Readers’ Fund offers poor Filipino kids opportunity to keep learning

The annual Japan Time Readers’ Fund has helped a variety of nonprofit organizations work to improve education and living conditions in developing countries. This article and a subsequent one will attempt to explain how the donations have been used.

Staff writer The case summary of 9-year-old Filipino Joey F. Tongcua compiled by a local social worker reveals the dire poverty he is in now. It also offers a glimmer of hope that he might someday rise above it.

Tongcua, who appears short and skinny in his file photo, lives in the slums of Muntinlupa, a city south of Manila.

His family, which includes his parents and nine siblings aged between 2 and 22, lives in a 15-sq.-meter dwelling made of scraps of plywood and galvanized steel. Their only items of value are an old black-and-white TV and a desk fan.

Tongcua dreams of becoming a teacher and regards his teachers at a local elementary school as role models.

“He spends most of his time at home playing, pretending to be a teacher to his siblings,” the social worker commented in the report.

But recently, Tongcua’s father, who had worked on and off at construction sites for 250 pesos (about 560 yen) a day, injured himself at work and lost his job. The family now depends on the meager income earned by the mother, who sells fruit and vegetables on the streets, and the eldest son, who pedals a tricycle taxi.

“This is the case of a 9-year-old boy who at his young age is aware of the importance of education,” the report notes. “However, due to poverty, there is a threat that he will not be able to finish (his) education.”

Without help, he would likely join the ranks of some 300,000 to 400,000 Filipino kids who drop out of school every year and become street children.

In metropolitan Manila alone, an estimated 100,000 people aged between 5 and 17 are believed to be living on the streets.

Contributors to The Japan Times Readers’ Fund have helped Tongcua and 115 other destitute Philippine students in school. In May, 500,000 yen out of 3,724,958 yen collected through the paper’s fundraising campaign last year was given to PAG-ASA Group Japan, a Japanese charity group, which sent the money to a Philippine nongovernmental organization in time for the start of the academic year in June.

The local NGO, the Educational Research and Development Assistance Foundation, has provided educational assistance to more than 90,000 kids since it was established in 1974, tracking down those who have dropped out of school or those who have never attended school.

For the current school year, which runs through April, the foundation is sponsoring 29,102 children, including 21,384 preschoolers and 7,066 elementary school students.

Some children — though small in number — are supported through high school and college.

The Japan Times readers’ contributions have been spent on providing 116 youths with school uniforms, bags, shoes and stationery. Some of the money was also used to pay for social workers, who visit the children’s homes and monitor their progress, said Masako Sumiya, representative of PAG-ASA Group Japan. Pag-asa means “hope” in Tagalog.

As the wife of a former Japanese ambassador to the Philippines, Sumiya lived in the country for three years beginning in 1985.

Her encounter then with Father Pierre Tritz, a French-born Jesuit priest who founded ERDA, motivated her and other Japanese — mostly wives of businessmen stationed in the country — to join his cause by setting up PAG-ASA in 1989.

“We were touched by his initiative,” Sumiya said. “Every year, he travels to Europe to raise funds for the children. We, on the other hand, had not done anything, even though our nation inflicted great pain on the Filipino people during the war.”

Through ERDA, PAG-ASA has supported some 1,000 children annually. The group raises money through charity events and donations. Last year, 1,141 individuals and organizations contributed to PAG-ASA, Sumiya said.

For the current school year, the group is sponsoring 1,542 children, including the 116 through The Japan Times fund.

The 116 live in areas with strong historical links to Japan, including 62 who live in Muntinlupa, where Imperial Japanese soldiers were held at the end of World War II. The others live in Paco, a district in Manila where noted Christian Daimyo Takayama Ukon (1552-1615) was exiled and died.

In late September, Sumiya visited the sponsored areas and interviewed some of the children and their parents. Despite economic difficulties, the kids were full of energy, she said.

“The children were all so cheerful,” Sumiya said. “The parents were also very passionate about sending their kids to school, knowing that it is the only way they can make their future better.”