The task of rebuilding
June is looming, along with the opening of classes in the elementary and secondary levels. The yearly opening in public schools is a difficult exercise marked by the sheer lack of classrooms and educational facilities and supplies for an exploding population; it promises to be doubly difficult in areas where the public education infrastructure is sorely in need of repair or upkeep.
The Department of Education’s annual Brigada Eskwela kicked in last Monday, enlisting communities and volunteer groups in the task of getting public schools ready for the return of their students. Amid this great community spirit, one group is a standout: The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation, which, in “adopting” old classrooms in P. Guevarra Elementary School in Binondo, Manila, has spruced these up by way of cleaning and repainting, and donated books, bookshelves, and even electric fans for good measure. Tzu Chi has been working for years with the school, which often serves as an evacuation center for flood victims.
“We want to create a clean and friendly environment for the students when the school year starts in June,” explained Tzu Chi volunteer Richard Tan, who labored at the task along with some 20 others. He said it was their way of “helping not only the school but also the students who mostly come from poor families in the area.” Indeed, half of the school’s 7,000 students come from the nearby urban poor community, according to Grade 4 teacher Janet Castañeda.
Tzu Chi has also adopted schools in Marikina City, Quezon City, and San Mateo in Rizal, areas where it also provides medical and financial aid to residents.
It is not the first time Tzu Chi has shown the way in volunteer work, particularly in easing the misery of the needy and disaster-stricken. Founded in Taiwan in 1996, it has 10 million members in 47 countries. When super typhoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) cut a swath of destruction through the Visayas last November, Tzu Chi volunteers arrived shortly in Leyte and buckled down to work. The volunteers, including Marikina residents who survived Tropical Storm “Ondoy” (international name: Ketsana) in 2009, installed prefabricated classrooms in the damaged schools, building 263 classrooms in various schools and an additional 12 in the University of the Philippines Tacloban.
Unbeknownst to many, Tzu Chi has donated P1.2 billion in the course of rebuilding Tacloban City and its environs. It has given away P8,000-P15,000 to each of 56,000 needy families.
Among its admirable missions is its cash-for-work program. Some 34,000 survivors were mobilized for 19 days from November to December 2013, each one earning P500 a day for helping clear the debris left by Yolanda. The program participants were able to use the cash to buy food for their families, thus helping spur the disaster-stricken local markets. By the end of the cash-for-work program, Tzu Chi had handed out P150 million. How well it has provided lessons in rebuilding, in humanitarian assistance, and in filling the gaps in public service—all without preening for the press.
Meanwhile, spare a thought for the 33 state universities and colleges (SUCs) still awaiting rehabilitation funds, 26 of them in the areas most battered by Yolanda and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake that struck last October. These SUCs include the massively damaged Eastern Samar State University and the UP campus in Palo, Leyte.
The total amount for rebuilding and rehabilitation has been pegged at P1 billion—“not even 1 percent of the total rehabilitation budget” of P100 billion, wryly noted Sen. Pia Cayetano, chair of the Senate committee on education.
The Department of Budget and Management announced that it has released P32 billion for rehabilitation efforts in the devastated areas—but none of the amount went to the SUCs. The P830 million promised for repairs last November is still a dream. Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in a statement that the release of the funds for the SUCs under the Commission on Higher Education had been recommended to the Office of the President, but was still awaiting approval.
And June is looming…
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