Who would think that getting into a taxi would open a flood gate of memories from 17 years ago? This is what happened after being turned down by two taxis on a hot muggy morning in Makati as we tried to get a ride across town to attend a conference at the Manila Hotel.
Standing on the street corner and getting a little frustrated , our luck had suddenly changed when a third cab pulled over and picked us up. We climbed into the coolness relieved from the morning heat that had built up outside. We then prepared ourselves for the usual argument with the driver over starting the meter, but much to our surprise, he had turned the meter on without a fuss. “Third time’s a charm!” I chimed. “It seems like our luck has changed.”
As we chatted to ourselves, the driver, a nice looking fellow in a red shirt and eyeglasses, kept glancing back at us in the rear view mirror—then he asked if we worked for an NGO. “Yes,” I said, thinking that perhaps he may have seen us on television from the day before where Stairway and the Department of Education were presented in the news at the launch of the CyberSafe project, an online initiative to help guide Filipino children in the use of the Internet.
Still looking at us through his rear view mirror, the driver queried again: “Are you Kuya Lars? Are you Ate Monica?” We answered yes, puzzled as to how he knew our names. His face suddenly lit up. I’m Albert! He said smiling as he revealed two missing teeth.
It only took about a split second to recall who he was. It was Albert, the handsome 16 year old boy who could speak English really well. He was a part of the group of 17 street children who were cast in Stairway’s first musical production called Goldtooth, a Street Children’s Musical. The concept of the musical originated back in 1999. After a year and a half of preparation, the musical took the cast all the way to Europe, where one of the highlights was a performance at the United Nations Headquarters in celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Unfortunately, for Albert, after about two months in Stairway’s program, he had decided to leave the cast of Goldtooth. He said that he was not worthy to be in Stairway and we could not convince him to stay. He gathered his things and left. We had not heard from him since.
Now, 17 years later, here we are driving along with Albert in his taxi!
As we drove down United Nations Avenue, we listened in fascination as he talked about his life after leaving Stairway. He spoke openly about his difficult childhood. He told us how he followed the news about Goldtooth. He talked about his long journey of becoming a taxi driver. He talked about how the advent of the Internet had helped him to gain important knowledge. He told the story of how he learned to fly and to land jets via flight simulation, and he spoke proudly about his family—his wife, a former street child, and his two beautiful children whose image is the screen shot on his telephone.
Pulling into the Manila Hotel, we embraced Albert as we alighted from the taxi with wet eyes and a full heart of knowing that Albert had survived and thrived against the odds of life in the streets.
Third time is indeed a charm!