Manila's Homeless Find Expression In Theater

Text and photos by Basilio Sepe

Roland Sanlao, 38, grew up in the southern Philippine province of Zamboanga del Sur. He was a police officer, but because of an illness he left the service.

Sanlao said he was also ostracized in the community because of being a transgender.

Sanlao came to Manila to work and ended up selling in the streets of Quezon City.

When the coronavirus pandemic broke, Sanlao was one of those most affected by the lockdown implemented by the government.

Homeless and without any source of income, he sought shelter in a Catholic church in Manila that was giving refuge to street dwellers.

The shelter is part of the initiatives of the Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center of the Society of the Divine Word congregation in response to the health crisis.

One of the programs in the shelter is a theater workshop.

The school is one of Kalinga Center's shelters for the poor and homeless affected by the coronavirus lockdown. “I used to act and dance when I was in high school,” said Sanlao. The workshop was an opportunity for him to once more shine and show his talent.

“I am very thankful that I was brought here where I found not only hope but also confidence to show my true self," he said.

"Lord really has a plan for each and every one of us," he added.

On May 28, Sanlao and the other homeless people staged a play titled "Freedom from Street Culture, Embracing A Life of Care."

The play shows the struggle of homeless people before the pandemic up to the time they found shelter in the church.

"We use theater for [the homeless] to express what they feel and their struggles in life," said Albert Saldajeno, head animator of Kalipaya Centre, a church-based theater arts ministry.

The ministry has given workshops in the past on handling pastoral issues, including problems involving the environment, peace, and justice.

“It is really their voice that matters, minus all the theatrics," he said of the homeless performers.

"We just want them to be who they are and we want to see what they are capable of,” said Saldajeno.

Aside from teaching people to act, Saldajeno also facilitates spiritual and life sharing discussions among the participants.

“Not all homeless people are worthless," said Sanlao.

"They have hidden talents that we haven’t seen yet, and they are just waiting for the right time,” he added.

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