Tag Archives: education

WANTED: Generous hearts for Grace Park Elementary School

Quietly, purposefully, joyfully, this man gives back. Let's help him encourage poor kids to look forward to going to school every day. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Quietly, purposefully, joyfully, this man gives back. Let’s help him encourage poor kids to look forward to going to school every day. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

“Without education and liberty, which are the soil and the sun of man, no reform is possible, no measure can give the result desired.”

- Jose Rizal (from his “Letter to the Young Women of Malolos”)

With these words of our national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, I give honor to the countless men and women who continue to work and advocate for the effective and meaningful education of our youths.  I had been blessed with a father who believed strongly in the value of education; he opened my eyes to the richness of the world of learning, buying me books (and ensuring I had enough “kitty funds” for them) and nurturing my hunger for wisdom even at a very young age.

And so, as I grew up, I have always surrounded myself with books, bringing them with me as I traveled, giving them away as gifts, and then encouraging my loved ones to take up reading as a hobby. It brings me so much joy when I hear that someone who did not enjoy reading before can now actually finish three books in just about two weeks. It’s a great proof that reading is, in itself, an adventure-filled journey, one that takes us to greater heights of discoveries, learning, and wisdom.

It does not surprise me, too, that the universe surrounds me with people and friends who also love to read, and more importantly, caring souls who value  education and do something to give back to the community, by helping children in realizing their dreams. I was having second thoughts about writing this piece for I always believed that good deeds must never be announced. However, my desire to keep private moments such as this one had been overtaken by the hope that somehow, this piece will lead to better things for these children who need generous hearts as they struggle to go to school, some of them wearing only very old and torn slippers.

I am sharing with you this story of greatness. About a simple man who is our friend, about their group’s quiet “project” that seeks to support the most needy schoolchildren of Grace Park Elementary School (GPES) in Caloocan City. This group of kindhearted individuals is from the batch of 1975 graduates, headed by Ned Canlas. Ned’s quiet ways, humor, selfless work, and direction inspire me and JR. His and his wife’s (Jay) relationship is a strong proof of how love and friendship can evolve into something that makes marriage a “happy-even-if-imperfect-place”. And so, with silent gratitude, we always thank God for these small miracles in our lives.  The gift of their friendship is a part of that strong wall–that you know–is always there to lean on to. This couple’s example of “giving back” does not need big announcements or tarpaulins. They do it quietly, purposefully, joyfully.

How can you help Ned’s group? There are wonderful things that Ned and his batch mates have already began. First, they have been raising money for the “pambaon” (loose translation: stipend/allowance) of the most needy pupils.  As I type this, they are now supporting 46 kids. Each child receives PhP 1,200.00 (USD 27.55) per quarter (or PhP 400.00 per month). By committing to sponsor the pambaon of even 1 child, you will already ensure that this child will be motivated to go to his classes every day, not worrying that he won’t have money for his ride to school and merienda (snacks). While this small group of 46 kids is assured of assistance at least for the next year or so, your generous help will ensure that more kids will be assisted and/or other related projects may be financed. [I will update this post should new projects come up or I get a better picture of how many more schoolchildren direly need help.]

Second, they have the yearly “Lapis, Papel, at Notebook Project” where they distribute packs of school supplies for the most needy children. They have already done the distribution for this school year but you are welcome to send your donation (preferably, packed in paper bags or envelopes already) anytime. Raising more school supplies will mean that more children may be given these small gifts of support for their learning.

Third, they have already established an eLibrary. This is envisioned to be an e-learning center and reading room. The school, of course, has a main library. However, this new eLibrary hopes to encourage schoolchildren to take up reading as a hobby and source of inspirations so books (for young readers) on arts, adventure , literature, language, environment, and science would be most welcome. Even novels for young readers will be good. (However, we may have to review the content and language so we know we’re not giving them books that are not yet meant for their age bracket…wink! wink!). See the present display shelf on our visit there a couple of weeks ago.

Help us nurture the love for books, reading, and learning. Please donate books for young readers! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Help us nurture the love for books, reading, and learning. Please donate books for young readers! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Since this is going to be the school’s eLibrary, we’re glad to share with you that twenty (20) sets of desktop computers had been donated by Allen and Overy of Tokyo, Japan (through the efforts of Carolina Garcia). They are now housed in sturdy desks, waiting for the opening of the eLibrary!

