By Ma. Cristina Arayata
MANILA – A Filipino who earned his postgraduate degree in Australia decided to give back to the Philippines by encouraging kids to stay in school.
Roy Ponce, who got his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Melbourne, won in the Excellence in Innovation category of the Australian Alumni Excellence Award last year.
Through this accomplishment, the Australian Embassy in Manila recognizes the contributions and achievements of Filipinos who studied in Australia.
“One of my projects, when I came home after my studies in Australia, was the after-school care program for children,” Ponce told the Philippine News Agency (PNA) in an interview.
His first center for the program called “Happy Fish Kids” was established 10 years ago in Davao Oriental, aimed at motivating children to stay in school.
“(The program) addresses the dropout problems of children in low-income and remote communities, particularly the underserved sectors, like the fisher folks, farmers, and indigenous people,” he continued.
Ponce said that before the first center was established, no kid in the fishing village has reached higher education, as some of the village children either marry or work at an early age.
Ponce lamented that the kids there had no vision to get into higher education.
But now, the first kid in that center is already in college.
To date, Ponce already has three program centers — two in Davao Oriental and one in Davao City. He named his schools “Happy Fish Kids,” “Happy Farm Kids” and “Happy Forest Kids”.
Thirteen of those who have been in these centers are now in college, while six have graduated last year.
“So with the intervention, and if the kids would stay in school and realize their potentials, things would work,” he said.
“Basically, the center provides motivational activities for kids to help them realize that there’s a big world out there. They have the skills and potentials, that they can grow and be someone if they give priority to education,” said Ponce.
Based on the Happy Fish Kids’ website, the program provides collaborative and communal support for the kids’ holistic needs and engages them in different activities aimed at widening their perspective in life.
At the centers, kids are provided with study materials including tables, chairs, school supplies, toys and other learning materials.
The website also stated that children in these centers are provided with adult supervision in homework and other school projects. Volunteers in the centers also monitor the kids’ participation in formal schools and also provide counseling for the out-of-school youth.
Getting the idea
The Department of Education said it doesn’t know of any center that provides after-school care program in the country.
Ponce said he got the idea of putting up such centers from the environment in Australia.
“There are so many after-school care programs in Australia, even if it’s a rich country,” he said.
While earning his Masters in Australia, he studied Intervention Designs, a course which identifies programs needed to address social needs.
“Pitching a project is common in Australia. After I have initially designed the idea, I pitched the project to a group of students, and many of them showed support,” he recalled.
Australians, Malaysians, and Indonesians donated funds for him to start his community project upon returning home.
He was able to raise about PHP80,000. Half of the amount was used to put up the first school center using light materials. The other half was used for operational expenses during the first school year.
He used Facebook to show updates and inform donors about what he’s doing in the program. Donation expenses were also posted on Facebook.
By using this social media platform, the number of donors has increased. Some of them were overseas Filipino workers.
“People are donating books, bookshelves, etc. We take photos of these to show them that their donations have reached the communities,” Ponce narrated, adding that his main financial source came from donations from Facebook users who wanted to give back to the communities.
There were also agencies, the academe, and organizations who expressed interest to help, he said.
“Maybe that’s the reason why I was chosen as the Innovation awardee because I used social media to implement a program like this,” he shared. Also, he pointed out that his project is community-based, and the intervention is sustainable.
Ponce said he is hopeful that he could expand the center in other communities.
“I’m also looking at engaging the parents by creating social enterprises for them,” he said. (PNA)