June 28

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A Child’s Perspective in the Philippines

A child’s life in the Philippines can be very challenging. Most are set free by their parents at the end of elementary school. Parents don’t have the means to support them and many are outright abandoned. Could you imagine being told at the age of ten or eleven to make it on your own? As a parent, I am still largely supporting my 23 year old daughter. I bet many of you can relate. Imagine telling your seventh grader, they will be on their own when school is out. Yet that’s the reality for many Philippine children.

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Philippine children are no different than our children in the US. They grow at the same rate and don’t have the maturity to make it on their own at a young age. Thus, many fall into sad situations when forced on their own as preteens. Some become sold into sex trafficking. Some get involved selling drugs. Still more find themselves pregnant and caring for a child, yet they themselves are still children. This is a sad reality that Save The children is trying to change.

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These are the children left behind by this century’s spectacular socioeconomic advances. Far too often, even the simplest and most affordable health promoting and lifesaving interventions fail to reach them. Their plight goes largely unnoticed. Statistics conceal the vast number of them suffering in slums and other areas of poverty.

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Save THE Children has profiled six cities in the world that are making progress in saving poor children’s lives. They include Addis Abada in Ethiopia, Cairo in Egypt, Kampala in Uganda, Guatemala City in Guatemala, Phnom Penh in Cambodia, and Manila in the Philippines. Giving greater attention to the needs of these impoverished children and mothers is essential to reducing the glaring gaps in healthcare and education. It is great to be able to be here and taking part in the cutting edge of such reform.

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This week I went to meet with the local mayor, a first cousin to the president of the Philippines, Len Oreta. He explained to me his goals to improve the childhood statistics in metro Manila. His goals are both heartwarming and working. Len’s mother was a teacher who piloted a local reading program in her area. He has taken her spirit into First Read, a program Save the Children funds.

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First Read was begun in 2013 in Malabon City. It targets children ages three to five years old and their mothers. The goal is to increase the bond between mother and child, and see the child remain at home to further their education into high school. These mothers are taught to read and how to read to their children. If they complete the program, they can take home the book and continue reading at home. Food is provided for them during the sessions. Challenges this program faces are getting a mother and their child here. Transportation is difficult and some come from other islands by boat. Health also interferes with learning. A child or mother who is starving can’t really focus on learning. Statistics are just beginning to be captured but initial data does show that children have staying in school.

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I visited one of the program sites this week. Here, I met a woman who shared her story with me. She lives in a one room house with her husband, daughter, baby son and a child she is raising as her own. She also is pregnant. She shared that she had hoped to go to the hospital with this baby. When she gave birth to her son, she planned to get to the hospital. Her labor started at night and she feared her safety commuting to a hospital. She has had friends who were sexually assaulted after dark. She was illiterate before this program. Her husband is very supportive and likes that she is getting educated with their children. She is a lucky one. She comes to all the sessions despite having to commute here by boat from another island. She shares she realizes the importance of reading and teaching her children this at a young age. She says she is now able to understand the importance of proper healthcare and diet too.

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Doesn’t that give you perspective on education? Food? Family? We take education for granted thru high school in the US. Our parents support and feed us, and guide us as we mature. Education brings knowledge. Most children can attend college as well through a scholarship or loans. So many children throughout the world don’t have these opportunities. In closing, I am reminded of the power of love and care we need to give to others. I will love. I will be a carrier of love and ensure all children I come in contact with will feel love. So many children throughout the world are abandoned and don’t have a sense of a family community to lean on. In the US, people are not grateful, yet most really can’t understand what real suffering is. We all need to slow down, be present in the moment, and be thankful.  I encourage each of you to love at home, at work, in public, and be grateful for your family. Can you join me in being more present in the moment and being thankful for your life?