A FORMER police sergeant who travelled to the Philippines and set up a charity to help young boys addicted to solvents has written a book to help raise awareness of their plight.
Natalie Vellacott, 32, worked for Sussex Police for a decade before taking a career break and boarding aboard the Logos Hope, a ship which sails the seven seas with the aim of bringing education, knowledge and hope to the ports of the world.
She left in September, 2011, travelling through Asia before stopping at Olongapo in the Philippines as the ship had its annual dry dock.
Natalie, from Worthing, said: “We were supposed to be there for two months but in the end the total time we stayed was nine months.
“During that time, we set up a book table under a bridge to do some street Evangelism and give out books while spreading the gospel.
“We started talking to a group of teenagers who had come to see what we were doing. It took a long time to gain their trust but gradually we started to build up relationships with them and they became almost like my children.
“They were sniffing a solvent called rugby, which stops their hunger pangs, and people were just ignoring what was going on.”
Natalie and her colleagues worked hard to get the boys into rehabilitation units.
She said: “We acted as a middle man between them and social services who had been trying to get them into other families. Every month we would set up trips for their families to go and see them in the unit which was three hours away.
“When the ship left to come back in September, 2013, I was devastated, and knew that I would definitely go back.”
On returning to the UK, Natalie set up a charity, Olongapo Christian Help and Hope, to support her work with the street children.
It will also receive all royalties from her book, ‘They’re Rugby Boys, Don’t You Know?’
Natalie said: “I thought this was an amazing story and through it I wanted to raise funds for the charity but I also wanted to raise awareness and educate the Philippines people on what was happening.
“Many people are afraid that these boys will hurt them or steal from them.
“I was brought up in a Christian home but when I was 17 I fell away from my faith. At 23, I came back to God and turned my back on my old life.
“I loved my job in the police force but over time my priorities changed and I was sometimes frustrated that I was not allowed to reach out to people that really needed help.
“I started to commit some of my annual leave each year to missionary work and then felt God wanted me to go into it full-time.”
Next month Natalie will return to the Philippines on a long-term basis. To make a donation go to www.mydonate.bt.com and search for ‘Olongapo Christian Help and Hope’.