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Early learning sparks change
UNICEF, Starbucks help pre-schools in poor communities

By Dale Rutstein

© UNICEF Philippines/2005/Rutstein
3-5 year olds do not let the new playground equipment at Guardian Angels go to waste. UNICEF donated the playground through the Starbuck's SparkHope project.


I USED to make educational games and toys out of recycled materials for my pre-school students,” Myra Espidido, teacher at Guardian Angels Day care center in San Roque, Camarines Norte, explained.

Myra’s class is one of 22 day care centers and pre-schools throughout the Philippines to benefit from the Starbucks and UNICEF early childhood development project “SparkHope.” The project aims to bring universal early childhood development (ECD) to poor communities in the Philippines.

In July 2005, Guardian Angels was one of three day care centers in San Roque targeted for assistance by the SparkHope project. The previously barren classroom constructed with unadorned concrete blocks and nipa leaf roof is now bristling with colorful toys, musical instruments, blocks, puzzles, sturdy mono-block chairs and tables.

Teacher Myra Espidido said: “The teaching materials that I made myself from old cardboard, paper and plastic used to wear out in a matter of months. Our furniture was falling apart. Now I have proper tools for teaching. It’s very helpful for my work.”

Outside the classroom, a brightly painted playground set with slide, see-saw and swings explodes with life as 25 uniformed pre-schoolers swarm over the equipment. Three or four tiny giggling girls balance on either end of the new see-saw. Rugged little boys swing hand over hand across the jungle gym.

A community endeavor
A few steps away barangay (community) officials survey a new roof project which has just been approved in the barangay budget. Along with the newly planted flowers, sturdy fencing and soon-to-be-installed grass under the playground equipment, the new roof will complete a full rehabilitation of Guardian Angels day care.

“This day care center was almost unusable before UNICEF equipment started to arrive through the SparkHope project,” said barangay official Ramil Apolinario, “Now it is more conducive to learning. Before, we had to make due with improvised tables and chairs.”

“Most parents nearby did not bother to send their children here. They now take pride in the school and enrolment is overflowing. This has been a big help for the kids, a big help for the community.”

Not far away, through the narrow lanes and paths which make up this congested barangay on a spit of land jutting into the sea, the Little Angels day care center presents a colorful scene. Boys dribble new balls in the dusty play area and pint-sized acrobats swirl multi-colored hula-hoops around their torsos with amazing skill.

These are some of the new toys and games delivered through the SparkHope project. One by one, three day care centers and the pre-school based in the local elementary school will be rehabilitated with a combination of early learning supplies, training and home based ECD support.
Equipment and technical support is donated by UNICEF’s Child Friendly Movement in partnership with the Provincial Government of Camarines Norte and Starbucks.

The San Roque community contributes teachers’ salaries and the facilities. Soon Little Angel’s leaking roof will be a memory when the class moves across the road to the newly expanded facility in the barangay hall.

Rise in pre-school enrolment
Since the SparkHope project began in November 2004 ECD enrolment of 3-5 year olds in San Roque has more than tripled from 11% to 37%.

“Before most parents didn’t bother to send their kids to pre-school,” explained barangay official Apolinario, “They preferred to wait until their children were old enough to enroll in elementary school. Now things are different.”

San Roque Elementary school, principal Gloria Lovete explains the value of early childhood care: “We see a big difference in the children who enter grade one after completing an early childhood development programme in day care or pre-school. They arrive ready to learn, confident, accustomed to the social demands of school. Those without pre-school are shy and often slow to adjust. Many take a whole year to settle and their parents have to accompany them to school for a long time.”

Starbucks adopts communities
The SparkHope project, linking individual Starbucks stores and their regular clientele in Metro Manila, Baguio and Cebu with recipient communities throughout the country, is a unique partnership between UNICEF, Starbucks and the nine participating local government units throughout the Philippines.

Each Starbucks store maintains a SparkHope information center with up-dates on each recipient community, snapshots of new developments, brochures about early childhood development and contribution envelopes. Starbucks customers appreciate the detailed information about the project they are contributing to.

“In addition to the funds raised for communities attempting to better the educational preparation of their young children, the SparkHope project helps educate Starbucks customers about the unique learning opportunities of the first few years of life”, said Dr. Nicholas`Alipui, UNICEF Representative.

Starbucks supports 16 day care centers and six pre-schools in nine barangays all over the Philippines. Aside from Barangay San Roque in Camarines Norte, Starbucks helps improve early learning programs in the UNICEF-assisted provinces of Aurora, Eastern Samar, Isabela, Maguindanao, Masbate, Negros Oriental, Northern Samar, and Sarangani.

In San Roque, life is extremely hard. The coastal barangay exposed to the Pacific Ocean on two sides is regularly decimated by typhoons. Makeshift homes are tightly crowded along the sandy beach line. More fortunate residents live in similar shelters on solid ground further inland.

Since pre-school and day care enrolment has increased by 300% barangay officials have noticed a different attitude in the residents. Poverty is still rampant but with the combined efforts of SparkHope and the energy and commitment of local parents and teachers anything seems possible.

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For further information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Dale Rutstein
UNICEF Manila, 901 0177 or 0917 866 4969,
Alexis Rodrigo
UNICEF Manila, 901 0173 or 0917 858 9447,

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