by Paul Icamina

RUSTY Quintana was a street kid in Cagayan de Oro City who was into drugs and petty theft and didn’t know his birth date, let alone his parents.

This June, he is a development communications scholar at the Ateneo de Cagayan, all because of a unique social enterprise venture of the British Council.

“I was four years old when my brother brought me from Florida Island in Agusan to Cagayan,” he said. “Shortly after, he was imprisoned and I was left to survive in the streets. I started as a beggar and we gave our earnings to a syndicate for free meals. Drugs and small-time crime followed.”

At a trade fair last year, Rusty met Rhyan O. Casiño, founder of Dire Husi (Visayan for “Here” and Manobo for “Friend”) that “connects” poor and indigenous teenagers with talents in crafts, music and arts.

“The idea was to give them a break,” he said. “I have seen many artists who ended up as janitors, security guards just to earn bread and butter.”

Through a “barkada” system, Dire Husi caught the attention of young street artisans who gathered at the night flea market at Cagayan de Oro’s Divisoria Park to sell their crafts and perform as fire dancers, jugglers, mime artists, magicians and musicians.

Rusty, who secretly knew his talents, joined Dire Husi and was mentored by Casiño on painting. The former street kid now plays the “pulala” or bamboo flute, and concentrates on colored soil on canvas.

He honed his skills at the Artisan House that Casiño established after winning last year a P100,000 seed money from the British Council’s “I am a Changemaker” competition. It is an art gallery and a halfway home for young and poor artists.

Dire Husi members are a motley crew of street kids from the city and tribal communities, runaway kids, a convicted murderer just released from a maximum security prison, and a former communist guerrilla.

Some have drifted away, some have stayed. Including transients, the Artisan House sometimes accommodates up to 50 young artists.

There, with the help of established artists, they pool their talents and further their skills in music, painting and crafts such as terra cotta sculptures.

“It’s a creative space,” Casiño explained. “We also use the seed money to promote our crafts and paintings and made bridges with artists and art schools.”

Today, about 20 members, aged 18 to 30, contribute 20 percent of whatever they earn to maintain Dire Husi. A 2’x3’ soil painting, for example, may fetch as high as P10,000.

“The British Council grant really went a long way,” Casiño said. “From impacting on individuals, we now plan community projects like making crafts out of recycled junk.”

The “I am a Changemaker” competition is again open to 16-28-year-old “entrepreneurs” who have innovative business plans aimed at social problems and issues with ways to solve them. (Click www.britishcouncil.org/philippines)

Rusty, now 20, has finished high school through an acceleration program. A birth certificate required for college has revealed his true birth date and led him to his father but not his mother – yet.

In June, he will study multimedia arts at the Ateneo and dreams of becoming a filmmaker – after seeing himself in “Fluata,” a documentary about his life and flute.

“It’s a sweet feeling, to realize there’s a world out there. Dream, life is wonderful,” he said. “Don’t worry, be happy.”

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