By Regina Layug-Rosero
Everybody has heard of Efren Peñaflorida. His Dynamic Teen Company has been making the headlines since he was nominated for CNN Hero of the Year in 2009. Upon winning, he was awarded US$100,000 to continue his work, helping the street children of Cavite turn from gang wars to education. His modus operandi? Instead of begging the kids to go to school, he brought the classroom to them in a kariton, or pushcart.
Now, the Department of Education seeks to bring Peñaflorida’s award-winning formula to the rest of the country.
According to Tonisito Umali, DepEd Undersecretary for Legal and Legislative Affairs, “Alam naman nating lahat ang mga ginawa ng Dynamic Teen Company, kahit na noon na hindi sila gaano natutulungan ng ating gobyerno. Ngunit sila’y na-recognize ng CNN sa kanilang napakahusay na programa. Ito ay isang patunay na ang ating mga non-government organization, yung mga grupong nagmamalasakit sa ating mga street children, na wala po’ng imposible.”
The program is called Zero Illiteracy, in which the Department of Education seeks to scale up the Dynamic Teen Company’s (DTC) Kariton Classroom from its current operations in Cavite, Novaliches and Naga to the entire nation, working together to educate street children and to bring down illiteracy rates in the county. According to Umali, the memorandum of agreement signed by DepEd and DTC include the following:
- DepEd will be augmenting the DTC program with DepEd-approved curricula and teaching materials.
- DepEd will provide training for the volunteer teachers, tutors, parent teachers, learning facilitators and other volunteers, and assist them with bringing the program to other urban areas where street children are numerous.
- DepEd will provide financial assistance for the implementation of this program.
- Students who benefit from the DTC program will be encouraged to take the Accreditation and Equivalency Test or the Philippine Educational Placement Test, so as to recognize and validate the education they have received.
- DTC will share with DepEd pertinent data on target beneficiaries.
- DTC will use DepEd’s modules for Alternative Learning System and Alternative Delivery Mode.
- DTC will share with DepEd their best practices in bringing learning to street children.
Some funds from the Alternative Learning Systems and Alternative Delivery Mode items in the DepEd budget will be realigned for this program. The goal is for all children to be able to finish at least elementary school by the year 2015. DepEd is coordinating with DSWD to identify the most critical areas and the numbers of children to be targeted by the program.
One challenge that faces the project at the outset is finding the definite numbers of children on the streets. Street children fall into at least three categories: children who are homeless and without families; children who have homes but work in the streets; and street families, or children who have families but no homes. DepEd wishes to focus primarily on those who belong in the first category. According to Br. Armin Luistro, Secretary of Education, “I think they are the ones who are in most need of our help. Because of education, no child needs to be on the streets. Whatever the number is, we will keep working so that they will have what they need: their education.”
Such institutional assistance is a dream come true for DTC, as explained by Randie Salonga: “Ito’y isang malaking event talaga, dahil this was just a dream na na-realize na rin sa wakas, kung saan ang Dynamic Teen Company at Department of Education ay magkakaroon ng collaboration in fighting against illiteracy, lalo na sa mga street children. Sa part ng Dynamic Teen Company ito ay malaking inspiration na lalo pang magpatuloy sa aming ginagawa, that we are not left unnoticed, and we’re not alone in our campaign to help children, lalo na sa aspeto ng edukasyon. We would like to take this opportunity to thank the Department of Education and Bro. Armin.”
The main objective of this endeavor is to educate the street children even if they cannot attend classes in regular schools, with the end goal of enrolling them in public schools as soon as possible. Sec. Luistro mentioned that it is the President’s mandate to always consider those left behind. In the case of education, much effort is put into improving the curriculum and public school services, but what happens to those who do not even enroll, or no longer even want to go to school? The Department of Education sees this collaboration as the answer. If the children cannot go to the classroom, the classroom will go to them, be it in a kariton, on a kalabaw or even in a tricycle.
