Tuesday, June 23, 2015

School Opening Brings Hope to Palawan Tribe

These Kunoy children will no longer have to walk three hours to the nearest public school with the
opening of the CCT-Visions of Hope Christian School in Sitio Kakawitan, Barangay Tagusao,
Quezon, Palawan. Adults in back row are teachers Arlene Langgalot, Leo Badajos, 

Milinda Biolena and Gary Gabinete. 

Jennylyn doesn’t realize it right now, but her life may have just taken a turn for the better. 

Limited Options. Jennylyn belongs to the Kunoy indigenous group of Palawan. She is five. Probably. No one knows exactly how old she is because where she lives, calendars are rare and birth certificates are nonexistent.

Girls here marry nearly as soon as they reach puberty. Illiteracy runs high. The nearest school is more than three hours away on foot, and one has to cross and re-cross a wide stream three times or seven times, depending on which path one chooses to take to get there. The few who manage to get a little education often return to their homes to spend the rest of their lives as slash-and-burn farmers.   

But things are about to change for Jennylyn and for children from the 115 families in the villages of Marayparay and Kakawitan in Barangay Tagusao and Kagay in Barangay Calumpang, Quezon, a town south of Puerto Princesa.   

Medicine and Education. In December 2013, Pastor Cesar Gallarin, executive director of a group called the Friendship Builders visited Sitio Kagay with pastors of the Christ Jesus our Life Church (CJOL) which has been working in Palawan for years. The tribal chieftain they met requested two things: medicine and education for their children. To comply with the request for education, Pastor Santos Batoy and Pastor Joe Ibanez of the Friendship Builders, tribal leader Tarag Almahan and his son Michael, and a certain Liza Vile trained to be teachers in BLESS or Basic Life Empowerment Support System, a literacy program that teaches children to read in 18 to 20 weeks. However, everyone felt that so much more could be done for the Kunoy.

Pastor Joe, whose wife Dina was at that time a teacher of the Visions of Hope Christian School of the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) Group of Ministries suggested that perhaps the two groups could work together. Heads of these organizations met and a partnership was forged. It was agreed that CCT would operate and manage a school for which the Friendship Builders would provide infrastructure. Meanwhile, Father Gregorio Quiboyen, a retired Episcopalian minister, donated a hectare of land central to the three villages and in March 2015 work on a school building began. Cement, roofing sheets, plywood and other construction material were brought to the site by carabao-drawn carts.    

“Please Dream for Your Children.” It was slightly drizzling on June 21, 2015, when families of the Kunoy tribe, barangay officials, and staff and representatives of the Friendship Builders, CCT, CJOL, and the Department of Education  gathered for the dedication of a one-story, three-room school building.   

In a short talk directly addressing parents, Pastor Cesar spoke of a strong desire and vision to educate Kunoy children all the way to college, “But,” he stressed, “We need your support.”  He asked the parents to give due importance to the memory of Tarag Almahan, who, deeply concerned about the future of his tribe, had studied to be a BLESS teacher, but had passed away just a few months earlier.  After announcing that one of the three new classrooms could be temporarily used as living quarters by children who lived far from the school and that food would be provided for them if one of the parents would stay to look after them, Pastor Gallarin ended with a tearful plea: “Please dream for your children.”  

The school in Tagusao is the fourth Visions of Hope school in Palawan. (The other three are in Puerto Princesa.) It will initially offer pre-school education as well as classes in the Alternative Learning System which will allow children and even adults who have a little elementary  education to work toward the equivalent of a grade school diploma.

With God’s intervention in her life through caring people like the Friendship Builders, CJOL and CCT, and if her parents will dream along with her, seven or eight years from now Jennylyn (smallest girl in photo above) will have more options than simply getting married just as soon as she reaches puberty.

(From left) Pastor Jun Castillo of CCT, Father Gregorio Quiboyen,
and Pastor Cesar Gallarin, Friendship Builders executive director,
cut the ribbon at the school inauguration.

Father Quiboyen, retired Episcopal minister and  school site donor,
encourages the Kunoy community to remain united.

Pastor Santos Batoy,using a hand-drawn map (below),
 explains the school location as central to the villages
of Marayparay, Kakawitan and Kagay. 

