The fifth of ten children in her family's household located in in Mandaon, in Masbate, one of the Philippines’ poorest provinces, Bhing-Bhing was forced to drop out of school when she was in Grade 1, aged just ten, because of the lengthy walking distance to school, difficulty with the subject matters, bullying, due to comparatively slow physical development, and family financial constraints.
When asked what her life was like at that time, she just smiled and said: “My day passes by in our house in the mountains with nothing to do but to crack Talisay nuts. The trees which bear the nut grow abundantly in the area.”
Her mother tried to enroll her again in school, but she was not admitted because she was over the maximum age for Grade 2. Her story is far from being out of the ordinary.
In the Philippines, about two million primary school-age children and adolescents remain out of school. Many come from the poorest, most marginalized areas of the Southeast Asian country.
The root causes behind out-of-school children or young people dropping out of educational establishments are often all too familiar; a lack of finances to pay for schooling costs, gender discrimination - namely the reliance on girls for domestic chores and care giving - child labor and other forms of exploitation, adolescent pregnancy, and the lack of quality education leading to children’s disinterest in their schooling.
In the Masbate Province alone, 42.5 per cent of the population – double the national average of 21 per cent – lives in poverty. According to the Philippines Statistics Agency, 24 per cent of children aged 13 -17 years were out of school. As The Filipino Child Policy Brief notes, a large proportion of those not in school are from the poorest quintile.
Luckily, eight years ago, Bhing-Bhing was gifted a second chance at education thanks to the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program which Dubai Cares operates in Barangays in the Philippines to attract out-of-school children back to the classroom.
The program primarily targets out-of-school children and youths (OSCYs), who are in need of basic and functional literacy skills, specifically, numeracy, writing, and reading. It also focuses on secondary basic education, lifelong learning, and skills development.
With the help of Dubai Cares, this program engages OSCYs, adults, those with disabilities, geographically-isolated learners, employed learners, and anybody wishing to continue learning.
For two years, Bhing-Bhing was enrolled in the Basic Literacy Program (BLP) until it stopped in her area. Years later the ALS program returned to her area thanks to the Dubai Cares-supported Real Assets through the RAISE (Real Assets Through Improved Skills and Education for Adolescent Girls) program and Bhing-Bhing was able to enroll again in ALS. At first, Bhing-Bhing found it difficult to identify letters, she did not know how to read and she was shy and seldom mingled with others.
Thanks to extra teaching she received with her instructional manager, after ten months her handwriting and reading have improved remarkably, although she needs more practice in math.
Bhing-Bhing does not currently vote because she struggles with literacy, but her mother is hopeful that they will be able to assist her in the future and her daughter will be able to exercise her right to vote.
Her mother is thankful that her daughter is able to continue her learning through ALS and the RAISE project. Today, her daughter - like many other students under program - has a brighter, more hopeful future, thanks to education initiative implemented by Dubai Cares.