For nearly 20 years, Tahanan Sta. Luisa (TSL) has been taking care of street girls who have been physically and sexually abused. It’s no easy feat. But the journey, and all the struggles and challenges that come with it, is worth it.
We learn lessons the hard way. And from our experiences, we can say that frustrations bring out the best in us, but also change us for the best.
The caring, teaching, and healing framework keeps everyone busy at Tahanan Sta. Luisa. The street girls go to “school” – a special set-up at their home where a teacher gives them valuable lessons from the basics of reading and writing to the values they need to grow up to become better citizens.
But more than the education aspect, it is dealing with trauma that is at the heart of TSL’s work. Currently, the crisis, recovery, and rehabilitation center takes care of 15 street girls with harrowing experiences of physical and sexual abuse. Each one has her own tale of suffering and survival — and everyone is brave in dealing with the pain every day.
The healing process is a journey, with many detours, stops, starts, and uncertainties. There’s no one size fits all approach. Everyone at TSL is always learning from their mistakes, and they hold onto the promise that what matters most is the best interest of the street girls.
Before, TSL was very ‘strict’ in dealing with the street girls. But at the same time, TSL also pampered them. The house parents, social workers, and teachers did their best to serve the girls and give them their needs. But when they do something bad or when they throw tantrums, TSL resorted to isolation or using psychiatric medicines.
With experience, TSL realized that isolation does not help as it only pushes the street girls to do wrong. Psychiatric medicine will be good for some time, but is not a long-term solution and should be a last option.
Street girls who have been abused are wounded, and they should be given every opportunity to heal and confront the abuse. From a strict and do’s and don’ts type of system, TSL tried a more open and understanding environment. It’s like a shift to a “natural” way of healing.
The key is to connect to the child from within. At TSL, social workers, house parents, and teachers do their best to make sure the street girls feel they are loved and taken care of by a family. A goal is to make them experience how it’s like to grow up like a normal child — young and carefree.
But with freedom comes responsibility. At TSL, the girls are trained to be independent. They are tasked to do household chores like washing the dishes, washing their clothes, cooking, and the like. The girls also enjoy sewing sessions where they are taught simple cross-stitching and embroidery.
With the new approach, the street girls feel they are important and have roles to play. It’s about striking a balance between making them feel free and not tolerating their wrongdoings at the same time.
Every day, it’s all about adjustments for the social workers, house parents, and staff. They exert effort to know everything about the street girls — their character, attitudes, and behavior — so they can deal with them properly.
It’s no secret that the street girls can get very unstable. They have a lot of insecurities and mood swings. They seek a lot of attention, and worse, they lie and manipulate to get what they want. They are very smart and strategic — skills they learned from living in the streets for a very long time.
The challenge for social workers and house parents is to outsmart the street girls. They have to be caring yet they must be an authority to earn the girls’ respect. They must always be vigilant, keen, and sensitive to the girls’ behavior to better understand them and help them.
The social workers, house parents, and teachers try to be strong because dealing with the girls can be very difficult. It pushes them to their limits physically, mentally, and emotionally. They get to a point when they question their methods, until they realize that sometimes, no matter how good your intentions are, there are just some things you can’t control.
But then there’s always faith, and hope that things will eventually turn out right in the end. Every day, the people at TSL experience the grace to forgive, and the struggle to love someone who is hard to love.
No matter the difficulties and challenges, the social workers and house parents will always overcome — because the end goal is to love. They will always work hard to make sure the street girls learn from and appreciate life at its fullest. They will find ways to affirm the street girls, and assure them of their skills. Because at the end of the day, what matters most is the street girls feel they are loved by a family.
TSL’s social workers, house parents, and teachers work to give the street girls the caring, teaching, and healing they need — but they realize they also get the same from the girls. They may fail in some ways, but the fact that the street girls are trying their best to regain their worth and dignity is enough reason for them to try again. TSL will always fail forward in its journey of healing — but it is in failing forward where TSL learns the grace to be strong, to forgive, to hope, and to love.
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