A charity in the Philippines is helping an important but often overlooked segment of the population: school dropouts.

Over the past 40 years, ERDA Foundation has been giving youngsters the means to continue with studies they might otherwise abandon because of hardship such as pressure to earn money for their families.

ERDA began by helping six such children; today it has assisted a total of 800,000 across the Philippines.

Its founder, the Rev. Pierre T. Tritz, a Catholic priest, set up the group in the belief that “to allow a child to go to school is to give him hope.”

Over the years, the Jesuit’s dream was fulfilled. ERDA has administered a range of programs, but education remains its core focus. Dubbed “Operation: Back to School,” the undertaking has given generations of Filipinos a chance to grow in ways that they might otherwise have gone without.

The organization gives children school supplies, bags and uniforms at the start of the school year.

The children are grateful, and it inspires them to do better in class. But the donation helps the parents, too, because it removes a financial burden when many household budgets barely meet daily necessities and often fall short.

For the 2013-2014 school year, ERDA assisted 19,771 pupils. The figure includes students both in formal and nonformal education.

ERDA also operates seven mobile schools in Manila and the provinces, which aim to help communities ill-served by the education network.

The mobile schools have reached around 10,715 children so far, bringing them books and education-oriented games. Volunteers read them stories and hold art classes.

Another ERDA project is the Child, Family and Community Assistance Program, which advises families on a range of subjects.

Maria Nikki Basilla is one of the many children who has benefited from the ERDA’s work.

She was in third grade when, in 2000, the organization helped her to continue her studies at Sama-samang Komunidad ng Pandacan at Paco, a partner school in Manila better known as SKPP. She continued to receive assistance through sixth grade.

When Nikki reached the first year of high school, her family’s financial troubles eased because her father found a stable job in the province.

Things once again became tight when Nikki entered college, but she persevered and worked hard, completing a course in accounting in March 2013. She now works as an accounting assistant for Landbank of the Philippines.

Nikki and her family are grateful to ERDA and SKPP for helping her succeed. The Japan Times Readers Fund is currently supporting ERDA beneficiaries through SKPP.

Dolora H. Cardeno is ERDA Foundation executive director

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