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Noble feet for orphaned children in the Philippines

By Boyen Baleva

Kyle with the Vierdaagsekruis pinned on his shirt, tells his brother Kalil about his experience during the last day of the four-day marches.

Twelve-year old Kyle G. Baleva crossed the finish line at about 2:30pm on Friday, 24 July 2009, to complete the four-day, 30 kilometers per day hike of the Nijmegen International Four-Day Marches. Considered to be the biggest hiking event in the world, the 93rd edition of the Nijmegen Four-Day Marches attracted a total of 40,645 participants on day one, 21 July, but only 37,106 crossed the finish line on Friday, with the first one racing in as early as 9:30 in the morning and the last limping past at 5:55, just five minutes before the closing of the event.

“It wasn’t very difficult after all,” reports Kyle happily. “The training I underwent was much more difficult, much more intensive.” He further reports that he suffered no blisters or serious muscle pains anywhere in his body.

For the incredible feat, Kyle received the royal decoration of the Vierdaagsekruis and cheers of approval from family, friends and everyone who heard about it. “Go, go, go, Kyle! We’re so proud of you!” says an e-mail from a tita in Manila, one of numerous e-mails and phone calls he received.

But what makes the feat more rewarding is that Kyle was able to raise more than €1,000 which he will donate to orphaned children in the Philippines.

Following the news about the Philippines on the internet, from the TV and from his parents, he found out that thousands of children are being orphaned because one or both their parents have been killed or have disappeared, courtesy of the security forces of the Gloria Arroyo government.

Children's rights advocates and children did a solidarity walk in the Philippines to draw more attention to the plight of children victimized by the Arroyo government's political repression and militarization.According to statistics, an average of three children are orphaned every week due to killings that are political in nature. In the last five years, more than 800 incidents of human rights violations had been recorded in the country, affecting some 215,200 children.

Then barely the same age as Kyle, Adeliza Albarillo witnessed the torture and murder of her parents by elements of the 16th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in Mindoro Occidental, April 2003. The gruesome incident left her and seven other siblings orphans. Six months after, she continued to cry out in her sleep.

At dawn of July 2005, Alrico Barbas, Jr. woke up to the sound of gunshots. Military agents killed his father and eldest brother, and left him maimed. Alrico, his mother and five siblings who were then aged from 1 to 9 years old, have been constantly on the move for the next 10 months as they struggled to put their lives together.

Kyle’s father was also a victim of abduction and torture by elements of the 17th Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army in June 2001, because of his suspected sympathies with the armed revolutionary movement. Kyle’s family is now living in exile in The Netherlands.

“I joined this walk because I wanted to help the orphans who have lost their parents through political killings and disappearances in the Philippines,” explains Kyle. “I want to achieve something which would help cheer them up.”

Marianne Jansen (2nd from left) presents an envelope of donations she and husband Co Martens were able to collect in their community. The couple opened their Nijmegen home for Kyle and his family to stay in during the entire Four-Day Marches event.With the help of his parents and the Nederlands-Filippijns Solidariteitsbeweging, friends and acquaintances were requested to donate at least €0.20 per kilometer, so that he can collect €24.00 if he can complete the four-day hike. Some donors were generous enough to donate much more than the €24.00 which Kyle requested.

Money raised by Kyle will go to the “A Hand for an Orphan” program of the Children’s Rehabilitation Center in the Philippines. Materials bought will help the orphans overcome the psychological effects of their tragic experiences. The CRC goes to far-flung areas of the country where there are intensive military operations and there are high incidence of human rights violations. CRC coordinates with other organizations and individuals in the locality to better help and respond to the needs of the children and their families.

Asked how he was able to survive the grueling hikes, Kyle explained that he was in training months before the Four-Day Marches. “As preparation for the walk, I have been training with my father since about 12 weeks ago. The week before, I just rested after having achieved my goal of walking 30 km. per day for 3 consecutive days without getting really tired.”

“We could only do our trainings on weekends,” explains his father Boyen, “and we began by doing a five-kilometer walk near our house.”

“We gradually increased the distance every week,” he continues, “at ten kilometers, then 20 km for two weeks, and then 30 km for two more weeks. The last two weeks of training made sure that he can walk at least 25 km for three consecutive days. Some of those days we actually did more than 30 km because Kyle said he wasn’t tired yet!”

 Children's rights advocates and children did a solidarity walk in the Philippines to draw more attention to the plight of children victimized by the Arroyo government's political repression and militarization.Almost simultaneous with Kyle’s four-day hike through the towns and villages surrounding Nijmegen, children from the Salinlahi Alliance for Children’s Concerns and CRC and other advocates for children’s rights also marched on the streets in the Philippines in solidarity with Kyle.

They joined thousands of others in the Lakbayan (People’s March) from the Southern portion of Luzon island to Manila, in preparation for Monday’s (27 July) State of the Nation Address (SONA) protest actions. The children carried the banners: “Walk with Kyle, Walk for Justice” and “Walk for Justice, Walk for Peace”.

“Even if we are in the Netherlands, we should remain patriotic and help the Filipinos back home,” says Kyle. “We should use our voices and demand the government of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to step down. [Boyen Baleva, Munting Nayon news magazine]