“After some run-ins with the law, I stopped dreaming. But now that I have started hoping again, I do it not only for myself but for children who have gone astray and need help – just like who I used to be,” Ryan says of his new role as a house parent for juvenile offenders going through diversion program at Don Bosco Magone Home.
Just last year he was frail and scared to tell how he, at age 12, faced repeated imprisonment and torture in the hands of the police. But this time, Ryan walks eagerly with a big confident smile on his face and a visibly self-assured demeanor. He is now mid-way through a university degree in Psychology. From the petty crimes he admits to committing in the past, his life now revolves around his studies as a working scholar and spending time with his family. From the weapon-toting street-involved youth that he was, he now carries with him a rosary to remind him to stay full of hope. He now starts his day with a prayer.
Holding back tears, he recalls “those days of walking in the dark, being born poor and coming from a broken family, living only to die in the end, I thought I have no place to dream for a future anymore.” But he has picked himself up. At Don Bosco, he realised life would not end with his dark past; and learned to hope again and do something good with life and for other people around him.
Ryan was one of the children in conflict with the law who entered the diversion programs ran by Don Bosco, which provides rehabilitation for young offenders and help children understand the harm that they have caused others, find true remorse and seek forgiveness, and in the process of their healing, regain their dignity. To reintegrate them into society, Don Bosco Magone immerses young offenders in various phases of rehabilitation and character-building.
It was not easy: there was always a deep internal struggle between good and evil, whether he’d sustain what the rehabilitation set him up for. But with the trust and care his newfound friends and mentors at Don Bosco have shown him, he pulled through. “I can count with my fingers the people who trusted and supported me in my journey, in and out of Don Bosco; and I will be forever grateful,” he beams.
At Don Bosco he learned to focus his attention on what matters, “the passion to serve and give what good I have,” he says. He now helps counsel children who experienced what he went through, and is happy doing it because he deeply relates with their journey. He sees himself in them, and by sharing with them his own experience, he imparts the hope in moving forward that he now strives for.
“I have already forgiven the police who beat me up, and people who did not believe in me. My friends and neighbors mocked me because of what I did; my own family disowned me. I had regrets of having been born… But now it’s different. I just take it all as part of my past, and I draw my strength from that. They’re lessons learned,” he says. He also does not hold any resentment, and thinks Don Bosco was the best part of his life, allowing him to go good for other children. He initially did not want to leave for fear of the unknown future, but he is also quick to say that looking back, Don Bosco prepared him well.
Don Bosco’s Fr Arvin Abatayo proudly says, “Ryan completed the rehabilitative process and achieved a full 180-degree progress in regaining his life back as very responsible, conscientious and compassionate ‘big brother’ to young offenders undergoing diversion, and is eager to give back to the community.” Don Bosco is one of the centres providing full rehabilitation through diversion programmes across the country, guided by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act – which aims for restorative justice and children to be re-integrated back into society.
“Even if I still have my own struggles now, I want to keep on sharing with them what good came out of my journey. I want them to see that someone can give them the care and guidance, because I did not have much of that when I was young.”
At age 19, he now wants to be a Psychologist because he is amazed at their work, “the lengths they go just to help a person emotionally and empower them to positively change their life,” he confesses. Having experienced first-hand their generosity in giving hope to troubled teens and “how they worked hard to earn my trust and allow me to tell them my story,” now he wants to give back by doing the same.
Just two weeks ago, Ryan one-upped his story of redemption: he won a seat as council member in the Sangguniang Kabataan (Youth Council) elections. On top of his day-long courses and his evening work in the university, he is now eager to join public service. He beams with pride not only for this new sense of service to a wider community; more importantly, for the opportunity given to him despite his past.
He wants to show that hope springs eternal for anyone who perseveres for change – if only given the second chance for it. Because from his reckless teen life, he now calculates his actions and balances his time between school, work and home – mindful of the kind of example he is setting to other children.
In this era dominated by hatred in social media, hasty judgments, unequal access to opportunities and polarising politics even among children, it is easy to hold a deep grudge on people and the society. But not for Ryan.
Before leaving to resume his duties in school, he says with confidence and a visibly reassuring smile: “I have been through a lot, and I started with nothing. So wherever life takes me or whatever it gives me, I’ll take it on. Now that there’s another opportunity to start over with life, I want to see how much good I can give, especially troubled children.”
Now, how’s that for second chances?
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.