The “Children in Need” initiative operates a mobile school to teach street children in Cebu City in the Philippines. Education and knowledge are the only way for the children to escape poverty.
In February of this year, I visited our aid projects in the Philippines. It is important that we personally see the work and progress being made on the ground at regular intervals. In the Philippines, we now support a total of 31 different aid projects. This also includes the mobile school for street children.
The United Nations estimates that there are 100 million children living on the street worldwide. The most common reason that people are homeless is because they have moved to the city from rural areas to try and escape poverty. But without vocational training, these people have no chance of getting a job in the city. In the end, all they have left is a makeshift wooden or cardboard shelter near the dumps or in the slums. Girls and boys stranded in the city without their parents have often left their families because of abuse or violence.
Four years ago, our project partners in the Philippines drew our attention to the afflictions of street children in the port city of Cebu City. A large number of children and young people there live on the streets or in parks on a permanent basis. In addition, there are many young girls and boys, most of whom hang out at meeting points at the harbor and on city squares. Many of these street children do not attend school at all, or at most, only irregularly.
Together with our project partners, we had the idea of developing a mobile school. Four years ago, we bought a bus, converted it, and equipped it with tables, chairs, books, and a wide variety of learning materials. The bus was manned by 1 or 2 teachers and also some students from San Carlos University who were willing to volunteer. Today, the bus continues to travel on workdays to various meeting points in the city’s downtrodden areas, wherever street children gather.
The children and young people were first attracted by music, games, and drinks. One by one, the teachers offered the girls and boys an alternative learning system based on the curriculum of the Department of Education in the Philippines. It wasn’t easy at the beginning. The children often cannot and do not want to concentrate and are unable to sit in the chairs for long. The better known the school bus became, the more children and young people came who were already in school and just wanted help with their homework.
Soon there weren’t enough seats on the first bus and the “Children in Need” Charity Group was asked to finance a second bus. Around 600 children and young people now visit the yellow mobile school buses, some of them regularly, others only occasionally. During my recent visit to Cebu City, I drove with bus 2 to a bus stop on a busy side street. An estimated 30 families with a large number of children lived on the sidewalk in shelters made of cardboard and iron bars. These families used to live under a bridge, but the water in the adjacent river had risen so strongly due to heavy rainfall that they had to leave and find a new place to live. When I was there, they had been living on the sidewalk for about two weeks. The boys and girls quickly gathered at the bus. The teachers showed them toys, spoke with each child, gave them something to drink, and invited them to a get-together with music and singing the following day.
The next stop was a large square, not far from a main road. About 30 children, roughly between the ages of 4 and 12, were already waiting. Some of the young people got on the bus and started doing their homework under the supervision of a university student.
The teachers asked the smaller ones to line up. This wasn’t as easy as you’d think, because some of the children kept getting out of line because they either wanted to move up to the front or to the back. The teacher then sang a song containing the numbers 1 to 10. The teachers use rhymes and songs to help the little ones become acquainted with letters and numbers. At one point a child left because it didn’t feel like participating any more. The others, however, seemed to enjoy the lesson. Afterwards the group painted. The teachers and university students were quite exhausted after each stop, because the street children, especially at the beginning, lacked any kind of discipline and education.
The teachers proudly reported their achievements. Last year, they succeeded in getting about 20 children enrolled in the public primary school. The good news is that none of these children have dropped out of school yet. These girls and boys still come to the bus in the afternoon when they need help.
Convincing the girls and boys, most of whom live on the streets, of the importance of a school education is certainly a difficult job. We lack the parents’ support, who hardly take care of their children at all. Which is why I have even greater admiration for the teachers, whose tremendous dedication and understanding offer the children and young people a chance at a better life.