You’ll Never Look at Your Toilet the Same Way Again

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Each Nov. 19, World Toilet Day is observed as reminder that 2.6 billion people lack access to toilets and proper sanitation. This year, sanitation is a particular worry in the Philippines where families have been living in a tent city for several months after floods submerged their homes.

In rural areas of the Philippines, toilets – when you can find them –
consist of just a basic bowl with no lift-up seat. These are usually made of ceramic, but among poorer communities, toilets are often made of concrete. Water closets are rare, mainly because the local water supply is irregular. Even where there’s water in the tap, many people prefer to flush manually using a pail, claiming it saves more water than a modern flush.

men walking among tent camp

ChildFund staff survey tent camps.

For 297 Filipino families currently living at the relocation tent city at Marianville, located in the Laguna province town of Bay [Ba-e], even the rough, concrete toilets would be preferable, as the camp’s makeshift latrines offer only rudimentary sanitation.

Heavy monsoon rains inundated the Philippine capital of Manila and surrounding locales in early August. Floodwater from Manila drained into Laguna Lake, south of the capital, swelling it to dangerous levels. Simultaneous with Manila’s recovery, towns like Bay were submerged in water, chest-deep in many areas. Rice fields became lakes and homes drowned in water that quickly turned dark and septic as the flood lingered. Many families had no choice but to evacuate to designated shelters. From there, they were moved to tent camps where they’d wait out the floods, which would recede in the sun, but would quickly fill again when it rained.

young girls holding hands

Young girls are taught simple safety steps.

Many children reside in the tent community at Marianville. For the past several months, ChildFund has responded with emotional and psychological support activities through Child-Centered Spaces set up at the camp. Children’s safety and protection remains paramount as families endure the long wait to return home.

ChildFund staff inspect latrines

Although latrines at relocation camps are spartan, ChildFund works to ensure they are safe for children.

ChildFund’s focus on child protection is doubly important in irregular circumstances such as disaster, according to Hubert Par, a ChildFund sponsor relations officer who also serves on the Emergency Response Team. “Children are especially vulnerable in crowded tent camps, particularly as the toilets are common [not private], and are often constructed from available materials,” Par says.

Since summer, ChildFund has worked with its local partner to train first responders, local authorities and youth volunteers to educate children and families living in the tent community on simple steps for keeping children safe, especially when nature calls.

ChildFund has worked with camp managers to make sure separate latrines were set up for males and females, with neither facility located more than 50 meters from the camp proper. “We also made sure camp managers and residents kept the discipline of never sending a child to the restrooms alone. Children should be accompanied by a caregiver when going to the common latrines,” says Par. “We also inform them of mechanisms by which they can report any child protection issues that may arise,” he adds.

Kerzon, 16-year-old youth volunteer, has become a strong advocate for child protection, in addition to his daily response work in the camp, and his duties as a local youth council representative. “As a Child-Centered Space volunteer, I’m proud not just of being able to help, but also because I’m able to share practical knowledge, specifically about child protection,” he says.

Although families long to return to and repair their homes, flood levels remain up to 3 feet deep in Bay. Although the comfort of home and a private restroom must wait, ChildFund is working to ensure that the camp’s plywood and plastic common latrines are safe for children.

If you would like to help children around the world who lack a proper toilet, please consider a gift to the Children’s Greatest Needs fund.

Young Filipino Commits to School No Matter the Cost

By Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Filipino teen

Marvin was in danger of dropping out of school.

Marvin hails from a small coastal town in Northern Mindanao, the southernmost group of islands in the Philippines. In his hometown, people farm if they live inland or fish if they live near the shore. His father’s occupation is the latter, and 13-year-old Marvin’s family has tried to live within what the sea grants or denies. On a good day, the proceeds from the day’s catch are typically not enough to cover the family’s basic needs, including school fees for the children. On bad days, when Marvin’s father cannot sell much at the market to earn cash, the family can at least share the fish among themselves.