CCT's Pastor Fidel Presto shares a message based on Psalm 127:1 & 2:
Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it;
Unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain.
It is vain for you to rise up early, to retire late, to eat the bread of
painful labors; for he gives to his beloved even in his sleep.

Members of the Kunoy community, workers of the CCT-Kaibigang Maaasahan
Multi-purpose Cooperative which built the school, Visions of
Hope Christian School teachers, pastors of
the Christ Jesus our Life Church, and representatives of
the Friendship Builders and Center for Community Transformation
Group of Ministries form a circle around the children to dedicate
them and the entire new school year to the Lord.  

Kunoy women perform the tarak dance to the beat of an
agong (left) and sanang.  The dance expresses thanks to the Lord.

Federico Gacasa Jr., Department of Education District Supervisor,
offers to help the Visions of Hope Christian School meet its
its DepEd requirements. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

VOH Boys are Football Camp MVPs

Winners all! (Left to right)  Peter Bucasas (Best Keeper, Boys 14 age bracket), Angelo Lopez (Champion 
Team member,  Boys 14), Carlo Frago (Best Defender, Boys 12), Jed Aguila (Champion Team member, 
Boys 14), Gerald Abella (Best Midfielder/ MVP Boys 10), Cydric Moises (Best Defender/
 Runner Up Team Silver, Boys 12), Titus Zipeda (MVP/ 3rd Place Team member, 
Boys 12), Coach Leo Arnaiz, John Rey Leyte (MVP/ Runner Up Team member,
 Boys 14) and Arsenio de la Cruz (3rd Place Team member, Boys 14). 

Three boys being cared for at the Visions of Hope (VOH) Christian School in Magdalena, Laguna were named Most Valuable Player (MVP) in their respective age brackets at the recently-concluded 2015 Alaska Football Power Camp.

Gerald Abella was MVP for the boys in the age 10 bracket, Titus Zipeda was MVP for those in the age 12 group, and John Rey Leyte was MVP for those in the age 14 bracket. Gerald was also named best midfielder for his age group. Six other boys also received medals. They are among 26 VOH-Magdalena children attending Summer with the Son, a school break program that, among other activities, includes a trip to the Benguet State University in La Trinidad, Benguet to join the football camp. The camp was held from April 9 – 12, 2015.

During the camp’s first four days the children were taught the fundamentals of football and on the last day they played against each other. The other boys who received medals are Peter Bucasas (Best Keeper, Boys 14 age bracket), Angelo Lopez (Champion Team member, Boys 14), Carlo Frago (Best Defender, Boys 12), Jed Aguila (Champion Team member, Boys 14), Cydric Moises (Best Defender/Runner Up Team, Boys 12), and Arsenio de la Cruz (3rd Place Team member, Boys 14).

VOH-Magdalena, is an all-male residential school that shelters street children, abandoned or neglected children, and orphans. VOH Coach Leo Arnaiz said the Summer with the Son  program gives the boys “a chance to mix with other boys, socialize and make friends, and see how they can respond and adapt to the world.” It also allows them to focus on God’s purpose for them.  'Son' in the program's name refers to God's Son, Jesus, he added.

“These boys were at one time mistreated and unloved. They didn’t see themselves as persons of value so it didn’t matter to them if they did bad things. One thing this camp did for them is make them see how valuable they are, that they have a purpose in life,” Coach Leo said. He stressed that the first thing the football and character formation program at VOHCS-Magdalena does is find hope, meaning, purpose and value in their lives.

The Visions of Hope Christian School is one of twelve ministries in the Center for Community Transformation (CCT) Group of Ministries. It operates 24 pre-schools in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Philippines, and three boarding schools. Aside from VOH-Magdalena, it also runs a boarding school in Puypuy, Bay, Laguna which ministers to boys (below age 10) and girls from street dwelling families, and a boarding school in Malungon, Sarangani for children from the B’laan, Tagakaolo, and Kalagan indigenous peoples groups. The boarding schools offer pre-school to sixth grade education.

“The other coaches had nothing but good comments about our boys’ behavior,” said Coach Leo. “They said they are disciplined, don’t complain, are very respectful, and the only ones who ‘make mano’.”

“If Summer with the Son produces good results, I hope it can be a yearly activity,” he added.

