How it all began
Unang Hakbang Foundation Inc. (UHF) grew out of a project started by the Zonta Club of Metropolitan Pasig. Under a Saturday program organized in The Catacombs of St. Francis Parish Church, located on St. Francis Street cor. Shaw Boulevard in Mandaluyong City, a group of club members invited children on the streets of EDSA Crossing (the busiest commercial & transportation hub in the area) to come for games, catechetical instruction, and a meal.
From 12 children on September 7, 1996, when the program was born (fittingly on the eve of the feast of the Nativity of the Blesssed Virgin Mary), the number of children who came on Saturdays grew to more than 100. It was then that the idea for transforming the project into UHF was born. Today, UHF is a totally separate and independently funded organization.
The children were rowdy, noisy, and seemed lacking in self-discipline but they quickly taught us about community, compassion, and standing up for each other. Our center became Bahay ni San Francisco (St. Francis' Home) because it was home. Home was where your family was and UHF was family. Here, they found sanctuary and UHF's programming coalesced quickly around providing a safe space for children and helping them become their best selves. The children crafted the house rules according to a code they devised: Hindi mag-aaway. Hindi mangbubugbog. Hindi manglalait. Magtutulungan (We don't quarrel. We don't beat each other up or tease each other until the other cries. We help each other).
At a very young age, children of distressed families are often asked to help keep the family together. This means taking care of a younger sibling, fetching water from a far-off source, or peddling their innocence as beggars and sampaguita vendors. In such an environment, children grow old before their time. We saw our task as helping them re-gain their childhood.
We gathered volunteers to help the children begin to read and sent those who passed their basic literacy test to the La Sall Greenhills (LSG) Special Education Program for Former Street Children SEP-FSC) to prepare them to take the grade school accreditation and equivalency test. We partnered with Schools Division Office of Mandaluyong City for a class under an alternative learning system at Highway Hills Elementary School (HHES) for the girls who could not be accepted at LSG and the boys who were just starting to read or who had yet to firm up their resolve to move out of the streets.
We organized art classes, sports activities, retreats, and excursions. With EDSA Crossing progressively getting gentrified, however, we left The Catacombs for a house on Calbayog Street, a stone's throw away from HHES. But with our original group of children now grown and going their different ways, UHF's programs increasingly focused on providing assistance to at-risk public elementary school children.
"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."