September 5 2012

A treasure that can never be stolen

05/09/12 – With four km to go, a little Filipino boy hurries along a muddy footpath. He and his impoverished parents know that his inheritance depends on his efforts. His destination is a van bearing the distinctive SOS Children’s Villages logo. Here the boy learns a skill that will set him apart from millions who are less fortunate. It begins with ABC. 

“Education is the most priceless inheritance we can give our children. Those who are educated, will not be mistreated or tricked by others.” This dictum has been echoed across the Philippines for generations. In spite of this, a recent mass media survey  (FLEMMS) revealed that one in ten people are functionally illiterate in the country. The prohibitive cost of basic education is a major contributing factor. Today, eleven million Filipinos are unable to read or write.  


Engaging with SOS Children
Basic education is appreciated but not always affordable in the Philippines © K. Snozzi


Illiteracy is most acute in rural areas where most adults have never attended elementary school. Fortunately, in areas like Zagarra in Panay’s Iloilo province, communities appreciate the value of education.

They have proved this by engaging enthusiastically with kindergarten teachers and other SOS Children’s Villages team members who have reached out to provide something that is priceless.

After kindergarten closes, work begins

Each Friday, after finishing their week’s work at SOS Kindergarten Iloilo, the team prepare for  Saturday. That is when they make their way to twelve of Zarraga’s 24 villages. Here, they conduct an outreach education programme that provides children between the three and five-years-old with basic literacy skills. Since the initiative began in 2010, a love of reading and learning has been nurtured. This is brought about by the children’s exposure to books, visual materials and guidance from professionally trained teachers.


SOS Children
SOS Children's Villages nurturing a love of learning © SOS Archives


Over 500 families in the region benefit from a variety of services provided through the SOS Family Strengthening Programme. Among them is Elsie, a grandmother living in Balud 1, where she cares for Charmaine. “My granddaughter did not know how to read, write or distinguish between colours and shapes. At first, she did not recognise drawings of animals shown by her teacher. She would not even talk to anyone and she cried whenever I left her,” said Elsie.

“My twins know how to dance and sing now. They also know how to read and write. Before, I had a hard time teaching them. Now, they are the ones who teach me. I hope that this programme will continue here,” shares Marilou, mother of Marvin and Christopher.

Various teaching methods are employed, to promote the 3Rs (Reading, wRiting & aRithemetic). This includes picture and colour recognition, song and dance activities, storytelling, and tuition in basic hygiene. To help strengthen families and encourage the continuation of education, other services are provided. School supplies, transportation allowance, tutorials, monitoring of school attendance and other supports are provided through the SOS Family Strengthening Programme. 

Challenging for all concerned


“We do not have a permanent venue or classroom where we conduct our classes" says Remia, the SOS Kindergarten Head Teacher. "Sometimes, we hold our classes either in the tattered chapel or in an opened-sided waiting shed. During rainy season, we mostly do it inside our SOS vehicle. As the children do not have a basic learning background, it is really hard to teach them at first. Most of them do not want to speak and many are very timid and shy. Picture stories, visual and audio-visual materials are of great help to us. We make learning a fun, with lots of games. Eventually, children learn how to read, write and count. They even learn to dance and sing making them more sociable. We enjoy what we do. These children can now compete with our kindergarten pupils in academic and extra-curricular activities,” Remia says proudly.


SOS Kindergarten teams stregthening communities © SOS Archives
In attendance rain or shine - classes are provided in a van when necessary © SOS Archives


Her colleague, Edrose, highlights how conditions in the villages contrasts with her classroom in the comfortable well equipped SOS Kindergarten. “In the communities, we have to use mats or blankets so that the children can sit and do their activities. The venue is not really good for learning and it is far from the children’s homes. Nevertheless, we do our best and we are encouraged by their perfect attendance. Children are really eager to attend classes,” she says.  

Some of the 232 children involved undertake a round journey of up to 8km to attend classes. “Even if it is far and raining and the road is muddy, my boy will not want to miss his weekly class in Balud Liloan. Rain or shine, he always attends. He knows how to read and write now. He can read instructions,” reveals his proud mother, Anna-Marie. In common with other areas of the Philippines, the dictum often heard in her community continues to ring true: “Education is the only treasure that can never be stolen”.

Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.