Friday, 27 November 2009

Philippines: an uncertain future for our school

In Baguio City, four hours drive north of Manila, there is a Barangay, or rubbish tip which is a veritable mountain. It smoulders constantly as rotting rubbish spontaneously combusts, and the smoke hangs over this man made peak like thick, low clouds. This has given rise to the name “Smokey Mountain”.

This mountain of waste and its pollution pall are vast enough that they can be seen from the northern outskirts of Manila, and it is getting bigger. Daily, dozens of garbage trucks arrive to dump more and more waste there.

However, waste is not the only thing one will find on Smokey Mountain. The tip is also home to some of Baguio’s poorest residents. Whole families have made their homes on the sides of the mountain, living in shelters made of cardboard and plastic. These are people who cannot afford to rent a place even in the worst of the city’s slums. They make their meagre livings from the dump, sifting through the rubbish looking for recyclable items and things they may be able to sell. Whole families are involved in this enterprise – small children scamper barefoot over broken glass, collecting things their parents can take to market. Their little feet are criss-crossed with scars, their limbs dirty, clothes torn, but these children remain undaunted. As a new garbage truck empties its load, they scramble towards it, eager to be the first to sort through and claim its treasures.

These are the people with whom WIN works. Our school, the Cypress Christian Foundation School, is built in the heart of the tip and caters for the children who live there. It opened in 1999 with 25 children of kindergarten and nursery school age, and has now grown so that it can accommodate 200 children up to age 14. This school is a sponsor centred foundation, which means children usually need to be sponsored in order that they can attend. One of the stipulations we make when a child is sponsored is that the child will go to school, so sponsorship ensures education. They are keen to come. As in many of the world’s poorest countries, education is prized as a way out of poverty, and the school actively works to enable children to attend. They believe that poverty should never come between a child and their dream.

The facilities at the school are excellent and include a computer laboratory, a library, a practical arts room and science-audio and video room as well as a play ground with volleyball and badminton courts. These facilities, together with the dedication of teachers and the hard work of the students have led to a high graduation rate in the academic fields and high achievements in sports and recreational activities.

In Autumn 2009, the school proved its worth in other ways too. Several huge storms devastated the Philippines, causing floods, landslides, mud slides, collapsing homes and roads, disease and death. Many were made homeless, and the poorest were, as usual, the worst hit. WIN opened the school buildings as a refuge centre, bringing in families to camp in the classrooms. We gave them food, shelter, blankets, clothing.

Now, the school's very existence is under threat. The owner of the building has fallen ill and desperately needs money to fund his health care treatment. Consequently, he has sold the building, and it has been bought by a Korean group. We pray that we are able to continue to rent the building and continue the school there, but this is by no means guaranteed. The new owners may have plans of their own, which may not include us.

If we do have to move, we will have to find an alternative site for the school, or close down. If we close, the children will be forced to look for new schools, and that may not be easy for some of them. If we find another site but it is too far away, some of our existing children may be unable to travel the distance. Costs may increase, the facilities we have spent years building and enhancing will have to be replaced.

Please pray for this situation, and for the people who will be affected by it, and that a solution to the problem and the uncertainty will be forthcoming. Also, please pray for the health of the previous owner of the building, and also for the new owners, that their decisions will be the right ones.

Thursday, 26 November 2009


Just north of Eldoret, in Kenya, is the village of Soy. Here, WIN has set up a school, the Nancy George Academy. Our East Africa Director, Robert Mulumbi, and his wife, Alice, have worked hard to get the school up and running. A group from England visited them in May. Here is their impression of the school:

The school sat in a plot of land separated from the road by a low fence. It consisted of a large field with several buildings nestling on it. The major building was made up of three classrooms, each more bright and airy than we expected, providing cool respite from the heat outside. The floors were packed earth, the “blackboards” merely painted onto the walls. The window frames were set in place but there was no glass in them – the money had run out before glass could be purchased. When the wind blows through, the children simply hold on to their papers to keep them from flying away. When it rains, they move the desks away from the windows so they don’t get wet.

There will be eventually be more classrooms, one for each year of primary education, and these will be added as children work their way up through the school. Eventually, there will be seven classrooms here, and each will be able to accommodate forty children – a high number by British standards but far fewer than the ninety plus per class we had heard of in some of Kenya’s schools.

Beside the classrooms was a small mud building, with a desk and glassless windows. This was the staffroom, a place for the seven teachers and two non teaching workers to go to for themselves. There were also buildings for the pre-school children, a small school kitchen and, in a far corner of the field, pit latrines. Eventually, Robert wants to install proper flush toilets, but for now the latrines have to do.

In the future, World In Need hopes to build dormitories here. Some of the children walk seven kilometres to get to school each day, and since the school day starts at 7am, they often leave home in the dark. In the rainy season, the roads are a muddy quagmire, and a dormitory would mean the children could stay on site, making life easier for them. It would also mean children could come from even further away.

In the school holidays the place is used as a training centre for Christian leaders and missionaries, thereby teaching and spreading the word and providing much needed income from the buildings.