You must be excited now to know what does the eLibrary need at this time and where can you help! For now, here are things that will be most needed:

1. Books and more books (see my suggestions above);

2. Reading tables and chairs (see the pictures below for a better appreciation of how many can still be accommodated);

3. IT modules/software, particularly on teaching aids;

4. Talents: (i) IT teachers/trainers who can train the teachers and students alike in the use of the computer-assisted learning aids and modules; (ii) an interior designer who can help in developing a floor plan and executing it to ensure a nice and enjoyable learning atmosphere for the users; and (iii) a full-time librarian or part-time librarians (of course, hiring her/him/them will mean funding source for the salaries so you or someone you know may want to commit sponsoring the cost of a librarian(s) for a year, as a good start!);

5. Ventilation appliances: (i) ceiling fans and/or stand fans (the current ceiling fan is old and may already be unsafe and the other one is not working); and (ii) air-conditioner (I would suggest this to maximize the life span of the computer sets);

6. Better and more secure windows (as you will note from the pictures below, the windows’ enclosures are of the jalousie-type glasses so they are not very secure);

7. Funds to cover the costs of the interior, window, and finishing works, the repair of some tiles (see picture below), and possibly, the creation of a cozy and “inviting” reading nook (where fluffy chairs/pillows may be placed on the floor, which can be covered by rubber mats).

So far, these are the things that the eLibrary needs. Again, I will update this post as soon as I hear more updates from Ned’s group.

For inquiries or pledge of help and donation (in any of the three areas I mentioned above), you may contact Mr. Ned Canlas through email address, nedpcanlas@yahoo.com.

Thank you so much for visiting meilBOX and your generous hearts! God bless you and your plans and dreams!

P.s. Enjoy the pictures below and envision the happy faces of children who will be touched by your generous hearts and loving kindness!

Grace Park Elementary School (facade of the main building). This is where the eLibrary is located. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

Grace Park Elementary School (facade of the main building). This is where the eLibrary is located. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The possible reading area of the eLibrary. Imagine happy schoolchildren reading and learning together here! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The possible reading area of the eLibrary. Imagine happy schoolchildren reading and learning together here! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The sets of computers are now waiting for their first learners! But first, they need volunteer I.T. trainors. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The 20 sets of computers are now waiting for their first learners! But first, they need volunteer I.T. trainors. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

A cozy and inviting reading nook may be created here. But wait, the tiles and floors still need your help! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

A cozy and inviting reading nook may be created here. But wait, the tiles and floors still need your help! [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The windows are made of jalousie-type glasses/enclosures so it will be better if they are replaced with a  stronger or more secure type of window panes. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

The windows are made of jalousie-type glasses/enclosures so it will be better if they are replaced with a stronger or more secure type of window panes. [Photo by Mary Anne Velas-Suarin]

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This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation for the maintenance of this blog but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

 

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Circumstantial Culture

Being away from home allows one an opportunity to look at his own people with a detached perspective. It is with that note that this blog is being written.

Because I am overseas, I only manage to get fresh news from home by watching the news in TFC. It is very refreshing to hear news of Filipinos achieving so much in the fields of boxing, entertainment/music, fashion and sometimes, even science, but it is quite disconcerting to hear news about the degenerating political and social climate in the Philippines. I speak here not as an expert but as an ordinary person who has big dreams for this country and also thinking of how best to contribute to a brighter future for all Filipinos.

I dream of a Philippines where all children can go to schools and are taught the right values.

I have titled this blog, “Circumstantial Culture” to describe what I observe as an alarming social phenomenon where particular segments or sectors (or sub-sectors?) of society share and live a common mindset and behavioral conduct which ultimately seem as if they are evolving a culture so uniquely their own. I wish to emphasize here that I have no intention to judge nor offend any one. If I will do so in the process of sharing my thoughts, I offer my apologies. My kababayans (compatriots), I hope these thoughts will also touch some minds and hearts, and perhaps, will encourage more discourses – discourses that will hopefully lead to meaningful changes.

There is a part of me that feels sad or even angry when I hear news about demolition of squatters’ shanties; of rivers being clogged because of too much garbage; of children being continuously born from couples who have barely food to eat between themselves; and lately, of vendors being driven by police and MMDA out of sidewalks.

