Oftentimes in the implementation of any development project, we focus too much on writing voluminous project reports riddled with grandiose terms that we sometimes forget to see the project in its simplest and purest form – through the eyes of a child.
8-year-old Michael Anthony Valdez is an incoming Grade 3 student of the Sucoc Elementary School. Fondly called Anthony by his family and friends, the child was a first grader when ICARE Australia’s Adopt-a-School Project started last January 2015. Unlike most of his classmates who have complete sets of parents at home, Anthony – an only child – is being raised by his grandparents –Fe and Epifanio, and his father, Michael who works as a dumpsite sweeper. Anthony’s Grandma Fe shares that “Anthony’s mom left him to our care when he was still a baby because she said she found work in Manila. The last time we spoke to her was 7 years ago and last we heard, she already has her own family.” The child’s father, who has not remarried, works nights so Anthony is usually looked after by his grandmother.
Anthony admits that his unusual family set-up had an effect on his early years as a student. “When I started elementary school, I was wary of other children. I preferred to be alone during recess.” When asked about this, Anthony said that he was a bit scared to mingle with other kids because “they might ask where my mom is. I don’t know what to say to that question.” His grades as a first grader were in the low 80s and mid 70s much to the disappointment of his teacher who can see that Anthony can do better if he participated more in class. Noticing the child’s delayed social development, his teachers and his grandmother urged Anthony to join other school activities. “I asked his teacher if I can enrol Anthony in the adopt-a-school project’s tutorial classes and if he can join the school’s sports and health classes,” Grandma Fe said. Normally, a poor public elementary school like Sucoc Norte would not have these kinds of services. But through the support of the Adopt-a-School Project, the school was able to start and include Anthony in these activities.
A few months after joining the tutorial class and the school’s athletics team, Anthony said that he made his first friend in school – Vince, one of his classmates. Anthony recalls how happy his grandmom was the first time he went home from school walking with a friend. “She was asking me all about Vince and how we became friends. I think she was equally as happy as I am that I have made a friend.” As it turns out, Vince is just the first of many friends that Anthony will gain by participating in school tutorials and playing sports. He enthusiastically shares that apart from Vince, his friends include “Brix, Joshua, Althea, Stephanie, Marian, and Carla” and that they enjoy “playing tag, climbing trees, and eating freshly-picked fruits.”
Anthony also shares how high his grades have risen because of the Adopt-a-School Project. “I am proud that my highest grade is 93% which I got from my Language subjects and from my Physical Education subject. I got a 92% in Math while my lowest grade is 88% in History. My family is so happy.” His teacher, Teacher Jennifer Morla adds that “Anthony is the best student in my class, which is something I couldn’t have imagined given his middling grades in the Grade 1 level.”
When asked how the Adopt-a-School Project can further improve his school, Anthony said that if he can recommend an activity, it would be to create a school perimeter fence because it would improve their safety in school. Anthony shares that “because the school has no fence, some of the younger students often run towards open streets during recess or class dismissals. Sometimes, there are motorcycles or cars passing the streets and if kids just run out, there could be an accident.”
The changes of the Adopt-a-School Project in Anthony’s life go beyond the four walls of his classroom as his home life has also changed. Anthony shares that his grandmother has become more active in the Sucoc Elementary School and has volunteered to be the leader of the school’s Livelihood Committee. “Before, I only see my grandmom in my school when she needs to sign my report card, but now, I always see her in school talking with other parents and with our teachers.” For her part, Grandma Fe is quite proud of herself as well – “I never could have thought that I can help the school and my neighbours simply because I have experience in taking care of goats and hogs. But after what the project has done for my Anthony, I am willing to contribute my time and whatever I know so that we can have a successful project.”
Anthony also shares that his family is one of the recipients of the adopt-a-school project’s livestock raising program and that he and his grandmom now has a new pet piglet which he has named “Oinky”. Anthony is rather fond of his new pet even if it means he gets to have additional house chores because “Oinky is cute and is not as noisy as the other pigs in the community. I like visiting him and cleaning his pen with my grandmother.” His wish is that Oinky gets to have more piglet friends which can help his family and his neighbours.
Even after all these changes, there is still a part of Anthony that yearns for his mother. “When I asked my grandmother where my mom is and why she left me, I always wonder if she still would have left if there were businesses in the community like hog raising. Maybe if something like this was already here in the community, she wouldn’t need to go to the city to look for a job since she can earn here already.”
As Anthony looks on, Grandma Fe said that after many years, they have finally accepted the fact that Anthony’s mom is no longer coming back. However, they hope other families in Sucoc would not have to suffer their fate. Anthony wishes that “the adopt-a-school project is successful and will continue helping children like him who may not have a complete family” but through the project now has a support system both in school and at home. Grandma Fe said that “a child needs a mother, so we are trying our best to make the livestock raising project successful so that mothers would not have to leave their young children behind to work in the city or overseas. There is so much to be done to make our livelihood projects stronger and more sustainable for the benefit of the children and their families.”