January 27, 2008


Carting around rocks, debris and construction materials is no longer the easy, afternoon work out it used to be. Writing this mid-morning, over a nice hot latte, my lower back is tight and surprisingly sore-- and this is after a good 8 hours of sleep (I regularly get 4)! I am no tri-athlete here but in my youth I could easily climb 10 hours up, spend an overnight, take another 10 hours down and still wake up the next day for a morning at the gym. But, enough of me, my aging body, and the irritating realization of it, the reason for my construction worker weekend was an activity held at the Western Bicutan High School, which involved the International School of Manila's "ICare" and the Renovate to Educate Foundation (rED).

To Briefly expound on a few of the problems that faced the Western Bicutan Highschool: 

1) 1000 kids come in for classes in the morning and 1000 in the afternoon (total of 2000 per school year). They have 4 bathrooms in the entire school, 100 kids per class, not enough chairs and desks for the classrooms, and barely enough funding for electricity or a maintenance staff, which means that the kids are forced to maintain their own school. So if you happen to be one of the kids assigned to cleaning the school for the day, you better hope it wasn't on the day they were teaching the theory of relativity or how to use nouns in a sentence or you can kiss your future as a scientist or teacher goodbye.

2) The school currently has one basketball court, they used to have another basketball court and a field, but both were overrun one morning when a local barrio decided to set up camp on school grounds. The local government has been informed of this problem and for the last three years have been "working out" a solution. Lets not hold our breath on this one. I consider it much like the battles of the middle ages. A foreign group overruns your land and you either boot them out or are taken by them. Except in this scenario it is a barrio of transients (or by their political alias: "the voting public") V.S. school children. Perhaps a siege is a better term, as the kids, teachers and principals are retreating to the safety of their buildings as more and more shanty huts grow around them. This is their property mind you.

3) The school, lacking funding and in need of a new building, petitioned the PTA to assist them in raising funds for a new building, which they proceed to do successfully until the PTA disappeared with the money. A group of angry parents then decide to take matters into their own hands, forming a new PTA they valiantly raise funds a second time only to decide once all funds were raised, to run away with the money (how noble of them). There is currently a PTA ban imposed by the principal of the school.

The Renovate to Educate Foundation (rED) looks to alleviate the impact of such problems, by developing a community of schools within the Taguig area that work as a support network for each other. Using re-building activities, rED is working to develop a community of schools that share a mutual concern over the education of our youth. The Western Bicutan High School activity that I attended was a direct initiative of the International School of Manila and rED. Understanding the problems that were facing the Western Bicutan High School, students, teachers, and supporters came for a four day event that included wall building, landscaping, murals/campus art, chair and desk rebuilding, bano rehabilitation and an overall general clean up. While I found that the activities were both well organized and practical for the school, it was the atmosphere that surrounded the activities and their participants, which impressed me. Regardless of nationality, cultural background, and social economic class, these volunteers interacted and participated with a glowing warmth and passion. There was a genuine camaraderie between strangers that resonated from the volunteers, through to the students, finally trickling to the local sari sari stores lining the school walls. It was the pulse of a community that understood the limitations of our government and was actively finding ways to make their own difference. 

I have to say that often I find well-funded private schools (ISM, Singapore International School, Etc.) plagued by an "island" mentality. Hidden behind their well-guarded and high walls, students and teachers interact in an oasis community that often does not reflect the reality immediately outside their grounds. True, they often have outreach activities that take them as far out as La Union or Mindanao, but what about your neighbors next door? The rED activity showed me that there has been a seed planted by these Taguig based private schools, one that will hopefully grow into an active, inter-school involvement with the local community. Whether it is through foundations like Renovate to Educate or similar activities with different initiatives, I strongly feel that social change should be enacted at your doorstep. Taguig is slowly becoming host to the Philippines city of the future, if we are going to develop a community between the private and public schools of the area; there is no better place to start.

Congratulations to all the volunteers that participated in this event. From a slightly older (though not at all old) Jolly Jetsetter, I look forward to supporting similar projects in the coming months!


m-ad said...

Dear jolly-Man, I'm very glad to read about this article and in particular for 2 reasons: the first is your effort and action into a society in need (good people are often more powerful then good money). The second is the after action, so I'm not alone in feeling my body getting and reacting as a old piece of wood.
Congratulation for your initiative !

The Jolly Jetsetter said...

Dear m-ad, I appreciate the words of encouragement. The Philippines suffers from a weakened educational system, which may take decades to fix. I feel that programs like rED have a tremendous impact on the community and the students, who are now more aware of the shortcomings of our system. Hopefully they will take this deeper understanding and work proactively to assist and improve the country. You are right, a lot of times it is not about the money (though that helps), it is about the commitment and the effort put into change.

With regard to feeling like an old piece of wood....ouch.... I felt that!

Anonymous said...

Dear Jolly Jetsetter
It was nice to come across your article. As a burned out education advocate it was heartwarming to read such an enthusiastic response to such a program. Working for a non-profit for less then a year, i was just about to give up out of frustration and just move to another country, but then again after reading that article of yours it reminded me of why i came back to this country and why i am still in love with it.:)