The school kitchen is busy. Many of the children come to school without a meal inside them, and they will go home to no food at night. The school, therefore, has a feeding programme. Mid morning, all children are given a breakfast of porridge, and in the middle of the day they receive a proper cooked meal, which is eaten in classrooms, as there is no dining hall. The meals are cooked in the tiny mud hut, over a charcoal fire. Most homes in Kenya cook over charcoal. At the time of our visit, the school was borrowing cooking utensils from Robert and Alice’s home, although since that time a generous donation has allowed them to buy equipment of their own.

In the middle of the field was a water tower, newly built with a grant from the Water Trust. Water is pumped up from a bore hole and stored in the large tank from where it could be dispensed at the turning of a tap. The water from the taps was surprisingly cool and clear. The generator which provides the electricity needed to run the water tower will one day power lighting and computer points in the school as well.

Also in the field were climbing frames and old tyres for the children to play on, and goalposts for a game of football, and a flagpole on which they hoist the Kenyan national flag twice weekly.

When we arrived, the children were brought out from their classrooms and lined up in two rows, ready to greet us. The school opened in January 2009 with just one pupil. Its opening had been delayed because of the post election violence and its aftermath, so when it eventually began, it was a relief to Robert, who had worked hard for this project, and he did not mind at all opening the doors for just one child. He knew parents would be wary at first, unsure of entrusting their children’s precious start in life to an untried academy, but the dedication and quality of the staff began to pay off very quickly, and by October 2009 there were 73 children attending. Robert hopes to have a hundred pupils by the end of 2009. His own three children are among the students here, and his willingness to let his own family attend reassured a lot of parents.

Finances are a problem for the school. The children are supposed to pay school fees of twenty British pounds a term but the school serves a poor rural area in a poor country and few people have enough money to pay such fees. However, Robert believes education is something children should not be denied and he doesn’t turn away his pupils simply because they don’t have means. At the time of our visit, only four children were paying their fees. This obviously created a shortfall in the school funds and the school runs at a loss. Robert and Alice have countered this by injecting money from their own family purse, giving the meagre income that they receive from their farm and which was intended to support themselves.

One of the ways of counteracting the problem of finance is through child sponsorship. World In Need runs a sponsorship scheme whereby a child is sponsored to the age of sixteen on condition that the child attends school. It costs twenty pounds a month for each child sponsored and that money is used to pay school fees and other expenses such as uniforms and supplies, and to provide the family with other essentials that might otherwise need to be paid for by taking the child from school and setting them to earn a living. Most sponsored children have one sponsor who pays the full amount each month, but some are sponsored by two people and some by groups such as a Sunday school, or a class or a ladies group in England. However the money arrives, it is gratefully received and gives a child a chance.

After our arrival, we were introduced to all the teachers, including the Head Teacher, a self effacing young man named Bonventure, who told us how he had come to the Academy. After finishing his own schooling, he taught for two years at a Government funded school as an untrained teacher, and was thus able to raise the funds needed to go to college. He qualified as a teacher and wanted to teach in a school where the education would be of good quality, even though he could earn far more if he returned to the Government schools. He could also find employment closer to his home. At present, he walks to school and it takes him an hour each way. That he is prepared to do this gives an idea of how highly he thinks of the Academy.

After shaking hands with all the teachers, we went, spontaneously, to the lines of waiting children and shook hands with each one as we introduced ourselves. The children seemed shy at the time. Later the teachers told us they had been thrilled by our attention, and had talked of nothing else but our willingness to shake their hands. Some even vowed never to wash their hands again, as if we were visiting royalty or movie stars. It was humbling to realise how much our visit meant to them.

In the last 24 hours, we have been informed that Robert's wife Alice, may have a brain tumour. We are praying for her and their family at this time.
Our Director, Ron, just returned from a visit to India, Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he visited our teams there and saw them at work. In India, we have hostels for disadvantaged boys and girls, who are cared for and given an education, and a better start in life than they could normally expect. We just started work on building a Vocational Training College, so that after graduating High School, the children will be able to go on to learn skills needed to set them up in the world of work. Courses that will be on offer incude mechanics and hotel management.

In Pakistan, we have set up a school and are urgently looking for equipment for it. We also need books for teachers, including training manuals and lesson plan guides. Many of our teachers are newly qualified or even students, and they need help to provide the best education possible to their pupils. Only through education will the children be able to pull themselves out of poverty and give their community hope for the future.

In Afghanistan, our team is small and operates from home, since our offices were firebombed in July. We run a Children's Day Care Centre in Kabul, and the children there are given an education, a meal and a safe place to play. The centre is funded in part by the sale of carpets made by widows in the area, and exported for sale. This also gives the women a way of earning enough money to keep their families.

At the Day Care Centre, we have several children who are talented artists. An art teacher works with them to develop their talents and their pictures are exported to us for sale. Half the price of the painting is given to the artist, enabling them to help with their family income, and the other half is used to help with the running costs of the centre. Paintings are reasonably priced and can be viewed on our website:

The Afghan winter is harsh and bitter, and many people die of hypothermia each year. Our supporters have promised a gift of warm clothing for the children and their families, which will be very welcome.