It was time for their daily writing activity. Wearing their green checkered uniforms given by the local government for free, the children were clueless but more than eager to start writing their first syllables on their pad papers. On the small chalk board, the teacher wrote the syllables ba, ka, and da, and the students copied them, trying their best to keep their scribbles within the red and blue horizontal lines, and trying to keep the lines straight. When they were done, they hurriedly fell in line in front of the teacher’s desk to have their papers checked. Everybody got a star stamped on their hands except for 4-year-old Miracle. She was left on the table with her worked unfinished. Her lines were crooked and letters jumped out of the horizontal lines.
After the activity, it was time for their afternoon merienda. The children quietly sat waiting for their food to be served by their parents who helped in the cooking in a kitchen just across their classroom. With the help of their parents, they ate the snacks – miswa soup and a bun of bread.
Miracle had to eat alone with no one to feed her. Her bowl of soup was untouched. All she did was to stare blankly at a distance and watch her classmates eat. From her other classmates, she was different.
With multi-colored tables, books around, and within warm yellow walls, twelve little children have found their second home in a small classroom at Barangay Sto. Cristo, Bago Bantay, Quezon City called the Bahay Bulilit.
Bahay Bulilit is a day care center built and sponsored by Ronald McDonald’s House Charities (RMHC), in partnership with the local government and the Department of Social Work and Development (DSWD), where children are offered a safe, enriching place “where they can test their wings so that someday, their dreams can take flight.” Aside from honing young minds, the day care center also aims at giving the children a fit and a healthy lifestyle, and a place where they can be kept from harm.
According to the Glenda Ingeniero, the children’s teacher, Bahay Bulilit started on November 30, 1997, and is the only Bahay Bulilit day care center in Quezon City. The day care center caters to a maximum of 80 students a year, divided between the morning and afternoon sessions. Today, there are 19 Bahay Bulilit centers nationwide.
What makes Bahay Bulilit different from other schools is on the aspect of free education. There is no tuition fee and all school supplies, from pencils to bags, are provided for them for free by the local government unit especially during elections, Ingeniero said.
But not everyone can study at the day care center. Ingeniero explained that the RMHC chapter in Quezon City annually conducts house-to-house surveys to 200 families at Brgy. Sto. Cristo before classes begin to look for children belonging to low income, large, and unemployed families. She added that when classes begin in June, most children who enter the day care center are unfit and malnourished.
“Before, we see malnourished children, but the day care center makes sure that the children are given proper nutrition to increase their weight,” Ingeniero said. “By the end of the school year, they are already healthy because we feed them.”
During recess, children also feel that they are at home since food are cooked and served by their parents who stay at the day care center until classes are dismissed. The parents take turns in cooking the children’s food, cleaning the classroom after class, and tending the outdoors.
That day, it was 29-year-old Edna Austria, whose three children have studied and graduated from Bahay Bulilit, who was in charge of the cooking. She said each parent donates five pesos everyday for the cooking materials, ingredients, and cleaning materials, since the city hall only provides them with pasta and noodles. She doesn’t want the children to eat the same food every day, she said.
“Their favorites would always be spaghetti and pancakes,” she said.
Austria has a four-year-old daughter studying at the Bahay Bulilit and she said the children truly learn from the teacher because they are handled very well. She wants her child to find a good job and to either be a teacher or a lawyer someday.
Parent Maria Custodio, 29, on the other hand, does not want to pre-empt her child’s wish. She said she often hears her child telling her that she wants to become a teacher someday.
“It’s actually difficult to teach small children,” Ingeniero said. “They will come to you unaware and with little knowledge but after a few months, they would know the basic alphabet, numbers, and some forms of speaking.”
Ingeniero has been teaching at the day care center for four years. She came from La Consolacion College in Pasig and was accepted when she applied at the Bahay Bulilit.
“I’m proud when I see the children learn,” she said. “Teachers from public elementary schools tell me how they excel in their studies, even topping their classes. Kapag Bahay Bulilit talaga galing ang mga bata, marurunong.”
She takes inspiration from her five children, two of which have also studied at the Bahay Bulilit.
“This is what destiny gave me,” she said.
There were no bells to signal the end of classes that afternoon, only the teacher’s voice. As the children walked home, with them are learnings, stars on their hands and arms, and a tummy filled with food. Everyone has already left the classroom with their parents except for Miracle who, by the end of the class, waited for her four-year-old best friend Angel before they walked home.
They walked towards the DSWD pink house located at the same vicinity as the Bahay Bulilit, only a few blocks from the classroom. It seemed as if the classroom was part of their home.
A few steps away from Bahay Bulilit, a bunch of little children and a couple of “house-parents” waited for them. The house’s main door was covered with a piece of plywood at the bottom half to keep the 14 children from going out of the house, unguarded. The children drooped onto the plywood, smiling at Miracle and Angel as they arrived. It was a relatively medium-sized, one-storey bungalow. Inside was a wide playing area and a small dining table only intended for six adults. It was then that Miracle started playing with her doll.
“Miracle and Angel were brought by their relatives here when they were a year old,” 38-year-old house-parent Linda said, “In a few months from now, Miracle is to be adopted by a family living abroad, and Angel is to return to their province with her grandparents.”
Abandoned children are brought into the DSWD units just a few meters away from the Bahay Bulilit. The children well taken care of as they regularly visit the infirmary to be checked by doctors, nurses, and psychologists.
Miracle and Angel have been in the pink house for already four years. They started at the infant house attended by caregivers, and were transferred to the pink house when they reached the year of three.
Both Angel and Miracle were said to be psychologically-challenged as brought by their growth experiences. As observed by Linda, Angel is shy and at most times, happens to be moody. Moreover, she said Miracle has had a delayed speech ability but Bahay Bulilit has somehow made up for it.
“She usually isn’t able to come up with a good output. When Miracle does not want to do or finish her tasks, I don’t force her to,” Ingeniero said, “Being an abandoned child, I think she has her own reservations.”
When in class, Miracle is often found not touching her food, seated at the corner, and staring blankly outside the window. Call her name several times and she won’t even answer.
Now it’s time for the 14 children’s dinner. A small casserole of soup was brought in by the dietary personnel. It was to be divided among each of the 14 children. Linda called them together to portion the food.
“No third plates!” she said.
Miracle, still in her checkered uniform, was slumped on the floor, still playing with her doll.