There are even worse days, however, when storms are at sea, and a rough tide keeps fishermen at shore. On days like these, Marvin’s father drives a commuter tricycle—a three-wheeled taxi. Earnings are not much because storms keep people off the road as much as they keep fishermen on land. His father also has to pay rent to the tricycle’s owner for each day of use.

Although public school education in the Philippines is officially free, each semester students like Marvin have come to expect an assortment of extraneous fees that make attending school expensive.

Small school budgets often mean that administrators shift many costs to students in the form of miscellaneous fees for registration, student ID, computer and library usage and special projects. Families also must pay for their children’s school uniforms, notebooks, pens and crayons, bus fare, recess snacks and lunch.

When his family couldn’t make ends meet, Marvin would forego the bus and his school lunch, walking to school and packing what food he could from home.

The cost of Marvin’s schooling weighs on his family, especially when his father’s earnings are down. “My parents sometimes fight over expenses, including the cost of keeping me in school,” Marvin shares. “Sometimes my father says it would be better if I’d stop schooling,” he says, noting the he recognizes that he could be helping his father earn money, instead of costing him money.

Marvin doesn’t know how to approach his father when he encounters a new expense at school. “I made it into a science class [in the honor’s program], but that required me to come to school in full uniform [other students wear only certain basic pieces], and I didn’t know where to get the 500 Pesos (US$12) to complete mine.”

teen on bicycle

Marvin also recently received a new bicycle through a ChildFund Korea program that will help him more easily commute to school.

Thankfully, Marvin has received help he didn’t expect. He’s been sponsored by his “Aunt” Janie through ChildFund since fourth grade. Recently, Aunt Janie sent Marvin a helpful boost just when he needed it most—extra funds for a full school uniform—a great gift he means to thank her for in his next letter. Now, he can attend the honors science class.

Marvin says ChildFund played a role in his admission into the science class. “I used to be real shy and timid,” he says, noting that he gained self-assurance by going to ChildFund’s summer camp and participating in leadership training activities. That confidence has led him a second term as president of his community’s youth organization. He’s also a youth representative on the National Anti-Poverty Commission. “I’m able to raise my community’s problems to the authorities,” Marvin says.

Newfound confidence and his gratitude for his sponsor’s support have moved him to excel at school. He tries to avoid ever being late for school, lest it seem he’s squandering the opportunities he’s fortunate to have. Even though his perseverance in school has led to greater expenses, Marvin remains grateful for his sponsor’s support that sees him through still.

If you’d like to sponsor a child like Marvin, visit ChildFund’s website. Your small contribution makes a big difference.

Youth Eco-Scout Rescues Endangered Turtle in the Philippines

by Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Twenty-year-old Necie “Nice” wasn’t precisely sure how she’d stare down five of the local tambays [idle men] in her neighborhood. But something had to be done.

A turtle with seemingly nine lives. Photo courtesy of Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Earlier in the day, a neighbor had caught a peculiar-looking turtle in the Agos River. By evening, the turtle was in a plastic basin, and it looked like it might soon be served as pulutan [finger-food] for the local tambays when they gathered for a drink. Nice wasn’t sure, but the turtle looked like a pawikan, a sea turtle, to her.

The most remarkable thing happened, however. The turtle managed to jump from the basin, and slip away unnoticed. In the confusion following its disappearance, Nice joined the search. She had no intention of helping her neighbors reacquire their meal; Nice was an Eco-Scout, and she knew she had to save that turtle.

Organized and trained by ChildFund and its local partner in the Philippines province of Quezon, the Ecological Scouts, or Eco-Scouts, are young environmental advocates age 10 to 21. Cognizant of Quezon’s rich and yet delicate ecology, ChildFund provides young people with training in biodiversity and environmental conservation techniques. Over the past two years, the Eco-Scouts have produced videos and materials to build understanding and support for environmental issues pertinent to Quezon.

Through her Eco-Scout training, Nice knew pawikans were endangered. She wondered, however, what one of these turtles would be doing so far inland, and in freshwater. She had to find it before the others did so she could explore the mystery further.

