Social enterprise HOPE, makers of the bottled water brand Hope in a Bottle, recently announced the groundbreaking of the 100th classroom to be built since the company’s inception. Founded in 2012, HOPE is the first company that donates 100% of its profits to building public school classrooms in the Philippines.
This announcement comes on the heels of challenges to the resumption of classes, as millions of Filipino students prepare to adapt to distance learning. The Department of Education (DepEd) has recently declared that the school opening will be deferred from the original date of August 24 to October 5, in the interest of public health and better preparation for teachers, students, and parents.
“We acknowledge the challenges in restarting school and applaud the efforts of teachers in providing proper learning opportunities for Filipino children, especially during this time. What this pandemic is showing is that the need for classrooms continues to remain and has not stopped our resolve to keep building and equipping more communities with proper classrooms suitable for learning,” says HOPE’s founder, Nanette Medved-Po.
School officials are determined to resume classes so that Filipino students won’t be left behind, but distance learning and shifting instruction online pose a challenge for teachers, parents, and students alike. Whether it be a lack of devices and a proper internet connection, or limited conducive areas within the home to participate fruitfully in virtual classes, not to mention the costs of education during an economic downturn, numerous issues have arisen in the transition to going fully online. The pandemic has laid bare a digital divide that cannot be bridged easily in a short span of time.
Hence, the need for public school classrooms will remain well into the future. In fact, a 2017 count by DepEd declared an estimated gap of 84,000 classrooms in the country.
Classrooms are all the more important in remote areas in the Philippines, with even wider gaps in geographically-isolated, disadvantaged, and conflict-affected areas, or so-called Last-Mile Schools. In these areas, online learning is very far from being a viable option with areas lacking electricity and using makeshift facilities for students. Proper physical classrooms provide students and the community with hope towards a better future.
HOPE’s 100th classroom is located in such an area, at Bagong Silang High School in Sitiong Bagong Silang, General Santos City. It is a 100% Indigenous People School that educates members of both the B’laan and T’boli tribes. Its creation serves the community of 1,260 people and keeps students from having to walk 14 kilometers back and forth, equivalent to a two-hour hike, daily to the nearest high school.
While HOPE’s classroom builds are not exclusive to Last Mile Schools, its nine recent builds were focused in hard-to-reach areas. One of these schools is the Colot S. Aligado Elementary School in General Santos City, South Cotabato. Built on 2019 together with donor Vita Coco, the two-classroom school has given the students a renewed hope for a better life for themselves beyond what their parents have initially imagined.
Teacher Rose, the principal at Colot Elementary School shares, “Ang school dito ay medyo kakaiba kasi yung karanasan po talaga ay napakahirap. Wala po lahat – walang tubig, malayo sa community, walang tanim na maaring kainin ng mga estudyante kasi ang lupa ay napakamabato. Ang gusto ko para sa mga bata ay magkaroon ng makabuluhang kinabukasan kahit na maraming paghahamon dahil ang edukasyon ang susi para makamit ito.”
(“Our school is quite different because the experience here is very difficult. There is a shortage of water, it is far from the community, and planting crops is hard because the soil is rocky. I long for all of my students to have promising futures despite the challenges, and I know that education is the key to that.”)
Nicey, a 7th grader from Colot shares, “Ang edukasyon ay pinakaimportante base sa kasabihan na ang kabataan ang pagasa ng bayan. Naniniwala ako doon kasi dapat, habang may buhay, may pagasa. Kailangan po natin mag-aral ng mabuti kahit na gaano kahirap ang buhay. Kailangan talaga natin magtiyaga.”
(“Education is the most important thing, based on the saying that children are the hope of the nation. I believe in that because as long as we have life, there is hope. We need to study hard no matter how difficult life can be. We just have to persevere.)
“We have seen the impact of building in areas like these and cannot stress enough the importance to the community of giving children the opportunity to prioritize education,” says HOPE’s founder, Nanette Medved-Po.
HOPE classrooms transcend its importance beyond its original use for lessons and housing books. They hold importance to the community as discussion halls and evacuation centers. They even provide help in hygiene and sanitation as they often are the only facilities available with proper toilets within the area. And for this coming school year, they will also function as information dissemination centers where teachers, parents, and students can visit to keep updated with the new education processes and claim children’s learning modules.
Now, more than ever, despite the uncertainties and challenges surrounding the start of the school year, classrooms serve as tangible reminders to continue educating our youth and providing a better learning environment for a better future for our communities.
Nanette Medved-Po shares, “When the pandemic ends, the issue of classroom shortage remains, and we hope that we don’t just go back to normal but strive for a better future for Filipino children. We are committed to continuing our small contribution to nation-building, one classroom at a time.”
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