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.

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