March 18th (2021), marks exactly 371 days since the first school closed its doors to students in the Philippines. By the end of March 2020, all public schools, which support 25 Million students, were closed due to COVID-19.
One year on, all public schools remain shut for regular classes with being no plan to reopen until vaccines are available. According to a recent report by WHO, this might not be before 2023, at the earliest.
In order to keep learning, children are required to study from their homes, often without access to online resources or teacher support. Before COVID-19, five out of ten families were deprived of access to basic education. The onset of the pandemic and subsequent closure of schools has exacerbated the education emergency for millions of children.
In an effort to combat the education (and protection) emergency for children and youth, FundLife, like many small but committed groups, continue to try and stop the increasing tide of children who are losing interest and support to continue with formal education. In Leyte, where displaced youth still await construction of new schools that were planned after Super Typhoon Haiyan (Nov 2013), FundLife is creating ‘safe learning spaces’, allowing children to receive SEL and physical education in a safe and supportive environment. But, this is restricted to 40 students per day, leaving another 119,800 children who do not even this basic service to a table and teacher.
In Cebu, the Philippines second most populous city and considered one of the global hubs for online exploitation against adolescent girls, FundLife launched the Girls Got This ‘Works’ and ‘Resiliency in Action’ programs focused on providing employability training and Safe-at-Home packs for a further 750 highly vulnerable adolescent girls. However, as the economic fallout of COVID-19 continues to worsen, so too does the desperation of families to provide food. This puts even further danger for the adolescent girls who cannot return to school, especially as 82% of all online exploitation is perpetrated by parents or direct family members.
While there is no getting away from the dark reality so many children and youth face because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we are encouraged by the countless committed people from local government, community, businesses and those who stand untitled but united in helping children stay hopeful and in pursuit of education - and their dreams. The challenge is to ensure more can be done to help these heroes on the ground. It's not an impossible challenge if a will from the top would exist.
In a world where we are saturated by noise and led by media headlines ahead of in-community impact, we must recalibrate a way to empower those who create leaders, and not simply generate a blind following through carefully crafted slogans. In the end, we must find ways to protect children and save education, because right now we are failing.
As social systems and the breakdown of traditional politics around the world continue to teach us, we will never find common ground on everything, but we must agree that a world without education is not a world we should ever accept as normal.
"I'm thankful that FundLife initiated the community sessions. Because of this, our attention and time from thinking about negative things are diverted. We do not only learn, but we also enjoy from the activities." (Kimberly, 16)
Kimberly is just one among the 57 children who are grateful to be part of the small group community-based sessions that FundLife started months ago to respond to the growing concern on mental health and education among children since the enforcement of the community lockdowns as a precautionary measure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It kicked off with just a few participant-players, but more children joined as it progressed. That's how the power of play combined with learning can transform things. As they say, a great way to give children meaningful opportunities to apply their learning is to make learning fun.
The project, which banks on a COVID-19 centered curriculum, seeks to strengthen children's awareness of hygiene, sanitation, nutrition and a particular focus on responsiveness to the COVID-19 pandemic. It also targets to empower children and young people by educating them on their fundamental rights and mechanisms to protect themselves from any form of abuse.
For the remaining months of 2020, the children learned about societal issues like drug use, misuse, avoidance and, mental health, and child protection issues. The coaches equipped them with knowledge and information, and life skills that they can use to adapt to the present situation. They also learned about goalkeeping, shooting, ball possession, and also positioning.
To date, 57 children participated in 21 fun, interactive and educational sessions. Play has always been a useful tool in teaching children. More often than not, children learn as they play. Because of play, they learn how to learn. And this is what FundLife saw during the 21 sessions that transpired in the last 3 months. Children are now more aware of their surroundings and the concerns that contribute to their well-being.
"I'm amazed at the changes that are happening with the children that we are teaching. Some are no longer shy to participate in the discussions; they now voluntarily speak their minds without being called to recite. They feel free to express their thoughts. Some players who don't know anything about football when they started joining can now kick and dribble the ball and evade defenders easily. You will see the enjoyment in their faces. It's heart-warming to know that most of them have good progress," one of FundLife's coaches shared.
Down to its last Saturday before the most-awaited Football Festival, where two batches will compete against each other, children are already excited to showcase the skills they learned in football and participate in games designed to test their memories, pro-activeness, abilities, and determination to win each game.
One of the players also expressed that his most memorable moments are when he gets to bond with the other players by playing fun games and engaging in fun activities that the coaches facilitate. "Every Saturday, we learn new things. The sessions are not dull because the coaches use play-based and fun activities. We always go home hungry for more learning."
FundLife uses play-based experiential learning to complement children's formal education and support their personal growth and development. Today, it strives to explore and discover more ways to improve children's access to education and psychosocial support.