Monday, December 28, 2009

A ray of hope shines

"A ray of hope shines"
Sun.Star Davao, Dec. 28, 2009

The detainees of the Davao City Female Jail refer to themselves as “bakasyunistas” (vacationers). They view their confinement in jail as temporary—a short respite until they resume their lives again in the outside world.

This Yuletide season, I got to meet these inspiring “bakasyunistas” when my Couples for Christ (CFC) household group visited them at the Ray of Hope Gawad Kalinga (GK) Village.

For the second year now, instead of celebrating our annual Christmas party, our household group used the party budget to support a GK community. GK is a "national movement, which seeks to transform slums into decent and clean communities; to change the feeling of helplessness to one of productivity".

The Ray of Hope GK Village is a 5,200-square meter, 20-cottage center detention facility exclusively for Davao’s women inmates. This is the first home-type jail and GK village in the history of the Philippine Penology and Management. It was established in Ma-a, Davao City last March 2, 2008.

The detention facility houses “offenders of majority age, who have pending court trials and are not able to post bail for their provisional liberty. Convicted female prisoners whose jail terms range from three years and below remain in the Ray of Hope GK Village until they have served their sentence. On the other hand, inmates with longer jail terms are brought to the Correctional Institute for Women in Mindanao in Davao Del Norte”.

The innovative project was made possible through Bureau of Jail Management and Penology’s Senior Inspector Grace S. Taculin, GK and its strongest supporters, NCCC Cares Foundation headed by president Lafayette Lim and the City Government of Davao in partnership with the Metro Davao Sports Association (MEDSA) and other NGOs like Womenet, ZONTA Club, Soroptimist International of Davao, Marist Community, various religious organizations and concerned individuals.

With their signature bright GK colors, the Ray of Hope cottages are a far cry from the nearby cramped male jail facility which I also visited a few years ago during a GK build activity.
Equipped with decent amenities not common in other jails, the Ray of Hope houses have tiled comfort rooms, built-in cabinets, tables, among others.

The cottages serve as sleeping quarters by night. During the day, they are utilized as a skills and livelihood training center, prayer house and study center. There’s even one cottage designated as the jail’s spa. Instead of iron grills and cells, the cottages have beautiful verandas and landscaping.

With its home-like ambiance, it is no wonder that the female inmates are motivated to undergo spiritual and social transformation during their “vacation”. A majority of them are in the detention facility because of theft, drug pushing, illegal recruitment and estafa cases.

Aside from the cottages, a multi-purpose hall was also built by the City Government of Davao for sports and recreational activities, music classes, livelihood and skills training, literacy program, health services and other rehabilitation and After Care Programs.

During our visit, the detainees delighted us with their energetic dance numbers, including a synchronized field demonstration ala the Cebu inmates of YouTube fame.

Another inmate serenaded us with her powerful song rendition of “Greatest Love of All”. I later found out that she was one of the 28 Davao City Jail detainees featured during the “Jailbreak Concert”, an original dance-drama-musical presentation at the CAP Auditorium last April 2009.

All throughout our visit, I was amazed at how cheerful the inmates were. I guess it’s just the way we are as Filipinos. We always try to look at the bright side in spite of our trials and tribulations. It also helped that the atmosphere in the detention facility was full of warmth and camaraderie.

The “bakasyunistas” would even jokingly call each other nicknames in connection with the crimes they committed. A bubbly middle-aged lady was named “Karahay” and when I asked why she was called as such, it turned out she was caught stealing a “karahay” (wok). Pinoy humor at its best!

At the entrance, the inmates proudly displayed the fruits of their livelihood and skills training--lovely crochet creations and plastic bags which were for sale. The detainees were also trained in meat processing, bead making, gardening, body and acupuncture massage, etc.

Through the Alternative Learning System, some inmates were able to finish their elementary and secondary level education inside the village.

Our household group donated medicines as well as insulation materials and floor mats to enhance a few cottages. These supplies were much appreciated by jail wardress Inspector Leticia Mission and the female inmates.

As we bade the inmates and the wardress goodbye, I left with a happy and hopeful feeling knowing that if and when these women detainees will go back to society, they will do so with a changed heart and a brighter outlook, thanks to a community that cared enough to bring back their dignity.

True to the name of their village, a ray of hope shines within each inmate.

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