From Concrete to Custody
By Curt Devine
May 14, 2012
Bungee is a rough-cut gangster. By day, he sleeps and lays low; by night, he runs the streets of Mindanao, Philippines, ruling a gang known as the Black Scorpions. He protects his gang’s territory, steals to make ends meet and pretty soon he could become a local drug lord. But there is one thing that separates Bungee from most other hardened gangsters—he is 12 years old.
Street children run throughout the Philippines in high numbers. Many are abandoned by their parents or flee home to escape abuse, neglect or poverty, turning to the streets to live independently. UNICEF cites that about 250,000 street children dwell in the 33 highly urbanized cities in the Philippines, but many locals claim those numbers do not reflect the reality that more than 1 million Filipino children have no parents to provide for them. As a result, children like Bungee often form gangs and wave around 9 MMs at the age most American children play with cap guns. Others simply live without purpose or protection, begging and stealing for daily survival.
While many of these children have no options for success, Jeremy Moody knows how to put an end to the cycle. As a 35-year-old Oregon native, Moody once knew nothing about Filipino street children. “I was living the American dream with my family. We had a big house, three cars and a motorcycle—everything I thought I wanted,” he says. “But then God changed it all.”
After working for years in a comfortable manufacturing job, Moody came to a crossroads: continue living the safe life of accumulating trinkets and watching football games or step out in faith and follow God’s leading. Despite having two children and one on the way, Moody and his wife found themselves moving to the Philippines in 2007 to follow their wild dream of impacting the world around them. “Sometimes I still wonder if I was crazy for giving it all up, but maybe following God should look a little crazy,” he says.
Through a series of conversations and hours of prayer, Moody began working as a director for Kids International Ministries (K.I.M.), an organization of children’s homes that provide shelter and long-term care to Filipino street children. K.I.M.’s main goal is to connect abandoned, homeless children with permanent families, but more often than not, the children are not adopted and require more than a place to sleep. Moody explains that many orphanages only give food and shelter to children, but in the Philippines, that leaves most of them susceptible to gangs, crime and begging at later stages in life. “We want all of our kids to have a future—not just a safe childhood,” he says. For that reason, K.I.M. commits to children for life, looking after their present needs and providing them with transitional housing, job training and educational support as they enter adulthood. “We won’t force children to leave. We will work with them for life or until they leave us,” Moody says.
Although many of the children within K.I.M. have previously lived alone in the streets, some come from family backgrounds of extreme neglect and abuse. Ariel, a 13-year-old boy from the southern island of Mindanao, Philippines, was staying with his mother about four years ago. Although he had a place to sleep, his mother would give him superglue to sniff in order to curb his appetite so that she didn’t have to feed him. He became increasingly malnourished until social services reported his case and placed him in a K.I.M. home.
“Poverty is the main issue. Many parents simply cannot afford their children, so they neglect them or give them up,” Moody says. He notes that unskilled Filipino workers only earn about $3 a day if they have a full-time job, which can be difficult to find. Moody describes another case where a child was living with his mother, an unemployed single mom. She became pregnant with another man’s baby but knew she couldn’t afford two children. Her boyfriend told her she could get an abortion and he would support her and her living son, or she could have the baby but she would have to give up her son. “She chose to have the baby, which made her living son a street kid,” Moody says.
As an American father, Moody finds cases like these hard to comprehend. “I don’t know how you can do that to a child,” he says. “But I do know that there is still hope—these children don’t have to become who society tells them they will be.” By caring for all needs in a child’s life—physical, emotional, spiritual and educational—Moody believes K.I.M. and other holistic organizations can put an end to the cycle of homelessness and crime in the lives of Filipino street children.
“Sometimes I’d rather be home in Oregon with my cars and comforts,” Moody says, “but where is the adventure in that?”