Something was different.
At 8 years old, and after being registered at a Compassion center for three years, there was something off about Riohnel. His child development center worker, King Ensendencia, couldn't help but notice that something was off.
Because of the Compassion center, Riohnel benefits from medical and dental checkups, he is given necessary vitamins and medicines, and he receives yearly school supplies and school tuition fees. But after three years, King was not able to see the impact of these benefits in Riohnel's life.
King recounted that as little children begin coming to the center, they usually come in tattered clothes, uncombed and dirty. After a couple of months, they learn how to be tidy and clean, and begin wearing new clothes, thanks to the financial support from their sponsors. Riohnel, however, was untidy and did not wear good clothes.
What Is Going On?
"I began to notice that he (Riohnel) had not been wearing any new clothes, not even our center uniform," said King. "He always explained that his mother was keeping his clothes. He had also been coming to class very sleepy and tired."
One day King went to visit Riohnel at his home. As he talked to Marichu, Riohnel's mother, he noticed that their house was unkempt after more than three years of Riohnel being in the program.
Compassion-assisted children from urban Philippine cities live in tiny, makeshift wooden hovels inside dark, smelly and overpopulated squatter colonies. Riohnel's neighborhood is a community built around and inside a functioning cemetery. The area is known for drugs, gang, prostitution and trafficking.
But despite their surroundings, almost always, homes of Compassion-assisted children are organized, clean and pleasant because of the guidance about hygiene that the centers give the children and families.
Things seemed off at Riohnel's home. There were no new clothes hanging inside the house or Scripture verses written on walls, which is "a common sight inside the homes of registered children that I usually visit," recounts King.
"Every time I visited Marichu, she always dodged my questions and began crying," King said. "She would tell me how difficult their life was and how poor they are." Despite intervention, poverty was still taking hold of Riohnel's life. His father is in jail for selling drugs and his three younger siblings have different fathers. Marichu is now living with yet another man.
A Startling Discovery
King continued to ask around, desiring to know the truth of Riohnel's situation. Finally, truth came from Riohnel's aunt and grandfather. With deep sorrow and concern he discovered that Riohnel's mother and her partner did not have work and so they were making money by selling Rihonel's clothes and school supplies.
Even more tragic, Riohnel was forced by his mother to beg in the streets and work as a scavenger. He scoured garbage piles all over the city to earn a little money to buy food for his mother, her partner, and siblings. Whenever he came home with nothing, his mother would get him in trouble.
"As a result, Riohnel developed a habit of sleeping in the streets and staying up very late until 1:00 in the morning," said King.
The Child Development Center Steps In
The staff from Riohnel's Child Development Center were surprised to learn about his situation. "There was no hint because Marichu actively wrote Riohnel's sponsor and in her letters she told good things about her son and their family," said Beth Tabasa, the director of the center. "Apparently, she lied in her letters."
An action plan went into effect immediately. King arranged for all of Riohnel's new clothes, school supplies, and sponsorship gifts to go to his grandfather, Gaudioso. King also decided to monitor Riohnel through Gaudioso. Soon after, Gaudioso decided to take Riohnel under his care.
"I've had enough," says Gaudioso, "I had to step in. My grandson is now living with me."
Today, staff from Riohnel's child development center notice that Riohnel is once again happy and active in all the center activities. He has been regularly wearing the center uniform and new clothes to church.
"He is also not sleepy in our classes anymore since he does not sleep in the streets anymore," explains King.
Gaudioso, 63 years old, loves Riohnel. "I will work harder now that my grandson is living with me," says Gaudioso. He also now goes to church regularly and takes Riohnel to the child development center.
When asked about his dream for the future, Riohnel said he wants to be a doctor someday so that he can help his grandfather and siblings. He also said, "I am happy that I am here (at the student center). I can hear stories and eat. I love reading, writing and coloring. Thank you."