By sheer luck, Nice did find the turtle. She picked it up, and made a break for it, running past the tambays. When accosted over her precious cargo, Nice warned them of the steep penalties they would face under environmental protection laws if they harmed the turtle. Having that bit of legal knowledge from her Eco-Scout training came in handy. Her quick feet and equally quick wit got her home with the turtle. Not entirely sure what to do next, she reported the situation to her Eco-Scout trainer, ChildFund’s Erwin Galido. He contacted the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) to arrange the turtle’s turnover. Nice would have to babysit the reptile until the DENR arrived.

youth and chilldren with turtle and basin of water

Nice shows the rare turtle to children in her neighborhood. Photo courtesy of Philippines Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In the two days it took DENR reps to reach Nice’s home, she’d taken a liking to her little guest, whom she named Pauie. Nice and her cousin Ken would forage for moss to feed Pauie. During one of their forays, Ken and Nice returned to discover that the intrepid turtle had escaped again, but they were quickly able to find her.

DENR representatives retrieved Pauie and took her to the neighboring town of Real. It was there they determined Pauie was not, in fact, a sea turtle, but an even rarer and more endangered species—the Cantor’s giant softshell turtle (pelochelys cantorii). Unique to only a few Asian geographies, Cantor’s softshell was last seen in the Philippines in 2001, in neighboring Isabela province. Regional sitings have been equally rare, with the last recorded sighting in Cambodia in 2003. The Cantor’s softshell turtle lives in freshwater, spending most of its time burrowed motionless in mud.

The discovery of such a rare specimen, and its rescue from being stewed, was duly noted by the DENR, and official commendations for Nice are being scheduled.

Nice says she was only doing what she was trained to do as an Eco-Scout, supporting conservation and endangered species. Besides, she says, “You don’t need to be an Eco-Scout to know you shouldn’t eat them.”

Youth Who’ve Experienced Poverty Delve Into Finance

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines, ChildFund The Gambia and Lloyd McCormick, Global Youth Development & Livelihood Technical Advisor

Arnyline is 15 and lives in the Philippines. Saffiatou, 17, lives in The Gambia. What could they possibly have in common?

A few things, actually. They both live in extreme poverty. They are both involved in ChildFund’s programs in their countries. Neither had ever traveled outside of their countries — until their recent, ChildFund-supported trip to Amsterdam.

What brought them there was another thing they have in common: their interest in the goals of Child and Youth Finance International  (CYFI), an organization whose stated goal is to ensure that 100 million children and youth in 100 countries have financial access and education by 2015. Founded last year by social entrepreneur Jeroo Billimoria, who also founded the social and financial education nonprofit Aflatoun, CYFI has a simple, audacious vision: “We dream that all children have a safe place to save their money, and that they can manage that money on their own.”

youth group

Participants bonded quickly.

From April 2-4 in Amsterdam, the first-ever CYFI Summit brought 70 children and youth representing 40 countries together with international bankers and policy makers from around the globe. During the event, participants focused on the topic of financial inclusion and finance education for children and youth. Young people also met to voice their opinions for shaping the Child and Youth Finance Movement. They then brought their recommendations to the Summit, which included representatives from the United Nations; the central banks of Europe, the U.S., Africa, Asia; donors such as MasterCard, CitiBank and Levi Strauss; and international and local organizations. The youth engaged directly with these policy makers on a level footing and shared their views on financial issues that most matter to them.

Arnilyne and Saffiatou were among the 10 participants selected to present the young people’s recommendations, which included the following:

  • Create awareness of youth finance
  • Provide financial education
  • Encourage youth-led enterprises
  • Create child-friendly banks
  • Create more equitable trade between developing and developed nations
  • Support mobile phone and Internet-based banking
two girls talking

Saffiatou takes time to get to know others.

“What excited me is that they care for children in the world, and they want all the children to have a better future,” says Saffiatou. “My favorite part was the discussion on child finance as a subject in school.”

