“You’ll just end up marrying early. Your mother went to school but look where she is now.”
These words, uttered by others living alongside her on the streets, once haunted Sharry Angel Getigan, who used to sleep rough in Manila’s alleyways.
Her grandfather would sometimes tie her to a tree, so that she wouldn’t wander off while he peddled cigarettes, but none of these experiences dimmed Angel’s dreams of going to school.
Yet even as she devoured her school books and scored good grades — often on an empty stomach — doubt gnawed at Angel.
“At night, I would look at the sky and pray: ‘Is there another side to my life? Will there come a time where it’s a ceiling I see before I sleep?’” shares Angel.
Raised by her grandfather after her mother became addicted to drugs, Angel, as a child, was fascinated by the children she saw going to school in smartly pressed uniforms.
So she asked her grandfather to enrol her in school. He did — by taking a copy of her cousin’s birth certificate, erasing the name, and adding Angel’s instead.
Angel’s determination was enough to help her excel in school, but it was a chance encounter that landed her on a firmer step to a better life.
“A friend of mine asked me to join a meeting. In one of the meetings, I met street kids who turned out successful,” recalls Angel.
“Most of them came from shelters. I asked one of them to bring me to one of the shelters. She brought me to Tahanan Sta Luisa.”
Founded in 1999, Tahanan (Tagalog for “home”), is an intervention centre for street girls, who are often vulnerable to abuse and exploitation, such as trafficking.
Providing shelter, counselling and basic education, it seeks to help the girls recover, reconcile with their families where possible, and acquire skills needed to lead independent lives.
They are usually referred to the centre by social workers and outreach educators from other non-profits or agencies. Some have families that could not care for them, and some are survivors of sexual abuse or prostitution.
Taking up to 23 girls at a time, Tahanan has supported 560 girls, as of July 2018.
Going from the streets to a cosy bedroom took some getting used to — on her first night at the shelter, Angel couldn’t sleep “because my bed was so soft”.
“There was a fan, a blanket, a pillow, there was a door,” says Angel. “I was so happy.”
At Tahanan, Angel found a home — a safe space that enabled her to stay in school. “They felt like our mothers,” says Angel, referring to the centre’s staff.
She is now pursuing a degree at University of the Philippines, with Tahanan sponsoring part of the cost, and plans to become a teacher.
“I want to inspire my future students that, ‘If my teacher came from the streets and succeeded, I can also achieve my dreams’.”