According to Peñaflorida, “We’re not replacing formal school. We just want to help the children para ma-entice sila to go back to mainstream education. Nung una nahihirapan talaga kami i-gather sila. ‘Pag nakita nung mga bata na dumadating yung mga kariton, alam nila mag-aaral, magbabasa, mauubos yung oras nila. Pero na-e-entice sila dahil meron kami’ng binibigay na incentive. Pagkain, yun yung malaking factor kaya sila bumabalik at pumupunta sa amin. Pagkakataon na yun para turuan sila. Andiyan na sila e.”
But DTC can’t do it alone. “Yung volunteers namin are from different NGOs, kasi sa Dynamic Teen Company ang concentration namin ay Cavite,” explains Peñaflorida. “Yung mga sa Naga and in other places, these are the efforts of other people who have been inspired to help out in replicating this program. Kasi di naman namin kaya lahat e. Sabi nga nila, ‘Kuya Ef, pwede ba kayong pumunta dito sa lugar namin, sa Cebu, sa ganito, magsimula tayo ng Kariton Classroom or magtayo kayo ng Dynamic Teen Company.’ Sabi namin, hindi namin kayang gawin yun, kasi dito nga lang sa Cavite, sa community namin, nahihirapan na kami. At kayo mismo yung pwedeng gumawa nitong proyekto na ito. Kayo yung nakakakita ng mga pangangailangan diyan. Firsthand niyong nakikita. Pwede namin kayong tulungan, we can collaborate and introduce the program, train you, help you out sa curriculum na ginagamit namin.” Such requests for Peñaflorida’s aid have come from as far as Egypt and Indonesia.
The volunteers admit they have faced many obstacles. Many street children fall victim to prostitution, gangs, and organized crime. Many prefer or are forced to work instead of going to school. Many can barely feed themselves, much less afford school supplies and uniforms. DTC’s army of volunteers tries to help their students overcome all these obstacles, just to get them interested in learning. Their karitons are armed not just with books and teaching materials, but with snacks, bags, medicine, first aid kits, notebooks and other school supplies.
In some cases, it is the parents who prove to be obstacles to their children’s education. “Maraming parents na ganun, they want their children to work instead of sending them to school, kasi kailangan nila ng pera. Pero malaking factor nung na-media yung ginagawa namin. Marami sa kanila, nag-iba yung perspective. May mga parents na nagsabi, ‘O, maganda pala yung ginagawa niyo.’ Malaki talaga ang nagawa ng media attention, especially yung sa CNN. Dumami ang parents tuloy na pinapayagan yung mga bata na mag-aral. Meron nama’ng mga parents na, dahil nga na-media, sasabihin nila, ‘O sige anak, pumunta ka diyan, baka ma-discover ka. Baka sumikat ka, baka makita ka sa camera.’ So we just take advantage of it, andiyan na, lumalapit na yung mga bata, and you cannot shoo away these kids,” explains Peñaflorida.
Undersecretary for Regional Operations Rizalino Rivera called this type of project a new People Power. “Itong ginagawa ng Dynamic Teen Company ay isang magandang ehemplo para sa ating lahat, na tugunan ang pangangailangan ng edukasyon. Ito ang tinatawag namin dati sa Cory Aquino Foundation na bagong People Power.”
According to Sec. Luistro, it is a true public-private partnership (PPP). “May mga Pilipino na wala masyado’ng institutional support, wala masyadong government support, pero lahat ay kinakaya para maabot itong mga kabataan. Yung mga ganitong inisyatibo ay bigyan pa natin ng suporta. Mas malayo ang maaabot, mas marami pa’ng magagawa kung gawing opisyal ang mga inisyatibong ganito. This is really a dynamic PPP. Here is the government, institutionalizing a program that may be seen as marginalized, bringing it to the mainstream and ensuring this is scaled up and brought to other areas where no such program exists.” He went on to explain that many things in the Kariton Classroom program, such as medical, food and incentives expenses, are not currently covered by the DepEd budget, but assistance from private citizens and individuals would be welcome as financial supplements.
DepEd and DTC are welcoming investments, donations and assistance from other NGOs, and are even encouraging other groups to initiate the program in their local areas. Those who wish to reach DTC may call them at (046) 4315263 or visit their website at www.dtc.org.ph. The Department of Education may be reached at (0919) 4560027 and (02) 6361663, or via email at [email protected].
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