Empowerment through education in the Philippines

Volunteering overseas: a typical college experience of a student majoring in political science and international development, wouldn't you agree?

I cannot recall the number of times that I have heard about the adventures of college students who offer their services at an NGO in a developing nation and return to their home country with stories of empowerment, enlightenment and excitement. Youths volunteer overseas for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they wish to learn more about the lives of those less fortunate, or maybe they want a change of scenery from their own lives. Regardless of the motivation, one aspect remains the same: the volunteer is serving under a time constraint.

During my stay in the Philippines this May, I volunteered for HOPE Worldwide Inc. in BiñanCity for one week. Within a short period of time though, how does a volunteer effect long-lasting and meaningful change? This was the question that plagued my mind before I began my service shift for the organization.

HOPE Worldwide Philippines Inc. is dedicated to fighting child exploitation and provides medical attention, psychological services and care for abused children. In Biñan, the organization has constructed safe houses to shelter minors who have escaped domestic violence. Upon my arrival at the centre, I met eight girls (aged between four and sixteen) who lived in the shelters. Their backgrounds were varied; two girls had been treated like animals and were kept in dog cages prior to their arrival at the centre, while another girl experienced sexual abuse by her own biological father. Due to psychological stress, some girls also resorted to suicide attempts by self-mutilation, evidenced by the scars lining their wrists.

Through frequent therapy sessions and the stability of living in the safe houses, the eight girls are now able to continue their education and make progress in moving forward from their past encounters with abuse.  Apart from assisting with the services that HOPE Worldwide provides for these minors, I decided that the emphasis of education was one way in which I could attempt to impact significant and positive change on their lives.

In my conversations with them, I would often ask questions such as, "What are your plans for the future?" and "do you want to go to university?". All of the youths who were in their adolescent years would nod and elaborate on their ambitions to work as doctors and nurses.

With only seven days to spend at the shelter, I focused on teaching the girls about the requirements of acceptance to post-secondary institutions, the different universities that they could attend within the area, and methods they could use to obtain scholarships. Reinforcing the importance of education on a daily basis is simple and yet, these reinforcements can shape the course of the girls’ lives.

In developing nations, the attainment of post-secondary education is important in order to escape the ravages of poverty. Without the support of their families, the girls at Biñan rely solely on the help of HOPE Worldwide. Achieving self-sufficiency and autonomy from the organization is crucial when the girls mature and wish to find well-paying jobs in their adulthood. In order to establish careers as doctors or nurses, the girls must study well and achieve the grades needed so that they may complete a post-secondary degree in medicine.

Throughout my conversations with the girls, I acted education advisor to highlight the realities of what was needed for them to achieve their dreams. Overall, I reiterated the idea that without education, they would not succeed in meeting their career goals.

While highlighting the realities of their ambitions, I attempted to empower the girls by encouraging them to do their best in school. Even though some were struggling with their classes, I told them that a genuine love for learning, accompanied with constant drive and persistence would allow them to perform well in their classes.

As I browse through my cell phone pictures with the youths of the Biñan centre, my feelings remain the same as the ones that I possessed when I left the shelter – feelings of hope, inspiration and wonder. When I left the shelter, the girls promised that they would study hard.

I see the vast range of opportunities that await the girls. I see the immense potential in their abilities. I see a bright future for them.

Above all, I have faith.

By: Joy Lizette Aguilar

(Photo: A shelter house in Biñan, by Joy Lizette Aguilar)

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