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May 30, 2017

A former thief’s redemption

Cash-for-work volunteer Jury Ravit once lived a life of crime out of desperation to survive in the big city. When Tzu Chi came to help his hometown of Barangay Nangka, Marikina City to recover from Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), the 41-year-old became inspired to change his ways. Since then, he has left his troubled past and worked as a recycling volunteer.

No resume required.

That’s how Jury Ravit’s friend, an enigma named “Michael,” describes a certain prospect of earning easy money. All it takes is a sleight of hand and the legs to make a quick getaway. With any luck, they stand to earn a fortune depending on what they manage to pry from their victims’ hands, if not instill the fear of death by knife.

Thus begins Ravit’s life of crime. Among the ragtag band of thieves blending with the crowd, Ravit’s infamy grew among his peers and victims. Like many thieves his age, he chose such a life out of a desperate need to survive in the big city. But perhaps basic necessities such as food may as well come second to binge-drinking alcohol or sniffing shabu, confident that his thievery skills will translate to easy money the next day.

“I often ignored my parents and hanged out with friends, as I believed my friends would be able to help me with my problems. That time, however, I committed a lot of bad stuff such as theft, especially snatching, and even borrowing money from my friends for fake reasons,” narrates Ravit, now 41 years old.

For years, he supported his first family using dirty money—earned from the sale of what he stole for the day. It kept the family afloat for a time, but difficult times still lay ahead. His first wife even challenged him to step up his thievery by making millions instead of thousands.

“I couldn’t sleep at night. My conscience kept waking me up. I thought at the time that I was happy with my life. But I wasn’t. I was feeding my family with dirty money,” Ravit continues.

Then came Typhoon Ondoy (Ketsana), inundating his home—as well as everyone else’s—in Barangay Nangka, Marikina City under feet of muddy water. Tzu Chi volunteers entered the wasted community, offering its residents a source of income amidst one of the worst disasters to hit Metro Manila. For Php400 for every day of service, he joined thousands in cleaning his own home, as well as those of his neighbors.

A few days later, however, he stopped helping out. He fell ill with leptospirosis, which he linked to the negative karma he earned for the error of his ways.

“At the time, I thought the Lord was coming for me. If I really had to go, then I had to ask the Lord for forgiveness. Still, I steeled my resolve, telling myself: ‘I can do it,’” Ravit continues.

Almost a decade after Ondoy, his days of thievery are all but gone. He still takes to the streets of Marikina, no longer as a thief but a Tzu Chi recycling volunteer. Through busy streets and homes of the wealthy, Ravit fills his pedicab with as many bags of plastic bottles and cartons it can carry. Apart from the Php250 he makes, every day of recycling is a chance to sow seeds of kindness and repent for his misdemeanors in the past.

Now, only his hands get dirty from handling soiled waste all day. It was a small price to pay in exchange for hard-earned cash.

“For me, I prefer earning Php250 a day than anything higher. You can’t pay kindness with money, much less buy it. Even if it’s small, the important thing is that I’m satisfied and happy. My family can get through days with the money I worked hard for,” Ravit says.

Burying the past

More than jumpstarting the local economy, Tzu Chi’s cash-for-work program brought a slew of blessings to beneficiary communities such as Nangka. Balubad Settlement in particular, this barangay has become home to hundreds of donors and volunteers whose lives changed for the better due to Tzu Chi’s intervention.

“I saw great change among the people now serving with Tzu Chi. They finally have a steady source of income. Before, every time they saw something they could sell for a fortune, whether or not it’s their own or a relative’s home, they would steal it,” narrates current barangay captain Randy Leal.

Leaving the life he wished buried six feet under, however, hasn’t been easy for Ravit. Between his work as a recycling volunteer and obligations to his new family, the past seems to find ways to entice him into returning to his old ways, to the days that ruined him as a person.

Still, he held fast. He had long since buried his life of crime along with the nickname he became known for: “Joey.” For the record, Jury has been his real name from the get-go.

“I’m no longer the person you knew back then. My name now is Jury, no longer Joey,” he says.

The task of keeping him in line falls at the hands of 26-year-old Aldeth May Cadagdagon, his current live-in partner. She would be the voice of conscience in case the past finds a way to break her partner.

“I told myself: “Until Jury changes for the better, I won’t let him go.” Even if I get hurt and cry a number of times, I was determined to change him. When Tzu Chi came, I saw the opportunity to change once and for all. I told him that there’s finally someone to help you and reminded him to learn its ways,” says Cadagdagon.

She also expressed her desire to join Tzu Chi as a volunteer. Without anyone available to care for her one-year-old son Aljur while they were away, she shelved these plans for now.

“If possible, I would join Tzu Chi and become his partner. But I couldn’t leave our son alone and no one would look after him [while we’re away]. But I promised to help him out, volunteer or no,” she adds.


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Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, Philippines - Jing Si Hall

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