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03 August 2015

'Unang Hakbang' towards a brighter future (feature)

Responding to the question, “How can we build a better community?” Redondo Peninsula Energy (RP Energy) believes it is always important to start with the community’s youth.

“We live in a country where parents would starve themselves just to get their kids to school. The Filipino dream always involves children getting a college degree and landing a stable job in the city,” said RP Energy Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Head Victor Persius Chan. “But to a family with income below the poverty line, sending two or three children to school is extremely difficult. When parents are unsure that they can provide their children with an education, their hopes for a better future dwindle.”

Believing that the foundation of a good education starts during the first years of school, RP Energy launched its “Unang Hakbang” (First Steps) CSR initiative with the aim of building and rehabilitating learning hubs for daycare and kindergarten students in Zambales.

So far, the company has provided for the rehabilitation and repair of seven learning hubs. This includes five daycare centers, a kindergarten classroom, and a library in Olongapo City, Subic and Castillejos, all in Zambales. The pilot schools were selected based on merit and need, and through consultations with Local Government Units (LGUs), the Municipal Social Welfare Division (MSWD), and local Department of Education officials.

Clean, Safe, and Conducive Learning Environment

Norma Pader, a daycare worker from Brgy. San Agustin, Castillejos, recalls: “Every time it rains, students, their things, and classroom materials get wet due to leaking roofs and damaged ceilings.”

Now, the kids can be safe and stay dry even during the rainy season, thanks to the newly refurbished daycare centers.
“The children can now also use both the toilet and the handwashing station after the installation of a water system. Before, we couldn’t even teach basic hygiene because water was not available,” said Pader.

RP Energy’s CSR team worked hand-in-hand with the teachers, parents, and MSWD officers in maximizing the allotted project budget, choosing storybooks, and designing the classroom layout.

RP Energy made sure that the design of the hubs is inspiring and conducive to learning. Apart from improving the lighting conditions using new LED bulbs, classrooms were also made more colorful and vibrant.

Unang Hakbang hubs were also provided a voluminous set of story books and references. These include books written by award-winning Filipino authors highlighting values education and Philippine culture.

The program also introduced special corners focusing on different subjects, such as Reading, Math, Science, Art, Music, Community, and Personality Corners. Educational materials and even toys were placed in each corner.

Before the initiative, the Asinan Proper-Mapanao daycare center looked more like a rundown and abandoned building than a place of learning. The teacher held classes in a room with unfinished flooring and torn ceilings.

At the end of two weeks of rehabilitation works, Glenda Pascua, the daycare worker, said, “The kids now have a proper play area, and the new slide is a hit. Masayang-masaya sila.”

Responsive

“We do not simply want to donate equipment. We want to give these centers relevant tools that they will actually use for a long time. This includes height charts and digital weighing scales that will be very useful in monitoring the children’s health,” said RP Energy CSR Officer Jason Gavina.

With a growing enrollment of over 300 kindergarten pupils, the Subic Central School has set up a new classroom just to accommodate all enrollees.

“The additional chairs provided by Unang Hakbang really helped us. Our teachers have three shifts per classroom. I am sure that all the materials given to us will be well utilized. We are very grateful to RP Energy,” said Subic Central School Principal Pamela Gatdula.

Subic MSWD Officer Nelly Pagar is optimistic that they will have more five-star daycare centers next year. Daycare centers need to pass a Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) accreditation, and are rated 1 to 5 stars as a means to monitor their effectiveness in child development.

Empowering Teachers

Balaybay Resettlement daycare worker Virgie dela Cruz was already resigned to the bleak situation.

“Napakarami pong kailangang ayusin. Di namin alam kung saan sisimulan. Wala pa kaming budget,” she said.
However, Unang Hakbang’s participatory approach has fomented a change in the attitude of stakeholders.

“They no longer see themselves as mere recipients but also initiators of change. The teachers no longer just complain; they now take charge of the situation whenever and wherever they can,” said Gavina.

As a follow-through activity, and noting that the teachers play a key role in the sustainability of the program, RP Energy, in partnership with Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, is organizing a seminar workshop for the teachers on effective storytelling in August.

Women empowerment

Beyond strengthening the foundations of quality education, Unang Hakbang also aims to promote women empowerment.

By establishing quality daycares where children can be left for a few hours each day, mothers are given time to seek economic opportunities, such as doing part-time work or other productive activities.

Fruitful Partnership

Catillejos Mayor Jose Angelo Dominguez hopes the program will benefit more children especially those from impoverished families.

“Tama ang ating motto: ‘Kayang-kaya, basta’t sama-sama sa tulong ng RP Energy at mga magulang na nagboluntaryong tumulong,” he said.

“This is only the start. We know that with the support of the LGUs, our CSR partners, and the parent-volunteers, we can do so much more,” said Chan. “At RP Energy, we believe that there is a need to invest in relevant CSR programs that focus on the Filipino child – our future education champion, a future CEO, the country’s future leader.”


PHOTOS:

[1] Before and after: Brgy Balaybay Day-care Center, Castillejos Municipality

[2] Before and after: Brgy Asinan Proper Day-care Center, Subic Municipality

[3] Before and after: Brgy. Cawag Day-care Center, Subic Municipality

RP Energy is a consortium composed of MERALCO PowerGen Corporation, Aboitiz Power Corporation and Taiwan Cogeneration International Corporation.

It is the developer of an environment-friendly and state-of-the-art 600-megawatt coal-fired power plant at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. The plant is expected to augment the power supply in the Luzon grid when it starts commercial operations.

Katuwang Natin sa Buhay is RP Energy’s umbrella Corporate Social Responsibility program that seeks to establish good stakeholder relations and further community development through initiatives that focus on livelihood and skills development, education, health and sports development, environment and disaster risk management and infrastructure support.

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