Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A torrent of people...Philippine Educational Project (PEP)

The first thing that greets you on arrival at the Dumaguete Airport in mid-July is the brick-like wall of heat that presses on you like a bouncer denying you entry into an exclusive club. It is always hotter than what you remember it to be.
The scenery on the 45 km stretch from the Airport to Bais City (my hometown) used to be a reverie of yellow-green vegetation and turquoise water, punctuated by sleepy barrios and busy towns. These days, the highway is clogged with buses, trucks, motorcycles, and the popular (and practical) "pedicab". The roads are chaotic with no discernable mode of traffic control, made worse by poor road quality. People walk along the edge of the road seemingly oblivious to the speeding vehicles mere inches from them.
The next memorable image that persists in my mind, and one that I am constantly reminded of during moments of reflection, is the sheer number of people one sees everywhere. At around 4 o'clock in the afternoon, when the schools discharge their students, a sea of kids, most of them uniformed in white tops, black pants (for the boys), and bright skirts (for the girls), flood the streets.
As a parent of three boys, I am preoccupied with their lives and their future. Just like any other parent, I worry, and I hope that my children will realize their full potential as persons. My wife and I work extremely hard to provide for our children, raising them to be happy and engaged members of society. Fortunately, we live in North America, where even in the worst of economic times, the opportunities for improvement are there for the taking.
What about the children in the Philippines? I cannot help but wonder, and fear, for the future of these multitudes of kids. What is to become of these children, when even my own generation, born in the late 50's and early 60's, my former classmates, are barely getting by with menial jobs, considering themselves supremely lucky if they land a job as one of the millions of OFWs (Overseas Filipino Worker).
It would be a daunting, dare I say impossible, task to make a difference on a national, or even provincial basis. It is not impossible to make a difference on a personal basis, child by child. The needs are many, and require financial inputs.
For a perspective on the current fiscal climate, by one estimate, over 13% of the Philippine GDP comes from the remittances of OFWs. Filipinos can be justifiably proud of their generosity. It is not uncommon for one OFW, perhaps working as a seaman or as a domestic helper, to be the sole earner for an extended family. Families are fed, nieces are sent to college, seed money is invested in a micro-business. All of this with money from abroad!
On my island of Negros (with two provinces: Negros Oriental and Negros Occidental) which is wholly dependent on agriculture (typical), these remittances keep the economy afloat.
However, these remittances are directed mostly towards the immediate family members of the givers. What about the children who have no relatives abroad?
On my last visit to the Philippines, I visited the public elementary school in my hometown. I was stunned by the paucity of educational materials. I recall seeing one decades-old dictionary that occupied a prominent spot on one of the tables and one pre-70's atlas that doesn't reflect the world today. It made me sad to think that the rich potential inherent in the children don't have the slightest chance of even starting to be realized due, for the most part, to the lack of educational materials. Then I think of the used book sales in North America (50 cents for a slightly used paperback, $2 for a used dictionary) and of the books my kids dump in the recycling bins!
So I am issuing a challenge to my fellow expatriates. Pick a sector of society that could benefit from some assistance. Do some research and you'd be surprise at how little it takes to help out. Personally, I'll be concentrating on helping out on the education front. I have started a preliminary research of the financials (translated into their equivalent cups of Starbucks and Tim Horton's doughnuts). I absolutely hate asking other people for money and I don't know anything about fund-raising. Any money I give away will be money from my family (my job salary), or money from the proceeds of the sale of personal artworks (my photographs), or monies from the sale of my sevices (photography). The point is giving doesn't have to hurt!
My effort will be a work-in-progress and I will post my experiences on a regular basis. I hope you will be inspired to consider starting a similar project!