Connect : Connect March 2012
20 Julie Green Country Philippines | Assignment Parent Empowerment Group Program Officer Host Organisation Ateneo Center for Educational Development www.admu.edu.ph/aced From Manila...Inspired! My Australian Volunteers assignment has allowed me to combine my three big passions in life - education, development and running - and this is where my story starts. My role is to work with marginalised, low socio-economic communities in the Philippines to empower parents to actively support their children’s education. Sounds simple enough, but in reality it is very challenging while at the same time so rewarding and utterly inspiring. Picture this: it’s 5.45am, the sun is not yet up but students are beginning to head to their classrooms to start their lessons and the BluePlate kitchen is opening. About 15 to 20 parent volunteers are setting up the kitchen and will soon start the task of preparing food for 4000 malnourished public elementary students. A typical day sees the preparation of 90kg of chicken (de-boning, cooking and faking), 80kg of sayote (chayote in Spanish – part of the gourd family), 6kg of malunggay (a ‘power’ herb and very popular in Filipino dishes), 144kg of rice, 4kg of garlic, 6kg of onions, 60kg of potatoes, plus seasonings and sauces. Many of these parents will work until 11am and then will accompany the food to elementary schools and assist with serving it to select Grade 1 through to Grade 4 students who have been identifed as malnourished. Others will stay behind to complete all the washing up and clean the kitchen ready for the next day. Most of these parents help out in the kitchen every day of every week. They work tirelessly without complaint and with what I can only describe as the ‘very best’ sense of humour that I have ever seen in a group of human beings! The atmosphere is light and bright and laughter abounds, and yet there is at the same time a real sense of purpose and the knowledge that they are solely responsible for ensuring these children have their healthy meal on time. Next week we will be celebrating 100 days of the BluePlate for Better Learning Feeding Program. Helping out with the kitchen duties is the fun part of my role and defnitely helps build relationships, but my real task with the BluePlate program is to empower the parents through education, upskilling and building their confdence. I’m doing this by running tailored certifed training courses and seminars to increase their skill sets (both within a hospitality environment and in their daily lives) such as training the parent volunteers so that they can host future BluePlate training courses. So what do I fnd inspiring? The parent volunteers who continuously scrub and wash calderos (a huge cast iron cooking pot) day after day. I have tried it and I can vouch for the fact that it is incredibly tiring as the rice sticks hard to the caldero and burns onto the bottom of it, the steel wool cuts into your skin as you scrub and scrub, the muscles in your legs start to cramp from squatting down as you clean the caldero on the foor, and the muscles in your arms just start screaming saying OK enough, enough! But the parent volunteers keep going. The parents who give up their time to commit to my feasibility studies and pilot parent involvement programs, Kami ay Kasama, in the hope of bettering their children’s educational futures are truly inspirational. These programs, designed and based on research conducted with the parents, teachers and students, involve modules such as active involvement in homework, and creating a supportive home learning environment. The parents sacrifce their home duties to attend my training sessions and team building seminars, listen to my presentations, and meet with other members of the school community. The enthusiasm, energy and engagement of these parents are remarkable. What’s more, they put themselves far outside their comfort zones, exposing themselves to vulnerability and possibly even ‘hiya’, which translates as ‘shame’ in English but is a traditional aspect of the Filipino culture and something to be avoided at all costs. The principals and teachers of these public elementary schools face an onerous task. Having taught in comprehensive schools in England and Australia of about 1400 students which are classed as ‘large’, I have been greatly humbled by the task faced by educators in this country. The average metro Manila public elementary school hosts between 7000-10,000 students every day. Speaking of onerous tasks, my Host Organisation, Ateneo Center for Educational Development (ACED), take it one step further by assisting all of these huge schools through targeted interventions. Led by a highly inspirational and talented Mrs O, ACED manages to educate, inspire and challenge school communities to continually improve. Running is a deep passion of mine and since arriving in the Philippines I have discovered ultrarunning, events that are longer than a standard 42.2km marathon, and have formed bonds and friendships with people that I was never able to back home. The camaraderie within the Filipino ultrarunning community is second to none and I am very humbled by the amazing feats that these people complete. Two weeks ago I participated in a running event where 270 of us ran around a 2.2km loop again and again and again. Some, like me for example, ran around this loop for six hours, however large numbers of people ran for 12 hours, 24 hours and 12 people ran for 36 hours. Totally inspiring! Through all of these inspiring people and events, I have found my favourite word in the local language Tagalog is talaga, which in English translates as ‘really?!’ I tend to use it a lot as I am blown away by what people do and achieve. It is with all this inspiration that I can honestly say that I am looking forward to the remainder of my assignment and to building on all the rich, invaluable experiences I encounter in my daily life in the Philippines.
Connect Magazine July 2012 Edition
Connect November 2011