Monday, July 12, 2004

harsh circumstances

After an hour’s drive out from the town square, we arrived in a small village center where the school was located. It was monsoon season, meaning hot mornings and wet afternoons on good days and typhoons and days of downpours on bad days. Naturally, the slick and muddy dirt road made the trek hazardous, and one of the vans had to stay behind. Finally, we got through the mud and found the school. Children’s eyes gazed out between the paint chipped shutters from the classroom. I saw glimpses of smiles and jet black hair radiating as the midday sun scorched the tin roof. I could see little mud stained feet shuffling around through a large hole on the side of the building. It was difficult to tell which group was more excited to meet the other.




We stepped into the classroom and immediately felt the humid air hit the backs of our necks. What a sauna! I wondered how it was possible to focus in such suffocating heat without even an electric fan to ease the humidity.

The mayor’s official introduced Rick and I as we walked to the front of the room. Just as Rick began his message in Tagalog, a few rain drops fell. I noticed a large hole in the middle of the ceiling and suddenly realized there were no lights. Many children weren’t even wearing shoes. As Rick continued talking to the children, suddenly, he was interrupted by an enormous downpour of rain. The rain fell so heavy that the shouting of his voice eventually became muffled, blending in with the sound of raindrops falling. It grew dark, and I could barely make out the children’s faces. A puddle grew in the middle of the room, just in front of the first row. The teacher yelled that class was temporarily stopped until the teacher’s voice could be heard again. Some children studied their workbooks. Many waited patiently for several minutes just to borrow their neighbor’s pencil or pen. Looking around the classroom, I noticed a few kids looked quite mature for that grade level. After speaking with a teacher I was informed that they could not afford to attend school every year and had to work every other year or two before returning for the following school year. One sixth grader was eighteen years old.

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Monday, June 21, 2004

we are official

we have officially become established as a non-profit in the US. hooray! our 501(c)(3) application with the IRS is still in progress...

Wednesday, April 7, 2004

Pilar

We are here in a tiny coastal town called Pilar, in Capiz province, Panay Island. It’s about an hour flight south of Manila. Most people here make a living from fishing or farming, and it’s not much of a living. There’s just enough for day to day expenses, and as any of you fishermen or gardners know, sometimes you have good luck and sometimes you don’t. Today we visited a school in one of the poorest parts of town – a little place called Dayhagan (die-HAH-gun). We went with the mayor’s invitation and the superintendent of schools. We met with teachers and students to assess the need. Some parts were better than expected, and some worse. All of the students at least had sandals. But many came with no lunch, or had secondhand clothes full of holes. When asked by the teacher who had the required supplies, only one or two in each class were able to raise their hands. The classes range in size from 30-50, with more girls than boys. Some of the kids are absent in order to help fish or work in the fields – the only way they can raise enough to buy a $0.25 notebook and $0.20 pen. Because of a shortage of teachers, only this year was the school able to provide grades 5 and 6. As such, there are two volunteer teachers with no pay, and one of them teaches both grades 1 and 2. Also, the fifth graders use an old storage room as their classroom, with homemade bamboo desks and a sheet of plywood for a chalkboard. While the Philippine government will eventually provide some books and classroom supplies, the waiting list is long and in the meantime the kids suffer. Our assessment was that the needy kids should be helped first – meaning those with no money to spend on supplies. Some of the kids are orphans being raised by extended family members. Some have a parent who makes $1 a day when they can find work. When the kids work, they make $0.75 a day. Our original plan was to provide funds for potential students to be able to go to school. But we found that the ones currently in school are in danger of dropping out – many of them are allowed to study even though they don’t have enough for the $0.80 enrollment fee. After the needy kids come the scholars – honor students who work hard and show potential except for their lack of funds. After them comes everyone else in terms of priority for help.

So far I think we can really provide some serious help to the entire school – grades 1 through 6, with a little over $100. This will not go as far as helping to buy uniforms, etc. We figure that they can learn without a uniform, but it’s a little harder without pens and paper. With this money, we can provide about 40 packs of crayons, 20 packs of watercolor, 120 notebooks and pads of paper, 40 pens and 40 pencils. When I can I will send pictures. There are hundreds of these schools scattered throughout the Philippines. Many are in remote places such as this one, where there are no phones, cement roads, or running water, and even to get to the middle of this small town takes 30 minutes on a motorcycle for $0.50.


a bamboo homemade desk:


the plywood chalkboard described:


the school bell (an old metal scrap):


The parents try to support their kids where they can. They often donate $0.02 cents per student for electricity each month, and all of the homemade desks are products of the parents. The kids who have the necessities share with the ones who don’t. Sometimes the teachers will give some of their $30 per month salary to help cover the holes. It’s amazing to see the hope in the faces of the kids and the teachers when we promise to try to get them a few pens and cheap pads of paper. We originally planned on starting with 10 kids for this pilot project. After considering how much we can help, I think many students will be benefited by this first pilot project. Over the next couple weeks we will visit more schools in other areas. Help One Future is working closely with civic leaders and other aid organizations to direct help where it is needed most. We are also implementing protocols that will allow for simple administration and scalability for future projects in other needy areas, without the necessity of personal administration. My friend Andrew Baltazar has graciously volunteered his own time, effort and donations to help the program succeed, and has committed to watching over it from Manila.

By donating supplies, we can protect donations from graft and corruption and get it directly into the hands of those who need it. Also, by involving teachers, civic leaders, and locals we increase the number of stewards over these donations, increasing the likelihood of successful distribution. This is a great opportunity to help those who really need it. I know there are other ways and other needs, but it takes a starting point, and this looks to be a good one.

Thank you everyone for your moral support. To give someone hope, to show them that someone somewhere cares enough about them to help them in time of need – this is something that these children will not forget. In fact, before giving them the supplies, the only thing we ask in return is that someday when they are able, they will help others in need as they have been helped now.