Dear Friends,
By the middle of March, all of us at Unang Hakbang will be fully immersed in planning next year, July 2011-June 2012. This year, for the first time, our children, youth and mothers will be participating in the planning meetings as actors and not simply as individuals or groups that are consulted. Bringing them into the planning process actually began in October 2010 when volunteers Cat Ramos and David Viray initiated an Appreciative Inquiry participatory research project and facilitated a series of meetings with our peer tutors and mentors as well as some mothers. We discovered that:
  • Our art and sports activities was “different” and the best because we provide materials – crayons, paper, badminton equipment, boards, etc. – “unlike in school”. 
  • Reading to other children in Kwentuhang Bata (our regular community read-aloud) ranks among their proudest moments. 
  • They feel changed and the people around them have felt that change. They were happier (“mas masayahin”), busier (“mas masipag”) and were thought to be more respectful because now they say “po” and “opo”. They had become less shy and more communicative and were performing better in school. And according to their peers, the older children and youth said, they no longer behaved like there was a permanent chip on their shoulder (“hindi na mayabang”). 
  • Our attention to their spiritual development was more than appreciated. It was their children taught them to pray before meals, the mothers said. 
They told us Unang Hakbang was a part of their lives and going to our centers part of their daily routine. How can we then not include them and all the other children in helping us craft our future? We also hope to have with us our regular volunteers, some of whom have been working side-by-side with us for over a year. They are Emy Taylor and her son Lorenzo, Jay Marquez, Clarissa Lorenzo, Yvette Co, Nelia Paculan and Pinky Sy-Narciso.

New centers in Pampanga
Pinky, our newest regular volunteer, has been helping tutor children in our new center, Bale ng San Isidro, located on the grounds of the San Isidro Elementary School in Bacolor, Pampanga. We have 91 children in BSI, about 18% of the school population, ranging in age from 7-15 years old. 75% are two years above the proper age for their grade level meaning that they entered school late and subsequently repeated one or several grade levels. We are also providing a daily lunch for 40 of these children. 

Apart from BSI, we have completed the renovation of a center in Sta. Tereza 1st Elementary School in Lubao, Pampanga. We have 67 children here – 17% of all their students – that have been referred to us because they are at-risk of dropping out. 48% of them are over-aged by 2 years. A quarter of all those referred will need to have lunch provided them daily. 

We will be establishing a third center in Pandacaqui, Mexico, Pampanga where we will be working with the Pandacaqui Elementary School and the Abe-Abe Tamu Homeowners Association/Ad Hoc Committee comprising of residents in the National Housing Authority’s Pandacaqui Resettlement Area. Here we are targeting the children of families who were relocated from Navotas City in Metro Manila after their homes were leveled by a typhoon. Unlike the majority of the area’s settlers who were victims of Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption and whose resettlement received much attention and funding, the Navotas families were allocated a lot less resources. Their children are among the poorest performers in school. 

Hunger and the lack of readiness for school
We are used to blaming the overcrowding of classrooms and the lack of textbooks for children dropping out of school but we do not have a sense of that in the schools we are in in Pampanga because they do not have massive enrollments. What we have seen more of is the lack of readiness for school that has resulted in school failures. Real hunger – not simple malnutrition – seems to haunt school children, too. Many literally go without meals.

San Isidro, Bacolor is almost next door to the City of San Fernando but it is a food dessert. It has no farmers’ market or large grocery store, such that, working with the school canteen in San Isidro on the lunch program, we were appalled to learn they were buying rice, grains and meat at prices higher than we were paying for them in Mandaluyong! No food is produced at home despite the availability of open yards and even some farmland, a situation indicated by our visit to the children’s homes. Their families live much as the families of our children in Mandaluyong do, i.e., totally reliant upon a daily wage income, but with a household situation aggravated by the distance to sources of cheap food and the lack of home refrigeration and storage.

