As our East-Asian Mission Vicariate is still heavily involved in the initial formation of members from 5 Asian countries, there is not much personnel left to develop additional apostolates in the Philippines.
But that does not mean the mission would be doing nothing outside of initial formation. One of its initiatives is celebrating ten years of existence: Alsa Buhay.
Alsa Buhay (“lift up your life”) was initiated in 2008 as a consequence of a Christmas party for slum children organized in 2007 by Br. James Rieden and Fr. Artur Chrzanowski along with some volunteers. This led to the founding of the not-for-profit entity Puso sa Puso Edukasyon, Inc (which means “from heart to heart” education) in 2009.
Recognizing the need and poverty of these minors, who more often than not are unable to attend regular school because they are busy contributing to the family income, they decided to do more, and something more sustainable: offer them a chance to get an education, as a passport to a better future. Inspired by the governmental Alternative Learning Systems (ALS) program, they put in place an educational program which helps children and school dropouts of all ages. Unlike the governmental program, it is free of charge and of better quality. Through the program they get prepared in less than a year for the state exam and become eligible for either secondary school or university. After Br. James died in 2010, Fr. Artur developed the program further to include young school dropouts and illiterate adults living in Parola and Payatas, two notorious slum areas – one of them located on a huge dumpsite – in the Filipino capital.
In March 2017 Puso sa Puso received an important recognition by the Department of Education (the national Ministry) for best practices and the high-quality education the NGO is delivering in the field of ALS. This was a heartwarming notice and appraisal of the successful work and dedicated commitment of the Salvatorians involved and their team. And they keep on working notwithstanding the never-ending difficulties.
Core and additional programs
Around 2,100 learners have participated in the alternative education program, the core of all activity. On top of that, a number of additional programs have grown over the course of the years: the original Christmas party for slum children has been institutionalized and the ALS program has been enriched with activities such as: life skill training for youths and their parents; early childhood education; basic literacy for young adults; home visits and psychosocial assistance to the children’s families; spiritual education; family advocacy and support; vocational training and livelihood; human rights sessions; health prevention and care; and, programs for young mothers. In total, around 7,500 people have benefitted from Puso sa Puso’s activities and additional programs.
An intense cooperation exists with the Salvatorian Sisters, who provided a talented project manager in the person of Sr. Frances Mangabat SDS. The dedicated team of instructors and social workers are supported by our novices and scholastics, as well as by young international volunteers who help out for one year with the pre-school children. Another Sister, Franciscan Sr. Mila, also joined the coordinating team four years ago. They all share the common goal of alleviating the plight of the local population, especially the school dropout children from the Parola and Payatas slums.
Two times a disastrous fire broke out in the Parola slum of Manila, the area where our program is active, in March 2015 and February 2017. The reasons behind these occurrences are never clear: it might be an accident, as the homes are constructed with poor and flammable material, and the use of stoves and candles for heating and lighting is very common. But it also may have been a deliberate action. Thousands of residents lost their homes and possessions. Among those, a number of beneficiaries of the Salvatorian run programs.
The local Salvatorian communities immediately responded and helped the Puso sa Puso staff to collect and distribute essentials such as food, clothes, toiletries, medicines and bedding. Through SOFIA, the German mission procura and other channels, emergency financial help was organized.
The work of SOFIA
From the year 2009 our international development office SOFIA engaged to help find support for this project. Many organizations contributed over the years and the list is impressive: from Germany (DKMR, Diocese of Augsburg, Missio Munich, PMKSternsinger), the Netherlands (Cordaid, PLA), the USA (private donors and Salvatorian members), Belgium (Salvatorian Relief Action) and Ireland (Misean Cara). The Princess of Liechtenstein contributed, as well as SOFIA Swiss, with many individual benefactors. All told, a total of 503,000 EUR was raised. This is irrespective of the local fundraising, which manages to collect all funds needed for the big annual Christmas party for around 1,000 slum children. Apart from the monetary contribution, SOFIA found help to strengthen the competencies and professionalism of the people involved and the programs delivered. A concrete action in this regard was the implementation of a professional external evaluation on the impact of the work and activities carried out by Puso sa Puso. The study, realized in the year 2016, highlighted strengths and weaknesses of the organization and proposed a series of recommendations for an ever-greater achievement of our goals and the betterment of these most needed and already successful programs.