The wind and rain weren’t knocking anymore. They were breaking down the door. Next the roof and then the walls.
Alfredo Grijalvo, Jr. quickly evacuated his family from their failing home in the rural Bicol Region of the Philippines and into a classroom at the Alejandro T. Manaog Elementary School. They covered the windows, which were all broken, with desks, chairs, and bookshelves as they waited for the typhoon to pass. Several hours later, Alfredo and his family stepped outside. That’s when their hearts sank.
“Most of the classrooms had been damaged, and it was heart-breaking for me and my children,” Alfredo said. “We were saying, ‘How is it going to be for us? How is it going to be for the kids? After all this, where are they going to go to school?’”
All six classrooms were heavily damaged. Roofs were blown away. Some walls had crumbled. Notebooks and workbooks were washed away.
It was a difficult time for all of us. The good thing about this area is that if there is an adversity, everyone helps each other. After the typhoon, the teachers, the students, the parents, everybody took turns cleaning and building two makeshift classrooms just so the children would be able to go back to school.”
The community did absolutely everything they could to rebuild the school—at least to a state where classes could be held again. But rebuilding morale proved to be much tougher.
Because of the lack of infrastructure and supplies, students started leaving the school to either make a longer trek to a different school or they stopped attending altogether. At the Young Living Foundation, education is part of our mission and we believe it’s a basic human right, yet those who need the education the most—children living in rural and remote areas and living in poverty—are the least likely to attend and complete school because the distance to walk to a school is too far or there’s a lack of infrastructure at the school.
In sum, the sense of pride had gone out of the school and it was replaced by a bleak outlook of the future. Two grades were sharing one classroom. Students were sharing chairs. Teachers found it difficult to teach with all the distractions. School lunch only went to 33 out of the 144 students. No one was coming to help. No one, except for Rosalina Tan.
Rosalina calls herself an organic advocate, but to the children at the Alejandro T. Manaog Elementary School she’s known as Mama Claus. She’s a fiery, energetic woman in her 70s and her passion for the pili trees and her country are obvious the second you meet her.
Rosalina is the owner of the Happy Pili Tree Farm, a Young Living partner farm and main supplier of Young Living’s Elemi essential oil. The Elemi essential oil comes from the bark of the pili tree and Rosalina has been celebrated for her dedication to sustainable harvesting methods of the oil and other pili tree products.
During her search for pili trees and areas to plant them, Rosalina stumbled across the Alejandro T. Manaog school. She was surprised to find a school out in the middle of nowhere. She was devastated by the amount of damage done to the school by the typhoons. She knew she had to do something, so she took it upon herself to bring donations to the school and gifts for the children which earned her the Christmas-themed nickname.
As a person who loves organic farming and food, Rosalina also noticed something else: stunting. She was surprised to see how small some of the children were for their age. Malnutrition is a major concern in the remote areas of the Philippines and causes stunting, or impaired growth and development.
It was because Rosalina recognized need in her community that when we reached out to the Young Living team in the Philippines, we were immediately told about the Alejandro T. Manaog Elementary School located just 3.5 kilometers from the Happy Pili Tree Farm.
Yana Espinocilla, the general manager of the Happy Pili Tree Farm, has a story similar to the children at the elementary school. She had very little access to resources growing up and even fewer opportunities.
When she did get an opportunity, though, Yana made the most of it and has become one of the key members of the farm team. A mother of two, she’s highly motivated, meticulous with details, and dedicated. She lives right next door to the farm.
But Yana remembers those days of having little to eat, so she jumped at the opportunity to help the Young Living Foundation give back to the community and country she loves. Yana served as the Foundation’s coordinator on the ground for the school project. Needless to say, this project couldn't have come to fruition without her efforts on the ground.
She coordinated with the Foundation’s program management team to make plans, worked with local construction crews to ensure all repairs to the school were done right and in a timely manner, and helped hire a coordinator to build out a school garden and teach the children and parents how to take care of it. Yana even picked out the colors for the new classrooms.
Yana had us in tears when we asked her what the completion of the school meant to her.
It’s been an incredible honor to work with Young Living and the Young Living Foundation to help the children at this school. After seeing everything done and ready to be turned over to the school and the kids, I just don't have the exact words for it. But I do remember that the other day, after everything was done, I cried a bit. All the hard work that we put into it was for us to help the kids. I’m just very thankful to the Foundation and it's been so rewarding to be a part of this.”
From the time the project started to its completion, Yana and others have seen a dramatic change in the students, teachers, and parents. It’s a school they are proud of again. The teachers are inspired and rejuvenated. The students beam with joy when talking about their school. Parents share in their child’s happiness and excitement.
Plus, school attendance has increased to over 160! Students who stopped attending or walked further into town to go to a different school are coming back to the Alejandro T. Manaog school after hearing about all the improvements.
From January 2019 to October 2019, your donations helped fund the complete restoration of the elementary school. Here’s how your donations were used:
· Repaired all six existing classrooms, including roofs, walls, doors, and windows
· Added bathrooms to each of the six repaired classrooms
· Constructed two new classrooms with bathrooms that will be used by the nursery and Pre-K
students and allow the school to admit an additional 40–50 students
· Built a sustainable garden on the school grounds that has more than 20 types of crops along with a duck coop for eggs and a tilapia pond
· Added a water pump to the garden area to make watering plants easier
· Hired a garden manager to oversee the garden and train the students and parents to take care of it
For the longest time, this school was forgotten. They are so far away from town that the recognition or acknowledgement was very little. Students even envied those schools in town, because of their resources, infrastructure, and stability. Now, they feel as though they have the opportunities and resources equal to any other school. They have the materials they need to feel empowered and more students are receiving a school lunch thanks to the nutritious food being grown in the garden combined with the eggs and fish to round out key nutrients.
Marilyn Brazil, the head teacher at Alejandro T. Manaog Elementary, shared how the students’ confidence is at an all-time high right now. They confidently entered an academic competition in October and won!
“That’s something that has not happened to this school in years,” Yana said. “But now, the kids are getting better grades, they’ve been more involved, the parents are more engaged, the kids are happier, the kids are healthier, and this I believe is because of all the help the Young Living Foundation gave them.”
For Rosalina (Mama Claus), she’s just incredibly grateful. “We have given these kids and parents hope. There's hope,” Rosalina said. “Before they were just resigned to what they had; they were accepting this as their fate. But, now, they are looking forward to something bigger. They have dreams, and that’s what we want the kids to feel.”
At the Foundation, we believe education is a key to empowerment and long-term change. A strong education can ensure that every student reaches their full potential. It’s a proven path to social mobility, economic gains, and it’s a bridge to more opportunities.
In every country, the main hope of a nation lies in the proper education of its youth. A part of that proper education is ensuring that children have a safe school, one they can be proud about, and one that has the right supplies and provisions.
Thanks to amazing donors, like you, the world is a little bit better in the Bicol Region of the Philippines.