I am sad because my people are still poor; I am sad because my Government is still insensitive to the real needs of the Filipinos; I am sad because the society remains blind and deaf to the plight and circumstances of others.

But I am sadder because it seems that more attention and bias are being given to what the squatters feel when their shanties are being demolished. Before anyone accuses me of being pro-rich and anti-poor, let me stress that I am not angry at them because I can imagine how is it be driven away from one’s home; to see your roofs being torn down right before your very eyes.  Who would not scream and shout in such a circumstance? The police, demolition teams and landowners are cruel, ruthless, insensitive…

But on one hand, I ask this: Have we ever thought of what the owners of those lands feel? What about the rights of the persons who own the lands? What if those lands are products of the toils and sweat of their ancestors? What if those lands can be used to build factories, which can eventually generate employment? Isn’t it enough that the squatters have enjoyed years of free rent from those lands and that now, isn’t it time to turn over the lands to their rightful owners? Can’t they shout praises and thanks for being given free rent for years instead of screaming invectives and hateful words?

But the media is quiet about that. Instead it proudly espouses the “rights” of the squatters; picturing the demolition team and landowners as the “enemies of the poor.” I see that as promoting selfish circumstantial culture rather than encouraging a culture of peace, wisdom, and gratitude. Because the media amplifies the invectives and hatred, they also (perhaps unconsciously) promotes continued ignorance. It seems like instead of becoming instrument for education, the media becomes puppet to mass hysteria and distorted thinking. What can our society expect in today’s young generation when what they see on TV are pictures of a society that encourages land-grabbing and squatting instead of respect for rights, private property and entitlements?

Again, no one has the right to make any judgement. But one is free to ask questions. Where do these squatters come from? Most of them come from the provinces. They are the ones who leave their small pieces of land and carabaos in the barrios, thinking that Manila is the “land of milk and honey.” They join the millions of people who are also homeless and jobless when they arrive in the big city. So they end up building shanties on the land they do not own and when the real owners now come to re-claim their lands, they shout “injustice” and “cruelty.” Yes, sometimes these words are true. There are cruel and ruthless landowners. But more often, the squatters don’t see that there is also a big injustice in their inability to respect private ownership. They seem to refuse to see that these landowners are humans, too.

The other night, I also sadly watched about the deteriorating physical environment of Metro Manila. There is that portion of the news that highlights a river clogged by household and industrial garbage. Then the report suddenly highlights the local government’s “inaction”; saying that the government should clean it up soon. Of course, it always comes down to that; the government should always take the flak. In a society that continue to encourage this somewhat twisted way of thinking, clogged rivers are the fault and responsibility  of the Establishment. The news report didn’t say anything about people, households and industries throwing dump on the river; rather it highlighted the local government’s incompetence.

Now, please tell me, what kind of generation are we bringing up?

Another thing that continue to baffle me is the Philippines ever-growing population. It is as if our people have not been seeing enough poverty. When we look at statistics, we will see that families in the lower strata of the society have more children than those who can very well afford bigger families. We hear of heart-wrenching stories about women giving birth to twins and triplets but without enough money to feed these innocent beings. Our hearts go to them and some even go as far as sending immediate help. I, for one, also plan of adopting one of those children so that I can carry a part of the sadness of these grieving mothers. But in my mind, too, I still continue to ask the same questions. Why can’t they just stop having children? It is not as if they don’t know that having sex can mean producing another mouth to feed. Is it really the government’s fault that they are not being educated enough? Is it really the society’s fault that these families are not eating enough? Are people born in difficult circumstances excused from thinking wisely? Do we offer more space and excuses for them because they are poor and therefore, worthy of more understanding? In the process, aren’t we encouraging a culture that promotes mendicancy instead of self-reliance? In school, we are taught about compassion for the poor. I grew up in a family that encouraged charity and compassion. But in school, are we also taught enough about engaging the poor to be more responsible?

In the same manner, we are also falling victim to the cries of the sidewalk vendors who are violently driven away by police and MMDA from the streets. We pity them as they receive lashes of invectives from the “cruel” police and “thugs” of Bayani Fernando. TV cameras focus on the angry faces of helpless vendors running away from pursuing “mobs”, pulling their carts, carrying as much of their merchandise as they can. News clips air more of their struggles but give less coverage on how these vendors cause disruption on traffic, public safety, and drivers’, even pedestrians’ right of way. Sure, the government and private sector should ensure that there are enough infrastructures for people to sell their goods. There is no argument about that.

