Two years ago, my friend G told me that she and her other friends had begun to organize themselves as volunteers to extend whatever help they could give to public school children. They were gathering school books and supplies, slippers and shoes, and even secondhand computers and electric fans. When we talked, they were planning to hold a medical and dental mission in Lara Integrated School in San Fernando, Pampanga (a province north of Manila) and needed donations and more volunteers to help out. I decided to join their group, KaEskwela.
KaEskwela means schoolmate in Filipino. Believing that “education is a foundation for building better lives and nations,” each of us KaEskwela volunteer and the school kids we encounter, in a way, are schoolmates working toward this common goal. And just like any student, I picked up a few lessons.
1) There are many ways to help. It all started after G saw an episode of a local TV show that featured giving books to public schools. She was moved and at the same time was tired of simply feeling sorry for the desperate conditions most Filipino school children were in (a large portion of the Philippine population live in poverty) and she wanted to do something. Anything that could help. She started with a book drive of her own.
When I joined, my first task was simply to assist in the registration of the school kids for the medical and dental mission. Other volunteers who had pharmaceutical background dispensed of the medicine and vitamins given by a corporate donor, some friends donated whatever amount they could give, a group of doctor and dentists volunteered their services, others prepared lunch. There are many ways to help. (All throughout the year, we accept school book donations and supplies, which we immediately turn over to a public school in need. So if you have secondhand books that elementary-age children can use–they especially like storybooks–feel free to send them our way. Here are ways to help)
2) Kids really want to learn. During our delivery of books and supplies, we’ve gone to a few remote areas that entailed the students to walk for three hours everyday, often in worn-out slippers or even barefoot. Some go to school without eating a proper meal. But most of the kids still head to school.
They want to learn and it doesn’t take much to make it a little bit easier for them do so. We’ve done a footwear drive for some schools and plan to hold several feeding programs in the next few months. (Which reminds me, I have to write a presentation for it.)
3) You have to empower the schools and the teachers. One of the things I liked about KaEswkela is that it doesn’t just believe in dole-outs. We particularly find it encouraging when the schools, their teachers and principals, take the initiative, when they reach out to us and let us know what their students need.
In this magazine article about KaEskwela, G cites the principal of Lara Integrated School as an example: she has coordinated with our group to get a water pump for the school, which had no running water. She has also “spearheaded activities that involved everything from building structures to vegetable planting.” Beyond donations, we’ve also held leadership, literacy, writing and art workshops for both teachers and students; and last year after a devastating typhoon, conducted relief operations in schools that asked for help. Helping public school children can only be achieved hand in hand with their teachers.
4) Volunteer. There’s something in it for you. We’re a small organization so we do everything ourselves and you often get an instant workout packing and delivering all those boxes of books and supplies. After one delivery, I woke up the following day with every muscle in my body sore. I never got that from Pilates and spinning.
You also get to travel–well, more of engage in an occasional road trip to the nearby provinces of Metro Manila (donations for Visayas and Mindanao are sent via air cargo). And you get a natural high from helping out. What more can you ask for?
5) Dream big. On the course of delivering school books, we found out that many of the public schools don’t have the resources (funds from the government) to even build a small library. Though some resourceful teachers provide a small space in their classroom for bookshelves, most of them do want a library for the students. In line with this, we’ve decided to raise funds to build a library. We’ve done a fundraising golf tournament and we’re doing a book sale of donated books for adults next weekend. It’s a big project for a small group and we need to raise between PHP400,000 to PHP500,000 (US$ 9,000 to US$11,000) for the construction materials. A structural engineer and architect have already volunteered their services for the plan, and the teachers and parents of the students have volunteered to help build it. The funds are just trickling in, but it’s going to get there. If you want to help, drop by the book sale (if you’re in the Philippines) or just donate whatever amount you can give.