In August, SOFIA’s Coordinator for Asia and Latin America, Daniela Coppola, visited the Salvatorian communities of the East Asia Mission Vicariate. Currently the Society in the Philippines consists of 8 Fathers and another 63 community members among aspirants, philosophy students, novices and scholastics studying theology.
For several years now, SOFIA has raised funds for Salvatorian projects in the Philippines and especially for Puso sa Puso, the local NGO set up by Fr. Artur Chrzanowski. The main purpose of Daniela’s mission therefore was to get a deeper insight into the needs and problems of the area and to take part in the external evaluation of Puso sa Puso’s activities, including ALSA BUHAY, an alternative education program for children, 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.
Puso sa Puso was founded in 2009, as a consequence of a Christmas party Br. James Rieden and Fr. Artur organized with some volunteers for slum children. 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 ALS (alternative learning system), but free of charge and of better quality, they put in place an educational program which helps children and school dropouts of all ages to get prepared in less than a year for the state exam and to become eligible for either secondary school or university. After Br. James died in 2010, Fr. Artur advanced the program attaining much success. Since the start, over three thousand people have benefitted from Puso sa Puso’s programs.
Over the years, upon request of the local population the Christmas party has become “institutionalized” as an annual highlight for the children, whereas the ALS program has been enriched with life skill training for youths and their parents, early childhood education, home visits and psychosocial assistance to the children’s families, spiritual education, vocational training, human rights sessions, and programs for young mothers. In fact, right from the beginning the people, and in particular the parents, have been involved and informed about the importance of education for an improvement of their challenging living conditions. Quite a few adults are taking up the challenge and also they attend the programs! And for the younger ones, their effort does not necessary stop with the exam, even though university fees are a big obstacle for many of them. Here again SOFIA comes in, organizing individual sponsorships for students willing and talented enough to follow the academic track.
This ambitious project was started in the terribly poor and dangerous Parola slum, where they managed to rent a container. In 2012, a second center was opened in the “dump city” Payatas, where the classes take place in a small building of the Diocese of Novaliches. Nevertheless, if it were for the actual need, they could have started practically everywhere in Metro Manila; slums can be found in many parts of the city. And in the two selected areas there is so much to do, and so much more would be highly appreciated! Luckily Puso sa Puso can rely on a talented project manager in the person of Sr. Frances Mangabat SDS and a very dedicated team of instructors and social workers, who are supported by volunteering SDS novices as well as by young international volunteers who help out for one year with the pre-school children. Another Sister, the Franciscan Sr. Mila, also joined the coordinating team two years ago and is now fully involved. Fortunately, an intense cooperation exists with the Salvatorian Sisters as well as with other agents working for the wellbeing of the poorest. All are acting together to contribute to the common goal of alleviating the plight of the local population, sharing facilities and ideas.
The external evaluator financed by the Irish funding agency Misean Cara has assessed all running activities in an in-depth and professional manner, relying not only on statistics and documentation but also on interviews and focus group discussions with all stakeholders. On the basis of the evaluation’s conclusions, Puso sa Puso’s programs will be improved even more to have an ever greater impact. SOFIA will continue its effort to raise funds for the current and future activities.