by the city council’s Social Welfare and Development Office, is made up of two separate facilities, respectively dealing with the needs of street children and “children in conflict with the law” between 5 and 18 years of age.
“During this time of pandemic, we have become more and more aware of the difficult situation of the street children and the young people in conflict with the law who live at the shelter run by the city council” says Maria Liza Jorda, chief prosecutor of Tacloban. Maria Liza knows very well what it means to be in a situation of need, having experienced the devastation brought about by typhoon Haiyan in 2013, and having witnessed the horror of deaths and looting. Today, it is the children of the shelter who are in need, because of the lack of funds for their livelihood from the city’s administration.
“Knowing the difficult situation of these poor children, we decided to get in touch with our lawyer and prosecutor colleagues and tried to address their various problems, cooperating with the Focolare in our city, the young people, the volunteers, the members of Father Dave Carillo’s parish, Our Lady of Hope. Together, we continuously raise funds to address the lack of supplies and medicines in the Center. Even the mayor of the city appreciates the work we are doing”, explains Maria Liza. It is 8 a.m. here in Italy, 3 p.m. in the Philippines, and as I join her she is in the middle of her busy work day. On her table is a sworn declaration by some of the young people in Tagpuro who have allegedly suffered physical violence at the hands of four agents. The case is being followed by one of the prosecutors who works with her for the Center: “We take care of this too… – after a moment of solemn silence, as if to find the right words, she adds – we dare to take care of this”.
I ask her where the children come from, what their stories are. She replies: “There are the children who come from the street, who have been abandoned there by their parents and picked up or found by the social services or by other residents of the city. Then, there are the children “in conflict with the law”, as we say, who have committed robberies, thefts, or are accused of possessing drugs or of illegally possessing hand weapons, more rarely firearms”. These children, under the care of the social services, live in the Center, which becomes their temporary home. Here, they receive shelter, food, clothes and educational support. Often, however, provisions from the city council are not enough to cover the costs. “So we went to our mayor and we volunteered. It was 2019. We started little by little. The shelter had a problem with the bathroom? We paid a plumber to get it fixed. Last year, with our colleagues, we organized a lovely Christmas party, and they became our “center”. Everyone contributed and we were able to give each of them a toy as a present. But it still didn’t feel enough. Their building is in very poor conditions and needs to be restored. The kitchen space is very simple and not decent. So every month we keep raising funds among ourselves, when we receive our salary, and we give our contribution to improve the living conditions of these children”. Then, the pandemic arrived, making the situation, if possible, even worse: “With the pandemic the city is bleeding. I mean that it also desperately needs funds for other projects, businesses haven’t been able to recover from the effects of the lockdown yet… So, we keep contributing. With water supplies, for example, because they don’t have drinking water. Every month, we share our resources to bring these children water. We have a group chat in which we share the needs of the shelter with the volunteers, which allows us to raise more funds. And if, for some reason, one month some of us aren’t able to provide for the children of Tagpuro, we are assured that the others, my colleagues, the parish, will keep doing it. Ours is a collaboration”.
Their most important achievement, however, explains Maria Liza in conclusion, has been raising public awareness about the Social Development Center for Children: “Above all, we have raised awareness about the situation of the center among local authorities and officials. If we hadn’t entered the shelter, if we hadn’t been concerned, no one would ever have acknowledged their living conditions. So… these little things we are doing have created a sort of public “concern”, to urge the city council to really take care of these children”.
 Maria Liza Jorda wrote about her experience of the 2013 typhoon in this article published by New City and Città Nuova.