Joef Fil tries to stand as tall as he can. At 4 feet 4 inches, that’s not much. His frame curls forward somewhat from an injury he sustained in a fall at 4 years old.
When he was 5, a doctor discovered his spine was curving and functionally shrinking. At 6, he started receiving comments from others about his stature. The deformity progressed as Joefil grew older, and so did the taunting about his condition. He remembers being bullied by children, adults and even some members of his family.
In sixth grade, Joef Fil enrolled in ChildFund programs and became a sponsored child. “ChildFund activities in self-awareness and life skills were the turning point in my coming to terms with my condition, and with other people’s attitudes,” Joefil says. “I was able to accept myself, and since then, I have been able to do more.”
Becoming a ChildFund youth leader played an important role in freeing Joef Fil from a sense of otherness. “At the different workshops ChildFund would host, I discovered I had a voice,” he says. “I learned whom I should talk to if I ever felt threatened by people; I observed that other children would listen to me, hear my voice not as a child different from them but as a peer not unlike anyone else my age.”
“Beyond learning I had a voice, I learned I could contribute,” Joef Fil says. He became more and more involved in the ChildFund youth group in his community. “Not only were other young people listening to me; adults now deferred to my leadership. People looked up to me for a change.”
He shared all this with his sponsors, Keith and Julie, and their children, Casey and Liam. “I was able to finish college because of them. Being their sponsored child was such a privilege,” says Joefil. He graduated with a B.S. in information technology.
Because of his expressiveness and eloquence, ChildFund chose Joef Fil to present the Philippines’ Country Strategy to peer agency leaders and the press in late 2012. There he commanded the attention and won the hearts of ChildFund’s leadership in the Philippines. “It was my honour and joy to stand testament to what ChildFund did for me and many other children,” he says.
November 2013 saw Super Typhoon Haiyan tear through the Visayas region of the central Philippines. Joefil was working with a development project in mid-eastern Philippines and quickly presented his willingness to volunteer. But the difficult nature of the emergency response forced ChildFund to deploy only trained staff to ground zero communities, so Joefil could not be allowed to join as a volunteer. In March 2014, after efforts shifted to focus on the early recovery of devastated communities, Joefil was hired.
He became an administrator of Child-Centred Spaces – temporary shelters erected by ChildFund to provide a safe place for children during times of crisis. In these shelters, children can play and be with other children in a protected, supervised space, allowing their parents time to cope with the pressing demands of finding food or shelter. Workers are trained to recognize signs of abuse or trauma and refer the children to services if necessary. In this way, Child-Centred Spaces serve as a launching point for ChildFund’s child protection activities in times of crisis.
“I had the job of strengthening child protection mechanisms in communities,” Joef Fil says. Philippine law makes certain public allocations for child protection, with the smallest unit mandated at the Barangay, or village, level. Prior to Super Typhoon Haiyan, ChildFund had already been working with Barangay Councils for the Protection of Children (BCPCs), orienting them in their role in child protection and establishing referral mechanisms between the BCPCs and the government’s social welfare department. Super Typhoon Haiyan changed many things throughout the Visayas region, and many people already struggling with different forms of poverty found their troubles compounded by the challenges of rebuilding communities.
“People didn’t know how to handle child protection cases, and ever since Haiyan made life more difficult, child protection has sunk even further as a priority for people,” Joef Fil says. This he tried to remedy by conducting a campaign of training and advocacy among parents and local government. “Local government leaders listened to me and looked to me for counsel in child protection matters,” he says.
ChildFund’s and Joef Fil’s work restoring and strengthening child protection mechanisms was a stunning success. Parents and even children now know what to do, and whom to talk to if they feel threatened.
With his project over, Joef Fil has set his sights on continuing to serve children. “I want to do a TED Talk,” he says. “First I want to go back to school and further my knowledge either in psychology or social work. I want to be a greater advocate for child protection and participation … one everyone can look up to.”
You can help change the life fortunes of a vulnerable child today, through ChildFund’s Child Sponsor Programme
With thanks to Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines for compiling this report