Arnilyne also has a great interest in financial literacy education, but she’s not sure how it could be added to her school curriculum. “We have no funds for it,” she says. “I think it would be effective if trainings and activities are conducted for this.”

She’s particularly excited about the idea of a child-friendly banking system, which would give children access to banks and low-minimum initial deposits.

The two girls, who hail from the tropics, remarked on Holland’s cold climate. But they also noted the warmth of the people they met there, which they both cite as common ground with their home countries.

“They care for children in the world,” says Saffiatou, “and they want to see children as the good leaders of tomorrow.”

Renewing the Fight Against Child Labor in the Sugarcane Fields

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines

ChildFund Philippines, joining other organizations and stakeholders from the government, academe, and the development sector, is reaffirming its resolve to reduce child labor in sugarcane fields.

Child labor is pervasive in this largely agricultural nation. Children begin working in the sugarcane fields at an early age. They are exposed to scorching heat, dangerous chemicals and machetes.

ChildFund Philippines is one of six implementing agencies of ABK3 LEAP: Livelihoods, Education, Advocacy and Protection to Reduce Child Labor in Sugarcane. The four-year project, headed by World Vision Philippines, is being funded by the U.S. Department of Labor. The other implementing partners are Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation Inc., the Sugar Industry Foundation Inc., Community Economic Ventures Inc. and the University of the Philippines’ Social Action and Research for Development Foundation Inc.

Launched Feb. 29, ABK3 LEAP aims to lift 52,000 children out of the unsafe labor conditions found in the cane fields. The project will provide education opportunities for children, sustainable livelihoods for their parents and youth employment services among other services across 11 provinces.

Staff and children gather in Philippines

ChildFund Philippines renews its commitment to the fight against child labor.

“The production of sugar generates significant income for the Philippines,” says Gloria Steele, Mission Director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). “Yet, sadly, sugarcane farmers and their families make up some of the poorest households in this country. Even more sadly, it is not uncommon for the children in these households to start working in the cane fields as early as six years of age.”

Katherine Manik, ChildFund Philippines national director notes that ChildFund has a long history in child protection programs. “ChildFund Philippines is privileged to have been part of the ABK initiative from its first project,” she says. “Now on its third ABK project, ChildFund reaffirms its commitment to help these vulnerable children lead better lives.”

Sponsored Children in Philippines Meet David Archuleta

by Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Singer performs

David Archuleta performs for children in ChildFund Philippines programs.

Children in ChildFund Philippines’ programs and a few of their school peers received a special treat last Sunday when David Archuleta made a surprise appearance at a ChildFund gathering held at a local school.

Children from the Teatro Bu-bot [arm-in-arm] Children’s Advocacy Theater had prepared all week to mount their much-touted “Many Faces of Poverty” performance for ChildFund Philippines National Director Katherine Manik, and her unspecified guest.

Little did they know that the special guest would turn out to be none other than recording artist David Archuleta, who is in the Philippines filming a television miniseries.

Archuleta, now 21, who finished runner up in the seventh season of American Idol in 2008, teamed with ChildFund for his 2011 My Kind of Christmas tour. He is also sponsoring a child from Honduras, his mother’s native country.

Archuleta has developed a large fan base in the Philippines since his American Idol debut and through his three previous visits to Manila. Filipinos are highly anticipating the upcoming miniseries Nandito Ako, starring Archuleta and local talents.

Two boys perform in skit

The children's skit depicts the faces of poverty in their community.

His unannounced appearance on Sunday caught the children by surprise. Thrilled and starstruck, the children quickly recovered to deliver the program they’d prepared.

Archuleta fell silent during the troupe’s simple performance, which the children themselves conceptualized, articulating the different faces that poverty and disadvantage assumes in their community. The 10-minute skit is wordless, preferring to describe exploitation, vice and neglect through music, movement and expressive dance.

Masks partially obscure each of their faces as they depict society’s fevers, which are shed finally through the expression of children’s growing cognizance and assertion of their rights and responsibilities. The skit illustrates how children, their community and ChildFund help foster an environment conducive to the totality of each child’s life and identity.

