This week, we’re bringing you reports directly from the Philippines, where the ChildFund Alliance is meeting for business sessions and ChildFund project visits.
By Cheri Dahl
Vice President, Communications and Public Affairs
The trip from southern Luzon from Manila took almost four hours. For the last hour, we traveled on a narrow dirt road punctuated with rocks and deep pot holes. It was extremely slow going and very bumpy. I have suffered from motion sickness since childhood, and my insides rolled miserably with every bump.
We are visiting Nagsinamo, a community located in the southern Luzon area of Quezon. It is the largest island in the Philippines and is mostly agricultural, with corn, rice, bananas and lots of coconuts as the main crops. ChildFund serves more than 5,000 children in this area.
The rough travel was forgotten when we rounded a curve in the road and were greeted by a marching band of children dressed in bright red and yellow band uniforms, complete with majorettes twirling batons. It was an unexpected and magnificent greeting.
Most of ChildFund’s services are offered at the Nagsinamo elementary school. Members of the parent committee are anxious to tell us about the challenges children in their community face. Parents alert us that quality education is critical for their children to have better lives. ChildFund has partnered with the parents and community to improve school enrollment and completion rates. We’ve also worked to help parents understand what they can do to help their children succeed, even though many of the parents have only had primary school education.
We visit a peer-tutoring program where older students are trained as facilitators to tutor children who are academically challenged. The program is working. All of the area children now attend school. In just two years, primary school completion rates have climbed from 51% to 90%.
Later we’re invited to an “EcoArt” session, where formerly sponsored children, age 18 to 20, now teach the younger children to protect the environment through recycling and how to use discarded materials to create art. They also teach children about the geography and culture of the countries where their ChildFund sponsors live.
I was partnered with 8-year-old Arizel to learn a song and dance that teaches how to greet one another in Japanese, English and Spanish. As I get to know the older children, they begin to open up. Many tell me about their sponsor. They share what sponsorship meant to them and how it has inspired them to help the younger children in their community.
As I approach the classrooms, I am struck by two odd sights. Outside of one classroom is a bench lined with coconuts and straws. Outside of every classroom, there are umbrellas — a reminder that this area is accustomed to seasonal typhoons and frequent flooding.
I visit classrooms where the children proudly greet me in English and share their dreams to become nurses, teachers, boat captains and policemen. One 8-year-old boy was too timid to speak up. His classmates were quick to share that he would be a singer. I asked if he would sing a song for me. He shyly came to the front of his modest classroom and began to sing in the most amazing voice. What an unexpected treat!
We leave the community as the sun is going down. Children, and even some adults, run alongside the jeep waving goodbye and yelling “miss you!” It is a great ending to a great day.