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Champion of the Youth: Onesimo Foundation Is Building Transformation Places for Troubled Youth All Over the Country, One Christian Step at A Time

It is ironic how those that are called the future of the country, those whose lives now will affect and shape the fate of their communities, are the ones with less hope in life. They give in to temptations, lose their path, and are deprived of opportunities for growth and venues where their potentials can be discovered. They are trapped in the ghettos of misery, poverty, and lawlessness. They are the urban poor youth. This includes orphans, out-of-school youth, alcohol abusers, drug substance users, homeless children, and runaways. What is more pressing about the matter is that growing urbanization and migration are continuously increasing the number of these young people, who are experiencing a “slow process of dying.”

The Onesimo Foundation was established to respond to this reality. Tondo, Frisco, Payatas, Letre, F. Carlos, Mendez, and Philcoa are communities with such a climate, and Onesimo has built “venues for transformation” in these places. Onesimo was born from the experience of workers from an NGO called Servants Mission, who had worked and lived with the urban poor. Seeing the plight of the young people and their wasted futures in those life-sucking places, they decided to make a difference. In May 1996, Swiss missionary couple Christian and Christine Schneider, with Jess Sarol, Noel Gabaldon, and Joshua Palma, founded Onesimo.

Onesimo seeks all urban youth in squatter areas hooked on drugs, alcohol, gambling, improper sexual habits, or those have lost their way and have emotional wounds from past abusive relationships. The Onesimo community believes that these young people yearn deep within for a life other than what they have, and they are here to help them build better ones. The youth will be rehabilitated and equipped through capability building, coaching, counseling, value formation, community building, protected livelihood projects, volunteerism, and networking. As of November 2007, the foundation has built eight training communities: Tondo, Frisco, Payatas, Letre, F. Carlos, Mendez, and Philcoa 1& 2 for girls.

Total immersion

However, what makes Onesimo special is its use of a particular Christian approach in implementing its programs. “Onesimo is unique because it’s incarnational in approach, meaning, our centers are strategically located in urban poor areas, and our workers are living with the beneficiaries and trainees,” says Onesimo program director Pastor Dennis Manas.

Incarnational is at the center of the new, experiential form of Christianity. It is a transformative practice that aims to merge the world under the symbol of the Church. In this sense, Christianity is not just about the gospel and personal growth through the Holy Spirit, but puts focus on immersing in “collective experience” and “unifying community service.” 

“Onesimo operates within the belief that any development effort outside the experience of the people you want to help and where they are not main players, is bound to fail. It is then a deliberate effort on the part of the workers to be integrated into the community and identify with the people and pursue a process of helping where it encourages much participation from the beneficiaries themselves,” says Manas.

Transformative programs

“The staffs and volunteer leaders live with our trainees 24/7. In the morning, they have group devotion and discussion, then they fulfill different household assignments such as cleaning the center, dishwashing, marketing, cooking, etc.  We have breakfast, lunch, and dinner together. (We) go to the training center during weekdays and have evening devotions before going to bed,” he says.

The volunteers provide the youth with friendship and care round the clock. By immersing into the community, the staff is able to demonstrate an empowered life in Jesus Christ.

“(These young ones) are all wonderfully created by God, but along the way, committed sin,” says Manas, “They can be transformed by the power of the Lord. We just need to understand them and help them. And introduce Jesus to them.”

The trainees are taught skills in computer literacy, food technology, sewing garments, automotive vulcanizing, car washing, welding, and slipper making. One of the goals of Onesimo for their rehabilitated youth post-Onesimo is for them to become productive members of their families and communities—either to have a decent job, to become an entrepreneur or to serve the Lord in the Church. One crucial transformation place the foundation has built to attempt to intervene in the lives of the urban poor youth is Camp Rock, a campsite in Puerto Galera, Oriental Mindoro, where most of their leadership trainings, workshops, and evangelistic youth camps are done. A two-week sheltered workshop is held every July, “designed” for the participants to enjoy and experience what it’s like to be free from the anxiety of daily survival and the dire situations that have trapped them and their families for years. It is built to give young people a lasting impact that will change their outlook.

The Lighthouse Community was organized to prevent the inevitable relapse that most of the Onesimo graduates become susceptible to. When nobody is there to guide them, they eventually succumb again to temptations. So upon discharge from the program, the Lighthouse Community will continue to follow these youth to oversee their continuous service to God. The Lighthouse serves as their guiding light and spiritual backbone as they enter the real world.

Spreading missionaries

Onesimo is a continuously evolving community. Since 1996, it has trained roughly 800 youth leaders, helping run 55 youth camps that comprise about 5,000 young people mainly from the squatter communities and the streets. With devotion to God and their work, both the youth leaders and their beneficiary trainees are experiencing a genuine life-changing transformation as they carry on their tasks.

The goal is a “zero street-kids Philippines,” and eventually helping not just the youth but also the urban poor families become self-reliant. “We want to open a ministry in major cities of the country,” says Manas. “We want to reach (as many) more youth at risk in the city streets and depressed areas of the Philippines. We want to expand in Visayas and Mindanao, and saturate the whole country with the message that there is hope in Jesus for every poor.”   


Onesimo Foundation’s main office is located at 76 Tandang Sora Avenue, Quezon City. For donation or volunteer inquiries, please contact (02) 927-6179.


Article originally published in Metro Society's May 2015 issue / Photographs by JC Inocian / Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style