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THE URBAN POOR Surely you dont bother much about exploring the small streets of Cebu, if youre not that curious. What could be behind all these buildings and good looking houses, or the stores that line up the road I wasnt curious enough then, until one day I saw something very surprising. I and three other school mates were assigned in a place called Barangay Lutaw-lutaw located in Tisa, Labangon, Cebu, for our National Service Training Program (NSTP). In partner with Euphrasia – an institution that helps teach both in- and out-of-school children living in depressed areas, we were volunteers to help tutor these kids every Saturday of the week for at least two hours, teaching Math, English and Science suitable for their age.

On our first session, it was quite a surprising one. From the main road of Banawa going to Labangon, there is this small street across a big, old gate that said SYS Printing, on the right side, where our location for the tutorial was. As we walked in, there were decent looking houses on the left and on the right. Until at the end of the alley we had to go in between the houses, walk for about two minutes until we reached the area of Lutaw-lutaw. It was depressing to see so many people live this way, with very small houses that stand right next to each other, having only two or three sources for water (deepwater pumps) and very narrow ways to walk through. You see plenty of kids just roaming around, maybe playing; some children didnt have clothes on.

Mothers were always by the pumps doing laundry while the teenagers just by stand in the corners. The tutorial sessions were held in about a 6 square metered chapel with only four small benches and one small blackboard. We always had trouble with chalk and tables for the children to use, but tutorials were successful, nonetheless. The whole area was called Lutaw-lutaw (literally means floating) since it suffered many floods before it was urbanized in 1991. It became three associations then, namely Kanhay, Luhay and Kauswagan, under different owners, Abellas, de la Torres and Tabanags, respectively. Kauswagan was where we held our tutorials.

Its about about 1,500 square meters with 41 houses plus the chapel. Estrella Yap, a resident of Kauswagan for over 30 years now, shares her story on how they first moved here in 1979. She was only with her husband and young children and floods frequently embraced them. The government bought the whole area of lutaw-lutaw for the urban poor and around 1999 or 2000, Estrella said they already started paying for their lots (to build houses on). Today, she still resides in Kauswagan, Lutaw-lutaw, Tisa, Labangon, now also with her grandchildren. One of her grandchildren, Antonette Canete, the eldest in her family, is one of our tutees. She is only seven years old but is very promising. She studies in Labangon Elementary School along with other fellow tutees.

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Many times, shell be alone holding her notebook and pencil, listening intently to us discuss. She was very quiet and I took interest in talking to her. She is intelligent for her age and given the limited intake for education. “Gusto ko mag nars… para makatabang ko sa mga tawo” (I want to become a nurse so I can help people). She tells us how she appreciates the weekly tutorials.

She is always very eager to learn. Her father works as a company driver in Dranix while her mother stays at home to watch over her younger siblings. The other children of Kauswagan are very giddy children. The cousins Richie Rabanes and Jayboy Rabanes always come in early and are even the ones to call in others to let them know we have arrived. They tell us, “Malingaw mi sa mga games” (We enjoy the games).

“Gusto ko mag police. Magbantay ko sa mga tawo unya dakpon nako and mga gangster!” (I want to become a police. Ill keep watch of the people and catch gangsters!), says Richie. Kauswagan may be an urban poor area, but surely it has kids with a lot of potential.

There just needs to be more help for them to reach their potentials. Joanna Mae Abellanosa, one of the tutors, said that she has always had the passion for teaching and helping young children. Its these children that open our eyes to reality, that there are always other people who either suffer more than you do, or less than you do.

Contentment is here at its best. The constant smiles of the children and their giddy laughs throughout our sessions remind us how to be happy amidst all the trouble and hardships.