David Archuleta sings for children

The children were starstruck.

Moved by the performance that he described as “amazing” and “powerful,” Archuleta took the floor in turn, regaling the children with an a capella rendition of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water,” followed by an encore of Robbie Williams’ “Angels.”

Archuleta then spent time meeting the children in small groups. Though he currently sponsors a child in Honduras, Sunday’s gathering was the first time Archuleta had the opportunity to interact with children in ChildFund’s programs.

David Archuleta talks with children

Wonder what they're asking him?

The theater troupe, sponsored children and even the school’s marching band had time to ask Archuleta questions and share stories of what sponsorship means to them.

David Archuleta waves good-bye

A happy day for everyone.

With translation assistance by ChildFund Philippines Program Director Mark Dasco, sponsored children told Archuleta: “Please help us share the privilege of sponsorship with others, by inviting more people to sponsor [children].”

As the event came to an end, many children said they would long remember this exciting day. As he departed, Archuleta expressed his happiness at meeting the children: “Gosh, I feel so good today! Thank you so much for this experience!”

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Recovery from Typhoon Washi Continues in the Philippines

Reporting by ChildFund Philippines

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today we check in on recovery efforts in the Philippines following a deadly typhoon last December.

a couple trying to salvage some house materialsIt’s been more than six weeks since Typhoon Washi (known locally as Sendong) struck the Philippines Dec. 16, 2011, bringing severe flooding that damaged or destroyed nearly 52,000 houses around the island of Mindanao. More than 1,200 people lost their lives in the storm, according to the Philippines government’s National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. An outbreak of leptospirosis (a severe bacterial infection) has claimed additional lives in the aftermath of the flooding.

Group of children

Children make cards during a CCS session.

During emergencies like these, ChildFund invests in psychosocial interventions for children through child-centered spaces (CCS). The intention is to mitigate the traumatic impact among children by providing normalizing and expressive activities like playing, singing, and simple arts and crafts activities.

ChildFund operated CCS activities at two storm-evacuation locations for the first two weeks following the typhoon. The response grew to six locations that are continuing to operate. More than 900 children have received support. In addition, ChildFund distributed 2,000 packs of emergency food as well as 2,000 nonfood kits (blanket, detergent, eating utensils).

Teen girl leads activities

Youth facilitators play a key role in assisting younger children.

Youth facilitators have been a virtual force multiplier for ChildFund’s staff operating the child-centered spaces. Twenty-six youth, already enrolled in ChildFund’s programs in the Philippines, volunteered their time over the Christmas break to lead activities for younger children.

Christine, 14, hails from a community not largely affected by Typhoon Washi. She had started enjoying the Christmas break when ChildFund’s local partner, Kaabag sa Kalumban Pinaagi sa Kabtangan sa Katilingban, came to her community inviting youth to volunteer. She signed up without a second thought. ChildFund staff oriented her and her peers as youth facilitators before taking them to the child-centered spaces.

Jam, a 13-year-old youth facilitator, says, “I wanted to spend time with the [displaced] kids, especially after what happened to them.”

Both Jam and Christine agree it was difficult at first. Many of the younger children misbehaved, but the teens stuck to their commitment of volunteering every day, even on Christmas Eve.

“We feel we’ve returned the smiles and laughs they lost, along with their homes and even loved ones, in the flood,” Christine says. “Some of them were in terror, when we first started CCS,” she adds. At the end of her volunteer time, Christine says she could see how much the children improved. “Their faces glow with sincere happiness and laughter now,” she says.

After spending their holidays as youth facilitators, Christine, Jam and their fellow volunteers returned to school in early January. To carry on CCS activities, ChildFund trained additional youth and parent volunteers who had survived the storm but were living in shelters. Training sessions began with participants processing their own survival experiences and continued with training in stress debriefing, gender-based violence concerns, games and use of other tools for child-centered spaces.

