By Nooshin Shabani
This article is on Malcolm Trevena who spent 6 months volunteering in a village school in the Philippines. He discovered the shocking reality of just how poor the Philippines is, and how much the children valued education.
It’s our priceless necessity and weapon of development, some people are deprived of this while others may cherish it. Education is not a privilege it’s a need, a need in the Philippines which is not being nurtured.
Malcolm Trevena, 33, New Zealand, decided to help by donating 6 months of his time volunteering in the Philippines teaching English in schools. He volunteered through the Global Volunteer Network. After leaving his IT job behind he prepared himself to ride a rollercoaster of surprises. “I decided to try something completely different and exciting. Making the rich richer and putting the poor out of work started to loose its appeal”, said Malcolm. He spent his time in the Philippines working in a village school in the Visayas. When Malcolm first arrived he began to notice the shocking levels of poverty. “I saw little children wandering in and out of cars on the motorway selling flowers. I saw people jumping onto moving buses, five lines of traffic were operating on a three lane motorway”.
The levels of poverty in the Philippines are extreme. Street children wander the city streets selling any gadgets they can get their hands on to bring money back to feed their family. It’s a problem which is familiar in many third world countries, the economic balance between the people, your either very rich or very poor there is no middle. Many of the Filipinos who are fortunate enough to get an education go on to seek work abroad as opportunities are greater overseas. Malcolm stayed with a Filipino family in the village. He witnessed first hand how much the Education system needed to be improved. There was a serious lack of resources.
“Most of the textbooks were falling apart and were out of date and had obviously been written by someone whose first language was not English. I had the only Grade 5 reading book.” Said Malcolm.
The Philippines is a country which is prone to Natural disasters and suffers political instability, as many Filipinos believe the political system is corrupt and the last election was rigged. As the Philippines has a ballooning amount of debt to repay education is not on the priority list. According to the Philippine Education Sector study (World Bank & Asian Development Bank) 1998-2008 will be a period of limited or zero growth in the public budgetary allocation to education as a whole. “Teachers are the least well paid government employees as the police and the military are paid the most. Some of the schools have one teacher to 80 children. Some classrooms are so overcrowded that students have to peer in from outside the classroom.” Said Malcolm.
Education is something which is appreciated in the Philippines, it’s something which children do not take for granted as it may one day be the key which is needed to open the door to a better life. People have a sense of community and their living conditions have forced locals to make some astonishing choices. One local villager who lost a family member through violence chose not to prosecute the perpetrator as it would mean that there family would suffer as there primary money earner would go to prison and the rest of the family would go hungry. “Between justice and food the people choose food” said Malcolm.
A group of GVN volunteers built a roof on one of the classrooms so the students would not need to scrunch up in one half of the classroom when it rained. Malcolm set up numerous tutorial groups to teach the quieter slower kids who were shy in the class. Volunteers made a tangible difference through donating books and carrying out maintenance work.” I think being there had an impact. It let them know that some people cared about them even though the government didn’t give a rat’s arse about them”, said Malcolm. He was overwhelmed just how much the children appreciated being taught English. As the GVN volunteers brought some books with them to the school the children became excited. “The kids immediately took to the books. They were like dry sponges soaking up the goodness of books. It was great to see.”
Like ostriches in sand children bury their heads in the very few books that are available to them.
According to a meeting held by the Alliance of Concerned Teachers based in the Philippines, almost 20% of Filipinos are illiterate and the number of children out of school is on the rise. The poverty that the people endure results in most of the children not having the chance to fully finish school and receive a proper education. As for the street children who wander around working the roads hoping to make money for food, some of them are reduced to committing petty crimes like stealing food so they don’t starve. Once they are caught by authorities children over 15 are detained in an adult’s prison. According to UNICEF every day another 28 children get arrested and over more than half of the crimes are not serious.
At present Malcolm is volunteering with GVN in a Refugee camp based in Ghana and will then go on to Volunteer with Mukono youth in Uganda for another six month.
Malcolm volunteered with the Global Volunteer Network, a non-government organization based in New Zealand, which connects people to communities in need. For information please see www.volunteering.org.nz