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At a glance: Philippines

Early learning programme reaches Manila’s deprived children

© UNICEF/2006/McBride
A mobile early childhood learning programme arrives by truck at a site in the Parola District in Manila, the Philippines. UNICEF supplies learning materials to the programme.

By Rob McBride

MANILA, 3 October 2006 – With concentrated expressions, the young children follow their teacher’s lead, faithfully reciting the words to a poem about ‘basura,’ or garbage. The lesson is designed to teach them at the earliest possible age that the problem of sanitary waste disposal has become a scourge in their community.

“The early childhood stage is a permanent learning stage. Whatever they learn now, they will take home,” says Programme Director Socorro 'Cory' Arevalo of the non-governmental organization Women of Manila, which manages the centre where these children are gathered, and others like it in the Philippines capital.

The bright and cheery interior of the centre – which is housed in a bamboo hut – gives the appearance of a village home. But the look is deceptive, because the hut is actually located in Baseco, one of urban Manila’s most deprived areas.

It is part of an innovative, UNICEF-supported project that gives children in poor communities access to early learning activities. The strategy is to position mothers as volunteer teachers, each spending two hours a day with children who are not enrolled in a regular pre-school or a day care centre.

Respite for young mothers

For young mothers like Amy Capasilan and her daughter Jane, 3, the daily sessions of organized play and learning provide a vital respite from the drudgery of their daily routine.

© UNICEF/2006/McBride
Staff members from the NGO Women of Manila entertain children in the Philippines capital, where their organization, in partnership with the city government and UNICEF, operates a free day care programme in depressed areas.

“At home she wasn’t learning anything,” says Ms. Capasilan. “But since coming here, she has been learning nursery rhymes, how to count and to read.”

A single mother, Ms. Capasilan pays 700 pesos (about $15) monthly rent for her one small room, with little in the way of home comforts apart from a stove and a fan. She was keen to have Jane enrolled in the day care programme as soon as she could.

“My daughter is still only three, and one of the teachers said she might have a problem keeping up – but she managed to fit in straight away,” Ms. Capasilan noted proudly.

Mobile service launched

Centres such as the one in Baseco offer vital stimulation for local children through singing, drawing and games. They also offer a nutritional supplement at the end of each class, providing the daily vitamin requirement. And by recruiting mothers as volunteer teachers, the centres encourage change in the community as a whole.

In partnership with local government and UNICEF, the early learning programme now provides a mobile service to build on its success.

Through the narrow streets and lanes of poor neighbourhoods, a colourful van makes its daily rounds with a travelling show for children. Organizers are confident that by going into the communities, they are also taking their message about good early childhood education to the parents themselves.

At one stop, the ‘basura’ poem starts and the children join in instinctively, already familiar with the words. At moments like this, it’s clear that the message is getting through.




3 October 2006:
UNICEF correspondent Rob McBride reports on an innovative project to provide access to early learning activities for deprived children in the Philippines.
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