Text by Eimor P. Santos and video by Vincent Go,VERA Files
On a normal day, Joshua Mandapat, 14, together with his friends, would roam around the streets, play in computer shops, and sometimes, get into fight with other kids.
But last May 25, his group decided to do something worthwhile for a change. They joined 700 other volunteers in painting a mural on the 1.075-km long wall surrounding the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center (NAPWC) in Quezon City.
It was the group's first time to paint, but they already painted history. The fresco they helped paint, dubbed as the "Biodiversity Wall of Nature," is now the longest wildlife mural in the country.
The mural is an initiative of the Protected Areas and Wildlife Bureau (PAWB) of the Department of Natural Resources (DENR), Marine Wildlife Watch of the Philippines, and Dolphins Love Freedom Network.
The once green and white wall is now filled with a plethora of colors, showcasing turtles, dolphins, and other wildlife species, including "Lolong," the world's biggest and longest reptile in captivity.
The mural aims to spread awareness of the richness of the Philippine oceans, given the fact that the country is the epicenter of marine biodiversity, PAWB Director Mundita Lim said.
"The wall of the NAPWC will serve as a picture that will remind us of our responsibilities to take care of our marine resources," Lim added. "Not only will it serve as an inspiration to us but also to the millions of other citizens who will pass [by]…"
The idea of involving children in the Wall of Nature came about when the lead environmental muralist AG Saño saw the group of kids from across the street watching him while he was sketching on the wall.
At first the boys were hesitant to join, saying they did not know how to paint. Saño asked them a very simple question, "Do you have hands?" He said just one hand would be more than enough.
From then on, Joshua and his friends found a more worthwhile way to enjoy their summer vacation. They would wait for Saño every week and paint, following the outlines marked with chalk.
"Without the help of the small kids from the next barangay, hindi po matatapos yan (the mural would not be finished)," Saño said.
During the actual painting event, about 15 more kids aside from Joshua's group helped paint the mural.
Renñer Piloton, 13, said he and his pals figured in rumbles each time kids from other villages intruded into their "territory" in Bgy. Basra. He also confirmed knowing kid robbers, but declined to name them, saying he might get beaten up.
The street kids of QC are known for being notorious gangsters, snatchers, and "rugby boys."
Considered children in conflict with the law, they are mostly concentrated in the National Capital Region (NCR) which includes QC. The Council for the Welfare of Children noted that as of 2010, there are 8,807 of them in the NCR alone, and are usually involved in theft or robbery.
"Kapag habambuhay natin silang pinagsarhan ng bintana at kinatok palayo, habambuhay din yung problemang may mga batang galit sa mundo (If we forever close our windows on them and knock them away, the problem of having kids who hate life will forever persist)," Saño said.
This is why Saño plans to go back to the nature park every once in a while to conduct art lessons for the kids, teaching them to care for the environment in the process.
Upon hearing this, Renñer said he would gladly choose painting over fighting with other kids.
Children are particularly close to Saño's heart since the 36-year-old artist has spent 22 years of his life volunteering to teach them.
It all started when Sano was 14 years old. He used to assist his maestro Fernando Sena, the painter-teacher known as "The Father of Philippine Art Workshops," in giving free art classes to street kids of Tondo and inmates of Manila City jail.
From then on, Saño has imbibed the passion for helping the less fortunate. For nine years, he also volunteered for the He Cares Foundation, a street children caring center that helps and teaches extremely poor street kids in Metro Manila.
Today, it's not only with Quezon City children that he shares art lessons. He also has sessions with Batangas kids.
Liwliwa Malabed, a writer of literature for kids and member of "Kuting" or "Kuwentista ng mga Tsikiting," lauded the children's involvement in such huge advocacy.
Malabed noted that when Lim delivered his opening remarks in English, she asked a boy next to him, "Naiintindihan mo ba? (Do you understand?)"
The kid, named JR, honestly said he did not
Malabed, despite her fractured right arm painted with glee saying that sometimes the only way for children to understand things, including the environmental problems of the country, is by participating in its solution.
"When they take part in it, they own it," she said. "When they grow up, they are going to be good citizens who care about the environment."
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")