Recently, we at the PREDA Foundation have opened a new home for troubled boys which was possible with the help of our supporters. The children in the PREDA homes can be 10 to 15 years old. They are not criminally liable yet they are often jailed like criminals. We rescue them and give them a new start in life.
I was talking to a group of these young boys who had been taken out of filthy jails and sub-human conditions in the so-called youth detention centers or locked behind bars in jails for children in the Philippines. I told the boys who are now freed and safe at the happy PREDA home: "You are the children of God and the most important in God's family. That's why you are here, you are free and have rights and dignity." Think of God as the force of eternal goodness and the power of love of others, and we of good will are united with that force.
They stared wide-eyed with incredulous looks of awe and bafflement. They had just arrived and met the other boys. Jason, ten years old, jumped up, spread out his arms and began to spin around in a playful demonstration of "being free." Everyone laughed and enjoyed the moment.
The boys are living happily in a beautiful home in the countryside and finding and experiencing their basic rights and joys that we, who have never suffered an injustice or been in conflict with the law or lost our freedom, take for granted and so hardly ever cherish and celebrate.
The boys at the PREDA Foundation's New Dawn Home for Boys in Conflict with the Law are not convicted and not on trial. They are sent to get treatment and therapy and help for troubled lives. They are free to run wherever they want in the grounds. There are no guards, steel bars, wire cages and brutal treatment which they experienced in the jails and youth detention centers where they were locked up like animals without sunlight, exercise, education or entertainment, affirmation or legal process.
It is the first time for them to experience such rights and respect and for them it is an amazing wonder. We at PREDA tell them the truth about themselves, "you are good, you have rights and dignity, you have had a hard life and made mistakes under the bad influence and bad example of uncaring and untrained adults but now you can choose to live another positive way."
They listen with wide-eyed wonder and can scarcely believe this good news since they have hardly ever experienced being loved, wanted, valued, supported, fed and cherished. Instead, they have been rejected all their lives and told they are a burden and pest to their family and society and deserve punishment and imprisonment.
Now they are taught, "You are free here at the PREDA New Dawn Home for boys. You can decide to stay or leave. Know that you are of importance, of value and are good in yourselves. Do not believe or think of yourselves as bad, criminal or useless young people, you are God's children and the most important in God's family, Jesus said so."
Hearing and knowing this good news, each one, free of fear, no reprimand and punishment, they can develop self-awareness, self-consciousness and begin to grow as persons. It is a vital part of being fully human and something they hardly ever experienced. They feel respected and valued and can have a dream to reach a positive goal. They are assured that they will be helped to achieve a better, happier life for themselves and their future families when they grow up. What attitudes they have today will be how they will treat others in the future. They must learn and grow for the better.
These are children and have been branded by parents and society as worthless thieves, drug dependents and social outcasts. But they are not. They have committed no crime, just living abandoned on the streets surviving on their own. What inspires and motivates the youth at the PREDA home for boys freed from detention is to know that their parents are willing to cooperate and attend parenting seminars and to accept and admit that they too have mistakes and are willing to reconcile with their child. The parent must change their negative attitudes and love their children. This is what brings hope and a new life to the children.
Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.