March 5, 2009 / 8:22 AM / in 9 years

Manila's street urchins get lessons in money

MANILA (Reuters Life!) - Thrift isn’t something Manila’s street urchins consider, as most have barely enough money to survive, but a welfare group is showing them that saving their meager income can be their ticket out of poverty.

Traveling down the streets in a van that doubles as a classroom, members of Childhope Asia Philippines give street children lessons on basic financial management in one of Southeast Asia’s poorer nations.

The children are also encouraged to give some of their money to the welfare workers, to be put aside as savings.

“We teach these children personal accounting, because many of them have no idea how to spend money properly. For them, it simply comes and goes,” said Richardson Mojica, coordinator for the group’s Financial Education Program.

Mojica said that learning to save gives the children confidence to face an uncertain economic future.

More than 40,000 workers have been laid off in the Philippines due to the global financial crisis, and some 3 million are jobless, the labor department has said.

Around 90 street children have joined the Financial Education Program since its launch in 2007, with other students recruited from the city’s slums.

The first batch of children will enter the program’s final phase in March, when they will be admitted to vocational schools to give them skills that would help them become self-sufficient.

The Philippines’ social welfare department estimates there are around 200,000 street children in Manila. Many beg, sell small items to passers-by or car passengers, steal or become prostitutes. Often, they are abused.

“Life is hard, we have nothing to eat. We end up doing bad things, we steal just so we can have food,” said a boy who gave his name as Jay-Jay while sniffing glue under the rain.

Childhope Asia Philippines discourages begging as a way of accumulating cash, helping the children get other jobs in manicure salons, or as bottle collectors and fruit pickers.

Maria Christine Dumlao, who has been teaching a core group of around a dozen slum-dwellers, said while the charity did not support child labor, it respected the children’s desire to help themselves, and their families.

“Can we blame the children for working? Of course not, because they have their own dreams and aspirations. What is their dream? To help their families,” she said.

Financial adviser and author Fernando Colayco is a supporter of the project, saying that when it comes to money, many Filipinos, especially those from low-income groups, suffer from an “instant gratification mentality.”

One of his slogans is that financial independence is not an option but an obligation.

“It can be done. At any income level. You can plan to have a financially comfortable life,” said Colayco, who has written several best-selling books on finance management.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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