A few days ago, I posted on my Facebook page what was tantamount to a plea for help.
Specifically, I asked any and all of my FB friends to join me in helping a small school in the mountains of Mindoro Oriental. In a sitio called Sipitsaburan – the farthest community of Puerto Galera in Barangay Villaflor – is an elementary school where only 60 students are enrolled. All are Iraya Mangyans.
My partner got to meet the kids and their two teachers because of her former job with a non-government organization. After resigning from that NGO, she opted to continue helping the school in her personal capacity.
Her reason is sad to the point of being heartbreaking. Those 60 kids whose ages range from six to 14 appear to be malnourished and often show signs of dehydration. They all come from poor families and sometimes skip classes because they have nothing to wear. Most of the time they attend classes barefoot.
Once, my partner took four of the kids to the lowlands, to the big town that is Puerto Galera. Most of the people of the place looked down at the highlanders for no other reason than because they were poor and acted as if they had an inferiority complex, unaccustomed as they were to the fast pace of life in the town and its cars, jeepneys, tricycles and motorcycles.
Kids their age would sneer at them because they looked different.
The smiles on their faces after seeing what they thought was a big city quickly dissipated when they were made aware that they were not welcome, that they were essentially pariahs in the lowland.
When my partner related this to me, I knew I had to do something more than just feel sorry for them. We discussed what the kids needed and how I can help.
The first thing she told me was to find a way to produce 60 water bottles. It seems that the kids all have access to clean, potable mountain spring water but have no containers to put their daily need. If each student had his or her own water bottle, then they would at least go to school with enough supply to last the day.
My partner suspects that they are all mildly dehydrated based on the smell of their urine. She is certain that if they had sufficient water, then their general health would vastly improve.
The next need of the kids after water is food, of course. The two teachers have been donating a sack of rice every month so that the kids would have another reason to attend classes. Free food, or at least the basic staple of rice.
Finally, the 60 boys and girls need uniforms. Typical of all public schools in the country, they must wear a plain, white, roundneck t-shirt and dark blue short pants for the boys and skirts for the girls. Since everyone presumably grows a little (or a lot) every year, they need new sets of uniforms every start of each school year.
These then are the basic needs that I want to help them with. I have already committed to donate a sack of rice every month during the school year. At least my salary affords me the luxury of being a silent donor.
The other needs, however, are a little bit beyond my present capacity, which is why I turned to my friends for help. Each child needs a set of uniforms that costs about P250 per. That’s about $5. A good water bottle – nothing fancy – is roughly P150, or $3. That means that for every student to get the minimum need, P400 or $8 is required. Multiplied by 60, that’s less than $500 for everyone.
A few close relatives and friends told me they would donate. Unfortunately, what has been promised is not enough for the simple reason that I have kept the number of my Facebook friends to a minimum. I only have as FB friends people whom I really know.
My latest count says that I should have enough to take care of the needs of half of the 60 Mangyan boys and girls.
So now I turn to the readers of this column to complete the task. I welcome any and all donations. Interested in helping, folks? Please get in touch with me via private message at FB or my email, [email protected].
Names of donors and their donations will be posted in my Facebook page, along with photos of the recipients.
Thank you and God bless.