But what kind of picture are we showing our children? That in the Philippines, it is ok to squat and build houses on lands that you do not own; that it is brave and heroic to sell your merchandises on the road (never mind if you are subjecting yourself and others to harm); that it is admirable to produce more children that we cannot even feed?

What kind of culture are we promoting?

I feel sad because I am borne out of that society. And I am guilty, too.

[This was submitted as an entry to a blog competition, with the code PBA09qo3907p.]

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin

Soulful Teaching

In the hinterlands somewhere in the North, there is a young teacher who teaches about 150 pupils from three different grade levels, in just one classroom. Let us call her Maria.

She lives in a rented room that costs her about P 500 a month. She is originally from Baguio and her job takes her away from her husband and toddler one month at a time. She sleeps on a cot with barely a soft cushion to soothe her tired body from her long days in the classroom.

She nurtures them and believes in their future.

Still, she teaches with pride, commitment, and joy. Her eyes speak of passion and eagerness. Of faith. She believes in the future of “her children.” She speaks of them as if they were her own. For the whole day, she manages the daily learning of Grades 4, 5, and 6 students, in one classroom. She does this by staying with each grade one at a time;  leaving “seatworks” to that class after which she goes on to the next. Her co-teacher is assigned to Grades 1, 2, and 3. They follow a similar system.

Most of the students are from indigenous communities. There was this tiny girl who smiles shyly at strangers, big eyes full of curiosity and innocence. Some are barefooted. Several have torn shirts. But the sounds of their voices carry a lively tune, like they are looking forward to the promises of the future despite their circumstances. There is so much beauty in that.

This kind of learning is called a “multi-grade” system, a practice already allowed by the Department of Education (DepEd), to address the age-old problems on lack of teachers and school buildings. Although this has the supervision of the DepEd, teachers like Maria are not in the government payroll. They receive regular allowances from the Local School Board.One may think that the financial reward must be so significant that merits Maria’s ultimate sacrifice: being away from her little family, her beautiful and precious child most especially, who is in that age when a mother’s touch is very important or even necessary. One would never guess that she is only receiving a meager P3,000 a month for this tiring work and ultimate sacrifice. Three thousand pesos. Deducting the P 500 rent, she is just left with P 2,500. Divide this by 30 days, and she is left with only P83.00 a day. Eighty three pesos! It is not even enough to cover a typical city dweller’s lunch expense!

How is it that she can still smile? How is it that she can still work with so much passion and energy? I am even tempted to help her find a teaching job here in Manila! But I know I cannot deprive those children of the opportunity to learn, the privilege of hearing their teacher’s voice that continue to shape their souls.

When asked if Maria ever considers leaving her volunteer work and opt for higher-income jobs in the city, she replied, “Paano na ang mga bata? Paano na ang kasama kong teacher?” That, to me, is an answer anchored on a deep commitment to serve.

Every night, as Maria prepares her lesson plans for the next day, she remembers the simple joys of the day, the voices of her children, and affirms to herself one again that indeed, she is doing the right decision. That she has found her place under the sun.

It is my friend Thea who shared this beautiful story with me several years ago over dinner of pansit and siomai. Once she started telling me about Maria, I remembered my Mom, too. She is a retired public school teacher and spent almost 30 years of her life teaching in far-flung barangays in Aurora. Because we siblings were all in Manila while she taught, we practically grew up without her by our side. When I was younger, I questioned Mom’s decision. But now that I am older (and hopefully, wiser), I could say  that I understand her decision. I am proud of the fact that she dedicated her life to public service and did a life-changing sacrifice by depriving herself of the joys of seeing us grow up because she wanted to fulfill a personal mission.

From Maria, my Mom, and the countless others who continue to teach in the barrios—without comfortable material rewards—we gather strength and inspiration. They are the reasons why I still believe in the Filipino soul.

[This is a repost of a previous blog and had been submitted to a blog competition with the code PBA094n66314.]

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This is not a paid blog.

Digiprove sealCopyright secured by Digiprove © 2014 Mary Anne Velas-Suarin