The football camp is an annual summer activity sponsored by Alaska Milk Corporation. A total of 420 boys and girls between the ages eight and fourteen from all over Luzon attended this year’s camp. Lala Salili, peer servant for CCT-VOHCS said joining the camp gave the boys a chance to further develop discipline, determination, team work, and sportsmanship, characteristics needed in the real world.

The VOH boys with the rest of the football campers and their coaches. 
The Summer with the Son program included
a tour of some of Baguio's most popular tourist
spots and a chance to go strawberry picking
in La Trinidad Valley!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rolly Tablatin: ‘It's All Up to You’

Former street kid Rolly passed the A and E exam along with his brother, Roberto “JR” Tablatin, Jr. (Read JR’s testimony here). Rolly is now eligible to proceed with his secondary education, while JR and other students at CCT Magdalena – Arnold de la Cruz and Daniel Seth Jerusalem – are now qualified to enter college. Last June 13, they all attended a graduation ceremony led by the Department of Education Bureau of Alternative Learning System for the students in Laguna. Below is an excerpt of Rolly's testimony.

I am Rolly Tablatin, 18 years old. I am among those who passed the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Accreditation and Equivalency (A and E) examination. 

When I was about to take the exam, I was nervous but I remembered to pray so that I would feel calm. I just offered everything to God. He gave me wisdom to answer all the questions from different subjects. I did not run out of answers and it seemed like everything that I reviewed was in the exam.

In the essay part, I just kept on writing and I even included a Bible verse. But, I wasn't able to write a long piece because there wasn't enough time. 

I had doubts about passing but I told the Lord, “It’s all up to You. If I would pass the exam, thank You. If I wouldn't, thank You still.”

I thank Him because He allowed me to pass the ALS exam. I also thank those who have been helping me in my studies. May the Lord bless you!

Rolly proudly shows his diploma.

Rolly's diploma qualifies him to continue with high school.
Rolly (third from the left) attends the ALS graduation
with fellow CCT Magdalena boys.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Beginning 2014-2015: A Photo Essay

Ever wonder what going back to school is like for Visions of Hope Christian School (VOHCS) community-based preschools? Beginning school year 2014-2015 was a fruit of hard work, commitment, and collaboration among VOHCS teachers, parents, Center for Community Transformation (CCT) staff, and leaders in the local community.

Community surveys were conducted to invite pupils to VOHCS. Reading readiness tests followed to assess the students’ learning levels. The students are a mix of sponsored and paying children. The sponsored children belong to poorest of the poor and are unable to afford their education, while the paying students, albeit given substantial subsidy, are children of CCT micro-entrepreneurs. As of August 2014, a total of 836 children are enrolled in 24 VOHCS community-based preschools nationwide.

A VOHCS Irawan teacher conducts a community survey in
Brgy. Irawan, Puerto Princesa, Palawan. 

Reading readiness tests are administered in VOHCS Midsayap. 

Former students and other children in rural and urban poor communities were also encouraged to join the Boys’ and Girls’ Brigade (or Brigada Bata), a character development program carried out once a week with VOHCS students.

Children from VOHCS Jaro and from the community enlist
in Boys' Brigade. 

Boys' Brigade drills start in VOHCS Taguig as the school year opens. 

Help was solicited from the children’s parents to help prepare the classrooms. This is in line with a Department of Education-initiated program called Brigada Eskwela. Parents then attended an orientation meeting where they learned about VOHCS school policies and their role in their children’s education.

A parent from VOHCS Irawan helps prepare the school grounds
for the opening of classes.

Mothers from VOHCS Midsayap help clean the floor of the
school's classroom.

Parents attend a parent orientation day at VOHCS General Santos City.
A VOHCS Midsayap teacher leads the parent orientation. 

Then, it’s all systems go!

VOHCS Butuan's new classroom is ready to use. 

VOHCS Irawan opens in June with 36 students.

Inside the classroom, VOHCS Oton (Iloilo) children learn to fall in line.

VOHCS General Santos children and their parents go out on a parade
of Philippine flags in celebration of the country's independence day. 

Despite Hardships, VOHCS Child Brings Zip to School

Judilyn Bukiron sings and dances to an action song
with her classmates. 

