Big mama to the kids

> Se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer Te­janne Quilay Zar­zoso is ded­i­cated to sav­ing street chil­dren in the Philip­pines from a life of crime with her project

The Sun (Malaysia) - - LIFESTYLE - BISSME S.

CHIL­DREN com­mit­ting crime used to be a com­mon sight in Cabad­baran, Agu­san del Norte, in the Philip­pines. “Al­most ev­ery day, there [was] an in­ci­dent in­volv­ing chil­dren for sim­ple theft, tru­ancy, rob­bery, etc,” says se­nior po­lice of­fi­cer Te­janne Quilay Zar­zoso, 42, ( be­low) in an email in­ter­view.

She and her team of po­lice of­fi­cers would ar­rest th­ese chil­dren, who were then re­ferred to a so­cial wel­fare of­fi­cer and later re­turned to their par­ents.

But very soon, the same chil­dren were back on the streets, com­mit­ting crimes again.

“It was frus­trat­ing, and the prob­lems [seemed] to be end­less,” re­calls Zar­zoso.

In 2001, the sit­u­a­tion started to change. It all be­gan with Te­janne be­ing cho­sen to at­tend a spe­cial train­ing pro­gramme for law en­force­ment of­fi­cers in Manila, spon­sored by the United Na­tions Chil­dren’s Fund (Unicef).

One of the high­lights of the train­ing pro­gramme was Ju­ve­nile Jus­tice, where she met a young­ster who was jailed for years just for steal­ing a kilo of fish.

This in­ci­dent, and the pro­gramme it­self, opened her eyes to the plight of chil­dren who are in con­flict with the law and it ig­nited her pas­sion to help them in any way she can.

“I see them not as sus­pects but vic­tims,” she says.

This at­ti­tude led her to cre­ate a project called Pro­tect Feed Save, where she and her team have cre­ated ac­tiv­i­ties and pro­grammes just for the street chil­dren.

“My ap­proach is now fo­cused on pre­ven­tive and re­ha­bil­i­ta­tive mea­sures, and no longer the puni­tive ones,” she says.

The team has con­ducted med­i­cal and den­tal pro­grammes for the chil­dren, and also got reli­gious lead­ers to be in­volved to teach good val­ues to the young­sters.

The team has also pro­vided the chil­dren with al­ter­na­tive learn­ing op­tions. This en­cour­aged some of th­ese chil­dren to go back to school to con­tinue their stud­ies. To­day, most of them have grad­u­ated from high school.

Te­janne re­lated one of their suc­cess sto­ries: a young man named Ge­orge Man­u­lat who, as a child, was ar­rested for com­mit­ting crimes sev­eral times.

Now, he has grad­u­ated high school, and dreams of be­com­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer just like her.

“My ul­ti­mate aim for this project is for it to pro­duce more [young­sters like] Ge­orge, not just here in my [re­gion] but [also] through­out the Philip­pines and beyond,” she says.

“I be­lieve there is good­ness in ev­ery child and we just have to give each one a lit­tle love.”

One of the team’s main fo­cus is to feed th­ese chil­dren, which it has man­aged to do, thanks to help from the So­cial Wel­fare and Devel­op­ment Of­fice as well as pri­vate donors.

“To those who want to know the kids bet­ter, the first step is to start through their mouths,” Te­janne ex­plains.

“Feed th­ese chil­dren, be­cause they need it the most. One of the push fac­tors why they go to the streets and com­mit crimes is the lack of food in their homes and the pain of hunger.”

She also cites an­other rea­son why the chil­dren ended up in the street and turned to crime – a lack of parental guid­ance.

“In to­day’s so­ci­ety where both par­ents go out and work for a liv­ing, the needs of our chil­dren are ne­glected,” she says.

“I am not talk­ing about the need for ma­te­rial things but the need for love, guid­ance and pres­ence.

“With the com­mu­nity’s help, hope­fully, they too can en­joy the same priv­i­leges as other chil­dren who have func­tional fam­i­lies.”

The big­gest chal­lenge Te­janne faces in run­ning this project is ac­tu­ally get­ting the trust of th­ese chil­dren and main­tain­ing it.

From time to time, she finds some of the chil­dren re­turn­ing to their old ways. “I am still a po­lice of­fi­cer and I have to bal­ance be­tween en­forc­ing the law and help­ing th­ese chil­dren over­come their vices, and over­come their per­sonal guilt. “Most of the chil­dren have a low self-es­teem and [even­tu­ally], it is de­stroy­ing them.” This mother of three is also a cham­pion of women and chil­dren’s rights.

When not in­ves­ti­gat­ing cases, Te­janne is in her com­mu­nity teach­ing chil­dren and women about their rights, ed­u­cat­ing the com­mu­nity about drug abuse and traf­fick­ing, as well as dis­sem­i­nat­ing crime pre­ven­tion tips.

For her ef­forts, Te­janne was named one of the 10 out­stand­ing po­lice­women of the Philip­pines in 2003 and one of Metrobank Foun­da­tion’s coun­try’s out­stand­ing po­lice of­fi­cers in ser­vice (COPS) in 2006.

“I started out as a re­luc­tant po­lice of­fi­cer,” Te­janne says.

She is a grad­u­ate with a bach­e­lor of science de­gree in food tech­nol­ogy and even worked for six months in a food man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pany.

She be­came a po­lice of­fi­cer while wait­ing for a more suit­able job re­lated to what she’d stud­ied.

But when she started work­ing with women and chil­dren, she felt a sat­is­fac­tion in her life and de­cided to con­tinue as a po­lice of­fi­cer.

“I did not even no­tice that I’ve [spent] 20 years in the ser­vice last Au­gust,” she says.

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