September 01

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Lahat Dapat: No Child Left Behind

It has been enjoyable seeing all the photos of many children, including my own, returning to school.  Spending time with local school children has been rewarding and takes me back to my school days. However, it’s quite a different atmosphere in schools here. The issues are huge and words cannot truly express what I’ve seen.
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In the US, back to school season really begins in July. This is the period in which students and their parents purchase school supplies and apparel for the upcoming school year. This coincides with a marked rise in personal computers and related equipment used in education. Every child in America has access to twelve years of education and a free school lunch if beyond the family means. A bus will take each student to school and umbrellas or rain jackets offer protection from the elements. In the Philippines, school is a privilege and only about 30% of children finish high school. Many come to school hungry and have walked several miles to get there on rugged roadways

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Their trek includes rain and mud in the rainy season.

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School buses don’t exist in rural communities. Uniforms and basic traditional supplies such as paper, pens, pencils and binders are often not affordable to the average student. Computers are virtually unheard of.

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Teachers have so many barriers to battle giving basic education. I have visited several school districts and observed their work in action.

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The high school students were quite cheerful and excited to meet an American.

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The local mayor threatened to borrow my dress to get everyone to pay attention in another class.

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The basic education system is composed of six years of elementary education starting at the age of 6.  The school clinic offers a list of child rights. Unfortunately, many children don’t have even these basic rights met.

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Further education is provided in a high school. The courses are diverse and encompass a good bit of information. These are often beyond the means for a family to manage. Also, many children are too sick to make it to school at all. They suffer hunger pains and are too weak to travel to school, much less learn.

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Save The Children Philippines launches it’s largest campaign this week called Lahat Dapat. It entails that no child should be left behind: save every one. This country needs to make real progress to tackle malnutrition and child survival outcomes. Save is calling government, civil, society and the public at large to step up efforts to reduce child malnutrition. This is especially important in the first one thousand days of a child’s life. Far too many children are beyond just underweight. These poor youth have permanent stunted growth or are suffering from wasting.

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Rubilyn is one such thirteen year old child. Her family used to live in the war torn area of Matalam in Mindanao. Their home was literally torn apart by the exchange of gun shots between warring parties in their locality. Earlier this year, the family was able to relocate to T’boli. Here, their uncle provides them a safe house, though food is scarce. Food entails whatever is available from the backyard garden, and is typically a rice dish. Occasionally, vegetables are included. At school, Rubilyn has a meal of only plain rice most of the time. Rubilyn’s mom is trying to find work at a local banana plantation so she can afford the occasional chicken supplement.

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Renalyn is a three year old child from Jaro, Leyte. Her family lost their jobs in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. The small family home was also destroyed. The family of nine does not have the means to adequately feed everyone. “It is really hard for me to see that my children resort to sleeping so that they would forget about their hungry stomach. I could not do anything otherwise, ” her mother shares. When sardines or rice cannot be provided, the children must miss their classes at school.

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Many children are also susceptible to colds, coughs, and fever due to a lack of basic nutrition. Still others have marked disabilities from lack of basic necessities. As national elections and the Philippine deadline to meet UN global goals on child health approach, Save asks what interventions need to be scaled up to protect Filipino children.

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The first one thousand days are critical in a child’s life for growth, development and life long potential. Stunted growth becomes permanent if not addressed in the first two years for example. This new global target is to reduce hunger and allow children to attend school, whereby reaching their full potential. Research is being done as to how the Philippines fare in reducing stunting and child malnutrition rates. The goal is to wipe out hunger and stunted growth.

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Doesn’t that bring to light the real challenges faced by local Filipino families to feed their children and get them to school? It is heartbreaking and yet there is promise. It is critical that these stories are brought to light to address both the causes of malnutrition and set the path to fix this tragedy. Everyone needs to help champion this cause.

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Lahat dapat. No child should be left behind. The world is truly not at peace while so many are literally starving. I pray to witness a sustainable improvement and for hunger to be wiped out in my lifetime. Let’s together champion every child’s right to thrive, be nourished and educated.