Energetic and affectionate – that’s how Visions of Hope Christian School (VOHCS) Mandaue teachers describe six-year-old Judilyn Bukiron. Despite being underweight, Judilyn brings much zip with her to school. She is bright, fun-loving, and one who quickly finishes her tasks. Perhaps to show them her love and gratitude, she runs to hug her teachers every time she sees them.

The VOHCS Mandaue teachers first met Judilyn when they conducted a community survey in a densely populated area in Mandaue City, Cebu. Judilyn was resolved that she would not enter school anytime soon, but that changed when she and her mother learned about VOHCS. Her father is serving time in jail, while her mother is incapable of work due to goiter. Only Judilyn’s eldest sister, who is married and employed, provides for her siblings when she is able. One of the other siblings struggles to finish grade school while another is mentally unstable and has a baby.

Now that she is learning to read and write, Judilyn dreams of becoming a teacher when she grows up.

Judilyn is one of the six children at VOHCS Mandaue whose schooling is fully subsidized by VOHCS. The preschool has 39 pupils this school year.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Parents Commit to VOHCS Discipleship Meetings

Parents at VOHCS Midsayap regularly attend
discipleship meetings.
What started as an optimistic response to attend weekly discipleship meetings has become an ongoing commitment for parents of Visions of Hope Christian School (VOHCS) children in Midsayap, North Cotabato.

One of the privileges of VOHCS parents is an opportunity to join a discipleship group. Here they learn more about Jesus Christ and grow together in their faith. While this does not sound very attractive to some, VOHCS parents from this predominantly Muslim town have a different attitude. When the teachers met them for an orientation meeting in June, they were positive about its spiritual development program. They compared VOHCS with other preschools in their community and are thankful for its concern for the spiritual growth of both its pupils and their parents. 

Through a holistic academic curriculum that integrates Christian values, the spiritual development program of VOHCS aims to produce mature and spiritually reproductive youth and children who submit to the Lordship of Christ. The program also hopes to deepen the parents’ relationship with God through prayer, sharing the good news, and practical application of Biblical truths. 

The discipleship meetings are held every Friday, led by Center for Community Transformation (CCT) Midsayap branch pastor, Ptr. Joel Tumanding. Ten to eighteen out of 22 parents regularly attend the meetings. They actively join discussions and answer occasional take-home assignments. Some of them have also begun attending the one-year-old CCT community church.

According to one of the mothers, “The discipleship meetings have taught me that God is merciful because He sent His son Jesus to die for the forgiveness of our sins. I am learning more about humility as well. I know that it is hard for one to thrive without God in his life.” She finds sharing time with other parents refreshing.

Teachers, Parents Partner in VOHCS Feeding Program

Parents take turns in preparing and serving food for their children
at VOHCS Malibay.
"Parents are surprised that we can turn something like instant noodles into a nutritious meal,” says Visions of Hope Christian School (VOHCS) Teacher Annabel Autiangco about the menu planning that she and Teacher Ediloisa Alidio lead among parents of VOHCS pupils in Malibay, Pasay. 

Meal planning is part of the school’s feeding program this year. The program started in 2013 with funding from partner organizations Wholistic Transformation and Reform Center (WTRC) and Australia-based Only About Children (OAC), and has helped 43 preschoolers gain healthy weight. It enlists the help of parents who take turns preparing and serving the food. School nurse Nowell Alejo monitors the children’s height and weight. 

Before classes began in June, the parents worked out a division of tasks among themselves. At a ten-peso daily budget per child, they cook heavy snacks like porridge, noodle soup with vegetables, and meat dishes with rice for this school year’s 38 VOHCS Malibay children. They learn in the process that they are responsible for their children’s nutrition and health, and that they too can prepare nutritious yet affordable food at home. 

VOHCS Malibay children love the heavy snacks served during recess.

Teacher Annabel says that the feeding program benefits other children in the community. She tells of a student from a large, poor family who comes to school daily with two younger siblings. The siblings are also fed during recess. 

Malnutrition is a perennial problem of VOHCS children nationwide. Because of poverty, some VOHCS children attend classes on empty stomachs, and they either skip meals or are not given nutritious food at home. They usually struggle with academics because of their short attention span and sluggishness. VOHCS hopes to set up feeding programs in all of its 24 community-based preschools to combat malnutrition.