Day two of CEO Paul Brown’s visit to the Philippines and a visit to Infanta to see how ChildFund is helping children to get a better start in life.

Paul with a young family

By Paul Brown   

Awake as the sun breaks.  Roosters crowing.  Cats fighting outside my window… they obviously didn’t sort things out from their scrap at 3.24am.  

Our three vans break off to visit three different components of a ChildFund Philippines project at Infanta.  By breaking into three groups of 4-5 people each we won’t be so intimidating when we visit the activities.    

Infanta is a relatively new Bright Futures area, formed in early 2008. (Bright Futures is an approach to development based on the belief that families and children must design and shape the programmes that will be carried out in their communities. It is grounded in an understanding of poverty from the child’s point of view and is aimed at making a long-lasting difference in the lives of children.)    

First stop is an Early Childhood and Care Development (ECCD) centre – a 3m square mat made of nylon sacks sown together which are placed outside a family’s home to serve as a focal point for about 15 2-4 year olds.  There are jigsaw puzzles and other homemade learning aids.    

The ECCD centre is run by volunteers and village supporters (council workers).    

I read the children a story (and am amazed at how proficient their English is) about a magic mat which flies a young boy to far off places around the world.  We have lots of fun trying to spot various animals on each of the pages.   

Paul reading to children

It’s good fun and very familiar – so strange to think my two boys are doing the very same thing at play-centre back in Auckland.    

Next we visit a class run by local nurses for pregnant mums, guiding them on how to care for themselves during pregnancy.  One brave bloke sits fidgety, a nervous dad-to-be in a group of nervous mums.  Most of the group of 14 mums is young (17-21), many expecting their first child, one or two are expecting their third baby.    

The nurses are trained midwives and will attend the birth at home – but there is no delivery theatre nearby.    

Upstairs from the pregnancy class is another class held weekly for training mums in breastfeeding and using supplementary feeding.  We arrive to see 12 mums and 12 babies in various states of being fed, being hungry, and sleeping.  A nurse is explaining how to use milk formula and anchovy paste to introduce babies to solids.    

Baby being weighed

Each baby is weighed and their weight compared on a growth chart.  (Exactly like Plunket visits at home huh?)    

A very healthy baby is weighed and off the chart.  The smiley mum beams back from the weigh station.  She’s obviously proud of the result, gestures to point at her chest and gives us two thumbs up.  Yep, we understand – you’re doing well!    

Unfortunately six of the 337 under 5-year-olds in the area are not so lucky and are severely malnourished.    

After lunch we visit Banugao Elementary School, a smart looking school for around 400 students. On the road to the school we see 10 billboards, painted by students, each with a different theme on the UNCROC – the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child.    

We meet a group of eight students who run a youth-led radio show.  The group has a sophisticated committee structure, they identify topics to be covered by surveying youth in the district, they conduct interviews with people recorded on simple tape recorders, then create a one hour show every second Saturday.  Very impressive.    

Next we meet the Health Scouts, four 11-year-olds proudly wearing their bright vests (looking like road-workers), moving from class to class, today teaching about the benefits of brushing teeth and oral hygiene, by using songs.  Other topics include scabies, lice and hand-washing.  All eyes are glued to the authoritative 11-year-old girl barking out messages.  A future politician in the making!    

Finally we observe the Peer Tutors, four 11-year-olds who take a lunchtime class every Wednesday of 15 6 to 8-year-olds who have been identified by the teachers as falling behind or at risk.  Today it is an English lesson with health themes “How often should you eat fruit?”, “What is the verb in that sentence?”.    

Peer tutors teaching a class

We bid farewell to the whole school and start the slow four hour crawl home, again meeting Manila’s peak traffic.  

Once again I have time to reflect: how incredible it is to see children leading children through these projects.

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