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Helping Filipino schoolchildren

by Mariko Kato

This is the first in a series of how contributions to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund last year — the 53rd since the campaign started — are being put to use. The ¥940,595 readers donated in 2007 has gone to six organizations to finance humanitarian projects for needy people across Asia.

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In an impoverished area in the Philippine city of Muntinlupa, south of Manila, young May Lacerna attends Itaas Elementary School. Now in the fourth grade, she is one of seven siblings. Her father is a welder, earning 2,000 pesos (about ¥3,800) a month.

May is one of 48 underprivileged schoolchildren supported by The Japan Times Readers’ Fund, which donated money to PAG-ASA Group Japan, a charity that has been raising funds to help educate street children and youths in poor areas since its foundation in 1989.

The Kanagawa-based group sent the ¥178,119 it received to the local aid group Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation, based in Manila, to pay for items elementary school students need for their education, including uniforms, bags and stationery.

“The children can go to school without worrying about the disparity in wealth,” Masako Sumiya, a PAG-ASA representative, said recently in Japan.

“The money also pays for social workers to help prevent dropouts,” she explained.

Dropping out is a constant problem, considering the students’ harsh living conditions, as described in an on-location joint report by ERDA and another group, the Muntinlupa-based Sigla ng Buhay Foundation.

Some children live near Laguana Lake, the largest in the country, and are exposed to flooding, while those who live along a Philippine National Railways line are vulnerable to accidents.

Due to overcrowding, “congestion, health and hygiene problems and criminal offenses are perennial issues,” the report says.

Sumiya’s biggest concern for now is the rising cost of necessary supplies.

“Due to inflation over the last few years, materials the students need to attend school are becoming more expensive,” she said. Costs this year have risen about one-third to 2,000 pesos per student. For now, the rise is being covered by extra budget allocations from ERDA.

There are 2,000 to 3,000 students per school, and there is a shortage of teachers and educational materials, she said.

In addition to academic lessons, the children also receive supplementary education on Saturdays.

“Through art lessons and religious studies, the students learn self-expression and gain confidence,” Sumiya said.

She set up PAG-ASA when she saw the plight of the street children when she lived in Manila between 1985 and 1988 as wife of the Japanese ambassador.

In February, PAG-ASA, which celebrates its 20th anniversary next year, received an award from the Philippines-Japan Society in recognition of its work.

According to the PAG-ASA Web site, the group has so far helped 22,290 students ranging from elementary school to college.