Re-imagining UrChef
Those of you who know us well know that we take food and eating very seriously, one of the reasons our first livelihood and vocational training project had to be all about food. We created UrChef, under which label we sell cookies created by one of our trustees and baked by our older children (to order, call 531-5189). We are now contemplating expanding the concept of UrChef to include the production of food in backyard and urban gardens to its delivery to the tables of UHF families.

In our centers in Mandaluyong City, 82% of the children were severely under-weight and 44% severely under-height when we measured them in October 2010. Unlike their non-urban counterparts at least, no one actually missed meals. Rather, the problem lay in what they ate which lacked nutritional and caloric value as their diet consisted almost unfailingly of rice and a single type of vegetable with little meat or protein, rice and a small portion of dried fish, plain noodles, or rice and hot dog. To partially address this situation, we now serve two supplementary meals a week in all our centers in addition to serving lunch to some 30 children daily – the children who come to our centers directly from school and the scavengers and working children who are in a basic literacy class or in the Alternative Learning System (ALS).

To fully realize our plans for UrChef, we need new funds to support, among others, the hiring of experts and appropriate staff. If you wish to volunteer to help develop and realize this project, call at once or send an email. We can be reached at 531-5189 and at Those who wish to contribute in other, more immediate ways, we require ideas to expand our menu, volunteers to train our fledgling cooks, and donations of rice, grains, vegetables, eggs, and meat. 

Our working children
In response to the call of the Department of Social and Welfare and Development (DSWD) to organize activities for street children last December to help keep them off the streets, we hosted an average of 80 child-scavengers from 3PM-8PM, Monday to Thursday, from December 6-19 at our center Bahay ni Jose in the Botanical Complex, Welfareville. With our Batang Guros (Peer Mentors) taking the lead, we set up games, read-alouds, art activities and sharing sessions (“kamustahan”), ending each day with a performance night. Biscuits and juice were distributed as the children came in and dinner served after the main afternoon activity. Although it was hinted that funding or donors who can provide support would be directed to us by DSWD, none materialized. The whole effort drew on UHF’s existing resources and donor base which we now need to renew.

24 of our December children (30% of the original average of 80, better than the 20% we had targeted) have stayed on with us and are in our tutorial and literacy programs. A surprising majority of them – 15 – are in school but they are clearly having difficulties. We have a 16-year old who has not moved up from Grade 1, a 17-year old who just reached Grade 6, and several 11 to 13 year olds who are still in Grade 3. The nine who are not in school are 10-15 year olds. Only three of them have gone beyond Grade 1 although one was able to graduate from elementary school before dropping out in high school.

How to help
Although we have a clear focus on raising our children’s academic performance, our programs are more about giving children the gift of a caring adult or peer mentor. It also about providing them a range of activities – art classes, organized games and sports, sharing sessions and spiritual encounters – that are not ordinarily available to them because of they are poor to stimulate their minds, funnel their energies into worthwhile activities, and keep them in good company. 

Volunteer – You can help by volunteering to tutor or mentor a child, teach music, dance or any sport, or organize special activities. You also help by giving children practice in speaking and writing English. For those who prefer to stay in the background, we need volunteers to fund-raise and recruit other volunteers. Without even going out of your own homes or offices, you can help by collecting old magazines, forgotten toys and board games, books for pre-teens and adolescents, and sending these to us. Our address is: 161 Lopez Rizal St., Bgy. Highway Hills, 1552 Mandaluyong City. 

Donate – A donation of just P700 ($15)/month will provide a child from a very poor family a place to go to every day, 6 days a week, for homework help, a meal, and art, values and other classes – a place where he can find a caring adult to help him become the best he can be. 

Olie Lucas
Unang Hakbang Foundation
March 2011

Donate now! Deposit or remit funds directly to the account of Unang Hakbang Foundation Inc. with Banco de Oro, CA No. 00-0288-029-529 (when sending via Xoom, write as First Name “Unang Hakbang” and as Last Name “Foundation Inc.” with address at 161 Lopez Rizal St., Bgy. Highway Hills, 1552 Mandaluyong City).

Call us at (632) 531.3474 for assistance or further information.

The UHF Experience

Our Munting Titsers, or peer tutors, in front of their project presentations.