Backpacks for Kids in the Philippines
By Sydney Tong on March 27, 2017. Read time: 6 mins.
When we started Scope, not only did we want to document exciting places to travel, we also wanted to highlight the stark differences between our home and other homes around the globe. Through this awareness, we hope to open some eyes to the vast world out there filled with the good and the not so good.
We had the opportunity to visit the Philippines in 2014. The disparity of wealth we witnessed during our trip was astounding. In Manila, beautiful high-rise condos towered over neighboring homes with dirt floors and corrugated steel roofs. Manila reports high primary school completion rates of 98%, while smaller village provinces report only 30% of children have finished primary school. Education is a luxury and purchasing uniforms, school tuition and school supplies take a back seat to providing the necessities for survival.
Cindy has first hand experience with the education system in the Philippines. Cindy and her family immigrated to Salt Lake City in the late 1970s with the hope of a better life. Cindy is a success story and she has made it her mission to help Filipino children attend school. I had the opportunity to talk with Cindy about her mission.
As we sat around her dining table, I asked her what life was like growing up in Tarlac. A huge smile spreads across her face as she begins to reminisce about her childhood home. "I have to say, growing up in Tarlac has been the greatest adventure in all of my life. I experienced the richness of a culture that's been unmatched anywhere else I have lived since my family left the Philippines. I remember playing outdoors on unpaved streets. The time running around without shoes on explains the hardness of my soles today. A sign of my playful youth, my wonder years."
Students after receiving their school supplies
She continues to describe her childhood to me, "I remember many days of playing, also night games and being dragged back in the house by the ear because I refused to go home. I was quite a tomboy, going around the neighborhood climbing trees to steal fruit and jumping fences to get to another side of the community where my friends and I were not supposed to be." She has many fond memories of growing up in the Philippines and fifty years later Cindy is still in contact with almost all of her childhood friends.
Tarlac is one of the most diverse areas of the country's eighty-one provinces, and has a mixture of distinct ethnic groups, the Kampampangans, Pangasinans, Illocanos, and Tagalogs. Cindy explains to me that these groups comprise four of the dozen dialects spoken in the province. "With that [diversity],” Cindy explains, “overpopulation is a given, not to mention poverty. There are many poor and underprivileged families in Tarlac, but it is a happy and active province."
Cindy when she was a student
I question Cindy about her experience with education in Tarlac. “School is where I made even more wonderful friends. It’s where I started learning a little bit more about the world, about places outside our hometown,” she tells me wistfully. She recounts an eagerness to attend school. Not once can she recall missing a day, or asking her mother to stay home.
Cindy is one of eight children. Her father painted street signs, while her mother managed the home, cared for the children, and took on odd jobs to make ends meet. Cindy credits the support of her family for her academic success. She excelled in school and was consistently among the brightest in her class. She ranked in the top ten for the high school entrance exams, earning a scholarship. It was a pivotal moment, as it meant that her family was no longer responsible for the monthly tuition fees.
Cindy reflects that academics came naturally; it made her school life easier and more fun. She goes on to explain that hers was a unique experience. Going to school in the Philippines is a privilege. It is not taken for granted and is taken very seriously. At an early age, most children know that doing well in school opens up bigger and better opportunities for them. They work hard but at the same time, they enjoy it. Some are not able to go to school because their parents are not able to provide to them the basic school supplies they need, which is the reason I started this project."
There are too many students and far too few resources. Schools receive a small budget from the government, but it is nowhere near enough for classrooms, teachers, desks, chairs, textbooks, audio-visual equipment, and other essential materials. The disparity of wealth only exacerbates the issue. The rising cost of living and the increasing costs of attending school makes it even more difficult for a family to afford an education, subsequently, shoving the poor even deeper into the cycle of poverty.
These little girls loved their backpacks
Cindy and her friends got together to raise money to help out the community in Tarlac; they call themselves, "Friends Who Care." Since 2014, Friends Who Care has raised funds to support education in the Philippines. Each year they raise $1,000 USD which buys 200 backpacks, school supplies and lunch for the students. To date, the organization has provided over 600 backpacks, essential school supplies and lunches for children at the Tarlac West Center Elementary School.
When I asked why she started Friends Who Care, Cindy replied, "I feel that I have been so blessed in my life, and it is an honor for me to be able to give back to my beloved hometown. There is definitely a need, and my wish is to do it on a larger scale. I want to help more people." This year, Friends Who Care hope to raise $1,500 USD by the time schools starts in June.
Peace signs all around
I was interested in learning about the process after she raises the money. After collecting the donations, she sends it to Friends Who Care volunteers in the Philippines. One volunteer donates the use of their van, and they drive 1-2 hours to a manufacturer in Angeles. All the funds Cindy sends are then used to purchase the school supplies, and driven back the same day. Like Cindy, these volunteers grew up in Tarlac; they are friends, eager to help their community. This ensures that all funds go towards the cause, not to administration costs.
Once organized, volunteers take the supplies to the school. They stack the supplies on tables in front of the room prior to the school day starting. The excitement is palpable when the children walk in, a brand new backpack sits waiting for them. They can choose a princess design or camouflage, there are even some Hello Kitty and Ninja Turtle designs mixed in. After they’ve picked their new backpack, volunteers help the students pick out the supplies that they will need for the upcoming school year.
Cindy shows me pictures from the previous year of smiling children holding their new backpacks. It’s tangible, how important having the necessary tools is for them. Cindy and the volunteers also organize lunch for the day; the crowd favorite is spaghetti.
This act of kindness, by the volunteers and donors, is a huge relief to the children and their families. Too often parents are unable to afford to pay the monthly tuition fee, much less purchase the necessary school supplies. The Philippines experiences the highest drop-out rate among the ASEAN Union. In 2012, the D.O.E. reported a primary school, 5-12-year-olds, drop out rate equivalent to about 1.4 million children.
School is cool
Education is a luxury that is not taken for granted in the Philippines. All donations are welcomed with every cent going to these kids. The school year begins in June and we are hoping to help Cindy and Friends Who Care raise money for these children.
Scope Travel is happy to partner and provide a small platform to bring awareness and solutions to issues that we believe in. If you are Filipino, know a Filipino, have been to the Philippines, enjoy cheddar cheese ice cream, like lumpia or just want to get involved then use this link to donate to their GO FUND ME.
If you are unable to donate at the moment, have no fear. If you could take some time to spread the word or share this article on social media we would greatly appreciate it. Our goal is to bring awareness with the hope that help will follow.
Thank you for your help and donations
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