On an average day, one would find 20-40 children spread over 3 or 4 of the 5 classrooms at the elementary school in Baclayan. Even during recess, the buildings seemed void of the kind of life and energy that characterizes any healthy functioning elementary school. There were plenty of school aged children in the community, but very few of them attended school on a regular basis. This was back in 2011.
Today, the same buildings and classrooms ooze with energy and happiness from somewhere between 150 to almost 200 children. Most of them attend class every day, except when weather conditions are too hostile.
January 2012 Stairway started a feeding program at the Baclayan Elementary School, and since then the student attendance has been on a steady rise. The aim with the program was to attract more children into the classrooms, to improve their general health condition, and to enhance their capability to learn. It is only through education that we can help mitigate discrimination and empower the Mangyan people in Baclayan to break the cycle of poverty that currently plagues this indigenous minority.
While the feeding program has successfully pulled hordes of children into the classrooms, and at the same time helped improve their health condition, we have recently come to realize that we can do more to help prevent many children, as well as adults, from getting seriously ill.
A few months back one of Stairway’s scholars caught what was initially a relatively harmless stomach infection. Harmless, if it is treated with antibiotics for a few days, at least. However, in this case the girl’s father refused to consult a doctor, since his belief was that it was a matter of evil spirits that caused the illness. The infection went untreated and got a lot worse, and at the same time it was spread to another 5 children and 4 adults, who lived under the same roof. It was only after the father died from the same infection that we could assist the others with the help of our friend, Doctor Francis. We ended up ambulancing 6 very sick children to the hospital, and fortunately all of them have recovered. A couple of weeks later we were once again called in to bring a patient to the hospital. This time it was a young mother of another of our scholars, who only one week earlier had given birth to a pair of twins. Before I went to pick up the woman, I was informed that she had suffered a stomach ache for some days, but when her husband and other relatives carried her into the car, it was obvious that her condition was very critical, to say the least. Unfortunately, she had passed away by the time we reached the clinic, and all attempts of revival were in vain. It was not a stomach ache but a heart failure that killed her, but once again, it is most likely that early intervention could have saved her, and 4 children would still have their mother around. Regrettably none of the twin babies made it either.
Education, health and hygiene are tightly interwoven, and we have decided to add a health component to our program in Baclayan. In collaboration with Dr. Francis, we plan to run a bi-weekly clinic for children and anybody else in need. One of our partners supporting the feeding program (AAP) has agreed to help finance the medical service as well. We will start by mid-November 2013.