Now efforts in the Philippines are focused on the temporary or permanent relocation of the 36,000 people who remain in the 56 evacuation centers, most of which are public schools. Those who lost their homes are moving into new relocation camps. Children also are returning to school, thanks to a Department of Education mandate that allows displaced children to transfer schools without paperwork. Some adults have noted, however, that the camps are far from their former livelihoods.

ChildFund Philippines plans to conduct community-based child protection training sessions to ensure children’s needs are not overlooked during the recovery phase. In addition, ChildFund is helping families recover their livelihoods, which will be key factor in rebuilding their lives.

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in the Philippines and how you can sponsor a child.

Finding the Spirit of Christmas in a Filipino Shelter

by Martin Nanawa, ChildFund Philippines

Perspiration beaded on Phillip’s forehead as he stacked boxes of bottled water in a second-story classroom at Macanhan Elementary. The school has functioned as one of five evacuation centers housing more than 40,000 displaced families after tropical storm Washi (locally known as Sendong) tore through Cagayan de Oro and Iligan on Dec. 16.

Youth stacking water

Phillip volunteers at Macanhan Elementary School evacuation center.

Phillip has called the evacuation center home for the past 12 days, including Christmas. A 23-year-old youth with a demeanor more resilient than his stocky build, Phillip has been actively volunteering at the center, assisting with the hauling, storage and distribution of relief goods. On this day, Phillip helped move and distribute 516 bottles of drinking water and 1,800 packs of instant noodles delivered by ChildFund.

Richard Tener, the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s appointed camp manager, says 90 percent of Macanhan residents were affected by the flooding that ensued after the tropical storm. Thirty-eight families, including Phillip and his four younger siblings, have found shelter at the Macanhan Elementary evacuation center. Still-standing homes in the school’s periphery house an additional 218 displaced families. Richard tells me that many fled homes that are now partially damaged or heavily silted from the floods. Some families, including Phillip’s, lost their homes completely and nearly all of their belongings.

“It was about four in the morning, when the waters rose around our home,” Phillip narrates in Filipino. The rain, water and winds forced Phillip and his four younger siblings to abandon their home, seeking safety on their neighbor’s rooftop. From that rooftop they watched helplessly as the raging floodwaters tore their home down and carried the remains away, along with their belongings. “Lyak na lang; wala kaming magawa dahil sa lakas ng tubig, [All we could do was weep; we could do nothing against the strong current],” Phillip says. They remained huddled on that rooftop, rain lashing at their backs, for two hours until it appeared safe to flee to safety around 6 a.m. That’s how Phillip and his siblings came to shelter at Macanhan Elementary School.

Relief aid has not overlooked this evacuation center, Richard, the camp manager, reports. ChildFund, along with various donors and agencies, had distributed sufficient goods to allow him to plan a Christmas program and some semblance of Noche Buena, the traditional Filipino Christmas dinner. It was decided among the evacuee community, however, not to push through with the program due to sheer fatigue. Everyone was too tired and weary. There would be no Christmas celebration in the mud and congestion of the evacuation center.

Yet, Phillip was determined to have Christmas. So on Dec. 25, Phillip took his four siblings – two brothers and two sisters – to church to give thanks. They were alive and well, and that’s more than could be said of others from his community. “Bahay lang naman ang nawala [We lost only our home],” Phillip says, hinting at the strength of his will and determination to persevere.
Despite the bleakness of his family’s circumstances, Phillip – having had his Christmas – continues to help haul and distribute relief supplies received at the evacuation center. He is determined to help his family and community to recover and rebuild.

No Ordinary Life

In the Philippines, ChildFund is working with children and youth to understand their experiences of poverty and provide them with psychosocial support to build their self-confidence. In addition, youth are gaining hands-on experience and skills to help them meet the future.

Meet Regine, a youth leader with ChildFund Philippines, who has a remarkable story of achievement.

A Marching Band of Children in Bright Red and Yellow Uniforms Greet Us

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.

little majorette

A little majorette

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.

coconuts with straws

Coconuts with straws.


Always prepared for rain.

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.

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