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Charity keeps Manila kids afloat

by Mariko Kato

When Typhoon Ketsana triggered the worst floods in 40 years in Manila and surrounding areas in September, among those who suffered most were the children living in the slums near Laguna Lake.

“The water was higher than a person’s height. They say it will take three to four months for the water to clear out completely,” said Masako Sumiya, representative of PAG-ASA Group Japan. The charity, which supports the schooling of slum children, is one of the groups that received money from The Japan Times Readers’ Fund this year.

“Some areas still have knee-high water levels, and some children still can’t return to school,” she added.

Many of the children reside in squatter communities near Laguna Lake, the largest in the country, leaving their homes vulnerable to sudden rises in water level, Sumiya said.

For those able to resume their education, the Kanagawa-based group donated ¥170,979 it received to the Manila-based Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation, which used it to purchase school uniforms, bags and stationery.

According to Sumiya, 40 children have benefited from the support, mostly elementary school pupils in the poor areas in the city of Muntinlupa, south of Manila. It costs approximately 2,000 pesos (¥3,800) a year for a child to attend elementary school in the area.

Fourth-grader Maricel L. Oria, who attends Alabang Elementary School, is only one of two of the six children in her impoverished family who can attend school. Her father used to be a fish vendor, while her mother is a housewife.

According to Sumiya, who travels to the Philippines every year, there was a change in the parents’ attitude toward education when she visited in March.

“When I visited the schools this year, all the parents were there. It was the first time that happened,” she said.

“They asked us, ‘Will the donations keep coming?’ and when we reassured them that we will make sure the children all graduate, they broke into applause and seemed so moved. It is obviously very important to them.”

This increased awareness among the parents was one of the reasons the graduation rate improved this year, according to Sumiya. Previously, only 40 percent of those who started the first grade graduated six years later, but now that figure has risen to two-thirds, she said.

Charities were particularly hard hit this year due to the global financial crisis, according to Sumiya. ERDA, which gets 90 percent of its funding from overseas, had to prioritize the poorest households after donations dropped, she said.

“This is why we are all the more grateful that we have lasted so long,” Sumiya said. PAG-ASA is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year.

Sumiya set up the charity in 1989 after witnessing the plight of the street children when she lived in Manila from 1985 to 1988, while her husband served as Japan’s ambassador. PAG-ASA has helped more than 22,000 children and youths to date, raising over ¥125 million.

Donations can be sent to the following bank account: Shinbashi branch of Mizuho Bank, futsu koza 1393499 (the name of the account is: Japan Times Dokusha no Nanmin Enjo Kikin). Checks should be made out to The Japan Times Readers’ Charity Fund, c/o The Japan Times head office (4-5-4 Shibaura, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-8071). For inquiries, call (03) 3453-5312.