The Peace Corps Experience and Life with the Natives

Here is What Has Been Going On!

The key to our supply chain… The mighty karabao!!!

All Smiles

Bayanihan… the community together

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We concluded the first three months of the Baclayan Elementary School Feeding Program with the school year’s end in March. Since the commencement of the program on January 9th, daily attendance rates have on average more than tripled. Each school day parents of the elementary students cook a nutritious lunch that is served within the recently built school kitchen. The Feeding Program acted as a springboard into the second phase of the Baclayan Education Program, Summer Tutorials.

The Build Begins

Stairway hoped for increased student attendance during the first months of the Feeding Program’s existence. Records of the months previous to the beginning of the Feeding Program, November and December, indicated that on average roughly 20-25 of the 113 enrolled children attended school each day. The main two causes were due to cold weather and poor road conditions. After the first months of our feeding program, in similar circumstances, attendance averaged nearly 70 students each day. Thanks to parent and teacher collaboration with Stairway staff, the program had a successful start.

Masamang Swuerte… We began the build of the kitchen in the middle of a tropical storm… in December?!

The Baclayan Elementary Feeding Program activities began late last year with planning meetings involving the school’s Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and members of the Stairway team. Before the program could begin, a new kitchen would need to be constructed. In late December parents erected a kitchen that once finished included two fuel-conserving clay stoves and enough space to comfortably serve 62 students. The build started in the middle of a bagyo (tropical storm) adding to the adversity needed to be conquered! On January 9th the first meal was cooked and supplies delivered by the elementary school parents.

Stairway’s role in the program includes the food purchasing every Tuesday and, growing of farm fresh fruits and vegetables on its farm in Baclayan, and operations oversight. The parents are required to transport supplies and provisions up the path to Baclayan and run the kitchen each day. Monthly monitoring and evaluation meetings are held between the Baclayan Elementary PTA and Stairway staff to make the necessary adjustments to sustain the program. In an attempt to maximize our available resources, actual costs of providing lunch is PhP25 per meal, far below the budgeted amount of PhP40 per meal.

Where the Magic happens… the Clay Stoves

Teaching good hygiene before eating.

The first of many trike rides to deliver the supplies to the bottom of the hill, before the long trek up.

With the overall success of the first three months of Stairway’s Baclayan Elementary Feeding Program, challenges have arisen and been addressed. Due to the physically scattered nature of the Baclayan community, equal parent cooperation in maintaining the project proves to be a challenge. The social pressure of parents’ peers and children is one method being used to sustain the program. From the outset, Stairway has emphasized that parent cooperation is of upmost importance. It was agreed in the planning stages that if parents were unable to attend to their duties, due to a variety of reasons such as caring for sick children, they must give 24 hours notice or find a replacement. Consequences will be faced if parents do not hold up their end of the bargain. If parents neglect their cooking responsibilities on assigned days, for instance, the kitchen will close and no lunch will be served that day. At some point this did happen. A few parents were absent on their assigned days, and Stairway staff met with the students to discuss the value of their parents’ participation in the project.

The social pressure of the children was also successful in reinforcing the parents’ responsibility of keeping the kitchen’s source of fuel, dry firewood in stock. It does not only depend on the cooking but also the fuel supplies available. After the heavy rains inherent to the area’s climate, volunteer parents and teachers have expressed difficulty in encouraging children to bring firewood from home. In effect parents were forced to spend time searching for dry wood before beginning the day’s cooking. Early on soggy rice was served on three consecutive days, because the firewood was not dry enough to produce the heat that was needed. Afterwards the situation was explained to the students, and since then the children have brought dry firewood every day. With over sixty families’ voluntary participation in the Feeding Program activities, we soon found several different methods of cooking were being used. During the first evaluation meeting with the PTA, it was decided to create a food safety checklist that everybody working inside the kitchen must adhere to. Stairway prepared the checklist that was presented to the parents for comments and validation. It was read and explained to every new volunteer parent who tends the kitchen.

The next time you are having a difficult day remember her

Several patterns have been observed reflecting differences in daily attendance rates. During the first three months, we realized just how important the family bonds are. Family events seem to take significant precedent over attendance. In one such instance, over half of the elementary school was absent due to a wedding that took place in the community. Also it was interesting to see how the community values education. During examination periods the attendance rates spiked to nearly 95 children up nearly forty percent from their average levels. The third and most significant pattern was based off of teacher attendance. Without teacher facilitation, students are unsure what to do in the classroom and soon leave once it is apparent no instructor is coming. Unfortunately when this happens, siblings in other grades also leave. During the month of March, teachers were required to finish year end reporting for the students. Unfortunately the only facilities available for document submission are in town proper. Thus after examination several teachers stopped going to class. On the whole we are pleased with the results of SFI Feeding Program and hope to carry the momentum into the summer and the next school year.

My host mother teaching her pre-school class

The karabao is dropping off supplies at my castle (the nipa hut) just below the school.

The masons who helped to build the school ovens

Meetings with the children before the first day of feeding

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