I’m standing in a classroom with thirty young faces looking up at me. With their happy smiles, their chatter with one another and their eagerness to meet me, it’s hard to remember how difficult their lives are from day to day.
Seventy-five percent of the families in their fishing community, located right on the coast of Negros Island in the Philippines, are classified as living in poverty. Pollution is one of the overarching problems, with no system of rubbish disposal and minimal sanitation facilities, compounded by flooding rains and high tides. This not only affects health—with diseases including diarrhoea, pneumonia and skin infections common— but also reduces incomes with fish driven away by the dirty water.
These thirty children between the ages of six and 18 are part of a newly formed children’s club with SAO Child Sponsorship. They have helped identify problems that concern children and they will be part of coming up with ideas and activities to make a new beginning for their community. They also join together to learn about important issues that affect them such as hygiene and healthcare, training and activities in leadership and team work and, as the project continues, to give their feedback on how their day to day lives are affected.
One of the children, Julien, is 15 years old and he thinks he might like to join the army when he finishes school. He and the other children are looking forward to what the new program will achieve and the opportunities they will have to improve their community and build their confidence.
They also look forward to what the project will do to help their parents. The adults in the community will also learn about nutrition and healthcare and how to manage savings and small business enterprises to increase their income. Julien’s mother has already joined a share group where she has starting putting aside savings each week. She has also taken part in training on making fertiliser, increasing the fertility of the sandy, coastal soil in her yard, and has begun making candles to sell for additional income.
As I sit and listen to the stories of these children and their plans for what their group can do, I’m overwhelmed by their sense of hope for a different future. Having just visited a number of other communities where SAO Child Sponsorship has been established for a number of years, I know that their hope is not misplaced. Children in other communities told me of the way that they and the community had done coastal cleans ups and mangrove planting, resulting in improved fish stocks, protection from storm surges, and a healthier environment. In one community, 40 families had taken a loan from group savings to begin small businesses and increase their incomes. And many parents and children had their home lives transformed through marriage enrichment and parenting sessions that help families understand their responsibilities and how to work better together.
SAO Child Sponsorship really does have the power to transform communities like this one. Spending time with the children, meeting their parents and speaking with the staff, I too share their excitement about what this program has the potential to achieve. More than improving just statistics, I’m excited that this program will have a real impact on the lives of these children in front of me; giving them a voice and the power to change their world.