From marijuana to solvent boys' teacher: Jocen Gatela tells story of hope and faith

Shara Mae Balce
PUBLISHED August 29, 2017 01:55 pm | UPDATED September 6, 2017 11:13 am
Jocen Gatela admitted that he had been addicted to marijuana at the young age of 16. However, through his church, everything in his life has changed. (Photos by Shara Mae Balce and Mark Renacido/Inside Manila)

(Inside Manila) "It’s time to give back. Ako kasi may tumulong lang sa akin. Kaya kailangan nitong mga batang ‘to, kalinga at tulong din."

Our elders always remind us that if we do good to others, we would receive something equally good in return. However, for Jocen Gatela, it doesn't matter if he will receive something in return. The 24-year-old is a provider of words of wisdom to the solvent-users aka "rugby boys" in the streets of Monumento in Caloocan.

It all started when one of the kids asked Jocen for some okra for their dinner. His family has a vegetable stall in the wet market. One day, Buboy (not his true name) begged from Jocen some okra for his younger siblings. He then found out that the 11-year-old boy is one of the street kids who use solvent to alleviate their hunger.

Seeing himself with these kids a few years back, Jocen shares the word of God and takes the rugby boys in a fast food restaurant or a nearby eatery every week to encourage them to stop using solvent.

Jocen admitted that he had been addicted to marijuana at the young age of 16. However, through his church, everything in his life has changed.

"Pakalat-kalat. Parang walang kinabukasan. Kilala akong basagulero, magulo. Wala akong pagmamahal sa puso ko," he told Inside Manila.

"Kaya nu’ng nakita ko ‘tong mga bata na ‘to, nakita kong may pag-asa rin sila katulad ko," he added.

Jocen was featured in "700 Club Asia" after he recovered from drug addiction.

Photo courtesy of Jocen Gatela

By the grace of God, Jocen now sees himself as a man with dreams and heart for his fellow men. He is giving the praises to the pastors in Destiny Church after all the help they offered to Joel to see the brighter side of life.

"Anim na taon na akong malaya...salamat sa mga pastor at leaders sa church ko, natulungnan nila akong magbago," Jocen said.

Hardworking Man

Being a call center agent, it is not that easy for Jocen to manage his time for his work and family. Although it may be tough for him, he still spends his rest day and other free time with the kids to teach them words of enlightenment and give them meals.

"So minsan nagtatabi ako talaga, 'pag sumahod ako nagtatabi ako ng mga isang libo, ganyan. Kakain kami kasama ko ang kapatid ko. Double-edged s'ya e kasi natutulungan ko 'yung mga bata at the same time natuturuan ko 'yung kapatid ko na…pagkalinga sa kapwa," Jocen said.

He sets up an alternative area at parking lots and other vacant spaces nearby, where he will conduct a bible study for kids.

Sitting on the back of a parked tricycle, Jocen teaches words of wisdom to the kids at a parking lot in Caloocan City.

"Mabait po siya [Kuya Jocen].Tinuturuan n'ya po kami na 'wag daw magnanakaw. 'Wag na daw po magso-solvent. Tapos magpapakain po siya samin, sa mga bata po," said Kiko, (not his real name) one of Jocen's students.


Despite tottering life consequences, Jocen was able to finish his studies in World City College with a degree in Bachelor of Science in Aircraft Maintenance Technology. Another accomplishment he can consider is the impact of the little things he could do and give for the solvent boys.

He believes that the happiest people on Earth are those who help others despite all the hardships he is winging through.

"'Yung pinakamasasayang tao sa mundo, sila 'yung mga taong tumutulong sa ibang tao. Pansinin niyo, hindi sila yung mayayaman, hindi sila 'yung pinaka-sikat, 'yung pinakamasasayang tao sila 'yung mga taong tumutulong sa iba," Joel said.

Whenever he sees the children smiling, all weariness and stress from work seem to fly away from Jocen. He continued on to encourage everyone not to focus on themselves as it will only cause someone to be depressed.

"Wag nating isipin 'yung pansarili nating kapakanan, 'yung para sa sarili lang natin, 'wag. Kasi iyon 'yung pinakamadaling paraan para malungkot ka sa buhay, kapag iniisip mo lang lagi 'yung sarili mo," Jocen said.

Lessons Learned from Kids

Ever since he met the street kids, Jocen realized how fruitful his life is.

"No'ng nag-stay ako, nakipag-usap ako sa kanila, tinuruan nila ako paano magpasalamat. Sila nga walang mahigaan, sila walang matulugan, walang makain. Pero ako, 'yung gusto kong ulam nakakain ko, may nahihigaan ako, may bubong kami…sila wala," he shared.

For Jocen, everyone has their own turning points in life. He believes that change will start with one's self.

"Kabataan ‘yung magbibitbit ng pagbabago sa Pilipinas. Una ikaw, ako...nagsisimula sakin 'yung pagbabago. Nadamay lang sila kasi nagbago ako. Mas may kayang gawin sakin. Hindi mo kailangang maging mayaman para makatulong sa iba. Kailangan mo lang ng puso na bukas para intindihin sila," Jocen said.

What matters for Jocen now is for the kids be heard by the concerned authorities to help them leave the dark and sketchy streets.

Assuming that the kids will change eventually, Jocen wants to curb the stigma towards "rugby boys" that brands them as thieves and that they grew up in a heist.

"We’re not here to judge. Hindi sila 'yung rugby boys ‘yan eh, magnanakaw ‘yan. Let’s stop that. Let’s stop putting down these people. Let’s help them," Jocen urged the public.

"And before you criticize and put down these people, why not try to help them first? Bago mo sila husgahan, tulungan mo muna sila," he added.



I’m 22 years old and my friends call me ‘Tita’

Ah, yes.