Manila's Homeless Find Expression In Theater

For Roland Sanlao, 38, being part of a theater workshop brought some of his talents back on the stage. Roland grew up in the province of Zamboanga del Sur in the southern Philippines. Roland used to work as a policeman but got ill of leukemia. One time he got sick and was accused of absence without leave (AWOL). He was not sure why they accused him, but he was certain that being a transgender was one of the reasons why. Feeling insulted, Roland left the police institution. He went to Manila hoping to find a better job - one that would accept his gender. Unfortunately, he did not get lucky and ended up being a street vendor in Quezon City. Then came COVID-19. On March 16, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared a month-long enhance community quarantine to ward off the spread of the coronavirus disease. The strict lockdown advised everyone to stay at home, but for people like Roland they had nowhere else to find shelter but outside, in the streets. Fortunately, hope came when a group of people from a Catholic church brought them to the Paco Catholic school where there is a shelter for the homeless. The shelter is part of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center, an initiative spearheaded by the Society of the Divine Word priest, Flaviano Villanueva, in response to the COVID-19 health crisis. Part of the shelter initiative was a theater workshop where Roland and several other homeless people were able to join.

They started rehearsals on May 23. “I used to act and dance when I was in high school,” said Roland who was happy and excited to be part of the workshop. For Roland, it was an opportunity for him to bring back his hidden talents and show it to other homeless and also to transgender people like him. “I am very thankful that I was brought here in Kalinga Center, where I found not only hope but also confidence to show my true self. Lord really has a plan for each and every one of us, I knew there was a place for us," Roland followed. On May 28, the group of homeless people, including Roland, performed a play with the title of ‘Paglaya Mula Sa Kulturang Kalye, Pagyakap Sa Buhay Kalinga’. The play displayed their struggles as homeless people from their life before the lockdown to the time they were brought to the Kalinga Center where they found hope and confidence. There were several audiences during the show including members of the church, beneficiary volunteers of Kalinga Center and other homeless people in the Paco shelter. The play had an audio that was entirely recorded with voices from the performers. There were also props that were made during a five-day rehearsal. The theater workshop is among the shelter’s creative psycho-spiritual intervention for the homeless. “We use theater arts for them to express what they feel and their struggles in life,” said Albert Saldajeno, the head animator of Kalipaya Centre, a theater-arts ministry based in Antipolo province that is run by the church. The ministry has given workshops in different parts of the country, handling pastoral issues of the church such as extrajudicial killings, poverty, environment, peace and justice. Saldajeno said that a theater production is usually done for a long period of time but this one they had strategies on how to finish it in just a few days. “It is really their voice that matters, minus all the theatrics.

We just want them to be who they are and we want to see what they are capable of. That is the good thing about it,” said Saldajeno. According to Saldajeno, "life will have to go on" and it doesn’t mean that everything has to stop because of the virus. Aside from practicing their play, Albert also gave time for spiritual and life sharing discussions where they were able to open up about their past. “Even before social distancing became a norm, we have already done it to them,” said Saldajeno who encouraged everyone to change how we look at homeless people as if they are uneducated and untalented. “Not all homeless people are worthless. They have hidden talents that we haven’t seen yet, and they are just waiting for the right time,” said Roland, who is still suffering from leukemia, but was thankful for Kalinga that was able to provide him blood transfusion. The Arnold Janssen Kalinga "Foundation has been operating even before the virus. Its homeless shelters have provided help during the coronavirus pandemic that has put Metro Manila under a lockdown situation. Unfortunately, the Foundation also experienced problems. "Despite our desire to continue, the local government - particularly the village officials - refused to see what we have been faithfully employing. We were following the guidelines, with proper social distancing, wishing to just provide the homeless with food and healthcare [amid the] COVID-19 pandemic, Flaviano said. According to Flaviano, the center in Tayuman, Manila has been closed twice. Those were the times he sought the help of friends. Eventually, Kalinga managed to bring the homeless to church-run schools in Manila, which opened their doors for them. Despite the challenges, church institutions, corporations, and even private individuals continue to provide support to the foundation. Kalinga Center has eight shelters that houses about 400 homeless people in Manila. Although, some people have begun leaving the shelter after the supposed end of the lockdown on March 15. Staff in the center, on the other hand, try to appeal against their decision, as they believe it is in the shelter’s best interest to wait until the lockdowns have fully been lifted.