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Hidden World

Hidden World

It was two hours before dawn when we left home, two Salvatorians, a Priest and a Brother.  A quick stop at an all night coffee shop where we met two friends, our guide and an interpreter, and we left for Parola.  You may not find Parola on many Manila city maps, but there just meters from the waterfront and the docks lies one of the largest slums in the city.  It may no longer be politically correct to use the word slum; depressed area or home to the impoverished is the current phrase used to describe the hovels of the poor. 

We parked our vehicle in what we hoped would be a safe location, and began walking beside a wall covered with graffiti and the garish painted advertising shouting out to us to buy Cola, or XXX brand Beer.  Our only companions at this early hour were the pedi-cab drivers cruising about looking for people in need of a ride to work.  They were not getting a lot of business at this hour of in the morning. 

These walls had been erected by the city to keep the poor contained and hidden from view.  At last our guide pointed out a very narrow opening in the wall and motioned us inside.  We were at last in the hidden world.  Outside the walls the city was still asleep, but here at dawn we were met by a buzz of activity.  As if the residents of Parola lived on a different time-schedule than those on the other side of the walls.  Entire families, old grandmothers, young men and women, even little children were working peeling the skin from garlic.  This appeared to be the only employment of the area.  Soaking the garlic helped remove the skins, and the produce would soon be taken to the shopping centers and supermarkets of the metro area for sale.  Old women were preparing the morning meals, some boiled rice and perhaps a bit of fish or vegetable.  Some of the young men groomed fighting cocks dreaming of the big prize money their birds might win in the local cock fighting pits in the days to come.  Dreams come easy in the hard reality of life in Parola.  Dreams shattered by escape into a world of alcohol, glue sniffing and the increased use of “shabu,” meth-amphetamine.  The dreams of a happy marriage and family broken by poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment or when work was available only a day or two a week on the docks where human sweat is cheaper than machines working in the holds of the ships in Manila Bay. 

We found the people more than happy to talk about their lives.  For how often did they have the opportunity to visit with outsiders; someone who seemed to care about their lives.  Young children and newborn babies were brough out for us to admire and hold.  We asked where the children went to school, but with heads hung low the adults told us that there was a school “outside the walls” but most of their children did not attend.  Elementary eduction in the Philippines is free for all children, but you have to pull the children off the garlic peeling jobs, or they are needed to collect plastic and metal from the streets for sale to the many “junk shops,” to help support the family.  It is difficult for the family to lose their children’s earning power by allowing them to attend school. Add the  cost of uniforms, school supplies and class activity fees, and it is easier to keep the children at home and they soon become part of the underage work force.  The cycle of poverty continues, and after a year or two out of classes the children feel out of place when they attempt to re-enter the classroom.  They feel more at home as members of their gang of scavengers in the gutters and dumps of the city streets.

It was now long past dawn when we knew it was time to leave Parola. Several of the adults, and it seemed most of the children and a few mangy dogs escorted us through the winding alleys and path ways of their homes.  Cautioning us to watch our step and avoid the open sewers we stepped back through that narrow door where hours earlier we had  entered the hidden world.  We thanked our hosts and then with our guide and interpreter found the vehicle just where we had left it.  We had entered a dark world, and were now back in the light.  Returning home in silence we were  wrapped in our own thoughts, puzzled at how the few hours spent there had effected us. Would this be just one more stop on our “tourist trail” or would the experience have a more profound impact on us and perhaps on the people of Parola? Was there anything we could do, or were the problems so insurmountable that anything we did would not change the lives of our new found friends.  Over the coming days and weeks we met and knew we had to do something.  Could we feed these people, would we be able to break the cycle of poverty.   Our immediate response was with the help of some friends and students to hold a Christmas pary for five hundred children, and Puso sa Puso, Heart to Heart was born. Two hundred volunteers were found, and things quickly fell into place, a meal was prepared, entertainment by clowns and face painting was arranged.  Generous donors enabled us to give each of the five hundred children several gifts.  But this one day event, while bringing joy to the children had little lasting effect on their lives.  We needed a long range plan of intervention to lift them out of their environment and poverty.

How does one effect change that is generations old and the “accepted” way of life for so many of these people.  We talked, it seems almost endlessly about educating the people for a change, and then we realized that perhaps the word we were using; education was in fact the way out of this life.   We were not teachers, but a priest, a brother, a young business man and a student photographer.  How do we educate, where do we begin?  What we had seen would not allow us to drop the plan and we found others who were interested and had some of the experience and skills to establish alternative modes of education, bypassing the traditional school systems that had failed these people and left them in seemingly perpetual poverty.  And thus was born not just an idea, but a sound plan.  Welcome to;

 

ALSA BUHAY
Alternative Learning System Approach: Bridging Unlimited Hope for the Advancement of Youth
Alsa in the Filipino language means to lift up, or carry, and Buhay means life.

 

In Manila alone, more than 80 000 children between the ages of 6 and 12 have never been given the opportunity to enter formal classes.  This in the capitol city of the Philippines.  If the public school system was not serving these children how could they be given any hope of an education?  Was there anything we could do?

Two things quickly became apparant, first the parents would need to be educated to understand that the only hope for their children to escape the poverty was through education, and secondly that an alternative form of education needed to be found.  Several of the people working with us on this project had experience with Alternative Learning Systems.  In this way the children can come to learning centers,  and with the aid of tutors take classes in the late afternoon or evenings, or perhaps one or two days a week.  This method allows them to continue to contribute their meager earnings to the family support and at the same time go to school.  This eases the fear of the parents that the child  in school  will  not be a contributing member of the family.  One of the key elements for the success of this type of education is the support of the parents who will see that their children are getting an education while at the same time able to contribute their earning to the family. 

This type of an educational program differs from a regular school in that the children progress at their own rate, and are able to take Government approved exams and given leaving certificates that allow them to go on to the next level in their goal to complete their education.  The benefit of this program is that it allows the student to complete their studies in  a self-paced, non-structured environment that complements his/her need to engage in economic activities, one of the biggest factors that contribute to failure to enter or complete the formal education programm.

It is our hope and dream that this type of learning center will lift many  or most of the children of Parola and the neighboring slums out of the cycle of poverty into which they were born and feel destined to remain.  There is much that yet needs to be done to begin, but a sound and well thought out plan is in place and it is hoped that by the start of the schol year 2010-2011 the first students will be in the classrooms and on their way to the only thing that will improve their state, namely a good education.  This new education program tied into Puso sa Puso is planning another Christmas party this year 2009 as well as the targeting one hundred children for entry into the educational program by the first of the year.  It is invisioned that at the end of four years up to four hundrerd children will  be served by Project ALSA BUHAY –PUSO SA PUSO EDUCATION INITIATIVE.

And thanking you for your generosity, we are Fr. Artur, Bro. James and all the children of Parola.

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