SHE BEGINS her work early at 8:00 in the morning. But to Fatima, 31, the morning rush is not about vehicles caught in traffic and office workers scurrying to and fro.
Garbed in a red shirt and a pair of faded jeans, Fatima trudges through the narrow walkways inside the Baseco Compound, an urban poor community in Tondo, Manila. Like a one-woman school bus, she moves from one house to another, fetching 24 boys and girls aged three to five.
“Ganoon nagsisimula ang araw ko (That’s how my day starts),” says Fatima. A volunteer teacher, Fatima gathers the children at a makeshift bamboo house which serves as a substitute day care center. The center is part of Manila City’s home-based and mobile early childhood care and development (ECCD) programs.
Managed by the Kababaihan ng Maynila (Women of Manila), a non-government organization, the home-based and mobile ECCD programs are innovative projects which give children in urban poor communities an alternative access to early learning activities. The strategy is to tap mothers as volunteer teachers who spend two hours a day with children who are not enrolled in a pre-school or a day care center.
A mother of three, Fatima was recruited as a volunteer day care educator in 2004. “Mahirap sa simula kasi hindi biro ang mag-alaga ng mga batang hindi mo naman mga anak (It was difficult at first because it is not easy to take care of kids who are not your own),” she confesses.
Fatima attended a basic course in day care education where she learned the rudiments of proper child care. Guided by social workers, Fatima became familiar with early learning concepts and practices. Together with her students, she also discovered a world of colors, shapes, games, stories, and rhymes.
Like Fatima, Catherine, 31, hardly had any teaching experience. She saw how much the volunteer mothers enjoyed doing their day care tasks and what changes these early learning activities brought to the children in their community. Fatima jumped in and began her journey to learning and discovery.
“Marami kang magagawang mabuti kahit na hindi ka pamilyar sa isang gawain basta’t nag-e-enjoy ka habang ginagawa ito (You can do a lot of good things even in an unfamiliar work as long as you enjoy doing it),” she says. Catherine proudly notes that even if they do not receive any financial compensation from the city government, just seeing that the children learn and develop proper behavior gives them a different kind of satisfaction – something that money cannot buy.
These volunteer mothers also take pride in being instrumental to the excellent school performance of their graduates. One fine example is six-year-old Vina, a first grader at the Herminigildo Atienza Elementary School in Baseco. Vina was among those who successfully made a big jump from daycare to grade one after attending the home-based ECCD class. The girl was not required to undergo kindergarten or any formal pre-school education as she manifested skills worthy of admission to primary schooling.
“Marunong po akong kumanta, tumula, bumilang at gumalang sa matatanda. Natutunan ko po yun bago pa po ako nag-grade one (I know how to sing, recite poems, count and respect the elders. I learned them even before I entered grade one),” Vina relates when asked what she learned from the home-based daycare program.
One particular poem that she recalls and recites with awesome clarity is Ang Basura (The Garbage), which is all about proper garbage disposal and environmental preservation.
“Maliban sa mga basic things na nararapat nilang malaman para maihanda sila sa pagpasok sa elementary, nakatuon kami sa pagtuturo ng kagandahang asal at isinasama namin iyan sa mga kanta at tula (Apart from the basic things that they need to know to prepare them for elementary education, we give emphasis on teaching the kids good values which we integrate in songs and poems),” Catherine explains.
According to Kababaihan ng Maynila project director Cory Arevalo, since they launched the home-based ECCD in the early part of 2004, thousands of children from poor communities like Baseco, Parola Compound and Smokey Mountain in Tondo, Manila, have already benefited in the program.
Another inexpensive experiment is the mobile ECCD, also known as the Learn and Play Resource Center. Aboard a colorful van, day care workers travel to depressed pockets of Manila communities where they hold two-hour sessions of storytelling, music, and games for young children who are not attending any pre-school or day care program. Since October 2005, over 2,300 children have been reached in 18 communities.
“It feels good to know that while our programs ensure the inexpensive promotion of ECCD in the country, we help establish a concrete future for these poor children by providing them basic day care education,” Cory muses.
Through the generous support of the Kayang-Kaya (Yes, We Can!) campaign for education of the Southeast Asian Airlines (Seair) and the German National Committee, UNICEF helped train the volunteer mothers and purchased the mobile ECCD van and other early learning and play materials.
“Mahalaga talaga na maagang namumulat ang mata, isip, at puso ng mga bata (It is important that children open their eyes, minds, and hearts early in life),” adds Fatima. Just for this, her morning rush is worth the fuss.