In its effort to help more poor but bright students finish school, Tzu Chi Philippines expands its Educational Assistance Program and adds over 500 more deserving students from elementary to college.
To support indigent youth in attaining education, Tzu Chi Foundation, Philippines opened its Educational Assistance Program in 1995 for Chinese students in elementary and secondary. In 2005, the scholarship program was opened for Filipino children as well as for students in college level.
According to recent news reports from the local media, a study conducted by the Commission on Higher Education (CHED) revealed that eight out of ten high school graduates in the country were not able to continue to college in the past fifteen years.
It was also found out that 40 per cent of the high school students who have entered college are not able to graduate due to the worsening poverty situation in the country.
In its effort to help more poor but bright students finish school, Tzu Chi Philippines expands its Educational Assistance Program and adds over 500 more deserving students from elementary to college in different areas in Metro Manila and in the impoverished community of Dreamland in Rosario, Cavite for the school year 2010-2011.
A big majority of these scholars come from Marikina City which was hit the hardest by Typhoon 'Ondoy' (Ketsana) last year. The residents, who already had deprived lives to begin with, struggled to claim back their normal lives after the deluge.
Tzu Chi helped ease the hardships of the locals by launching various relief efforts in three barangays of Nangka, Malanday and Tumana like the cash-for-work program that paid the residents PhP400 a day for about three weeks of cleaning their mud-laden community.
Aside from helping them at the wake of the disaster, Master Cheng Yen, founder of Tzu Chi Foundation, wanted the residents of Marikina to fully recover and improve their livelihood, hence, Tzu Chi launched another cash-for-work program this year for the needy families in Marikina who mostly are newly enlisted Filipino volunteers of the foundation.
Also, through the scholarship to be provided to about 350 deserving students from Marikina this year, Tzu Chi hopes that the disadvantaged families being supported will have less to worry about and will shoulder less burdens in their lives.
The application for the Educational Assistance Program for Marikina students started last April after which came the evaluation of each application. Scholars enrolled at private schools are granted full tuition fee support while those enrolled in public schools will be given daily allowance, and will be provided with funds for books, school projects, transportation, and uniforms if needed.
On May 29, Tzu Chi Philippines awarded the certificates of the scholarship grant to more than 700 students it is to sustain this year. The awarding took place at the Still Thoughts Hall Auditorium which was also attended by some donors, parents, 46 Tzu Chi volunteers, Tzu Chi Youth and staff, and about 60 Filipino volunteers from Marikina.
Last year, Tzu Chi had a little over 100 scholars utilizing about PhP4 Million of funds. As the number of scholars increased significantly this year, the foundation works even hard to solicit donations to fund the college scholars each of whom needs an average of P40, 000 for this school year; a high school student who has to have P14, 000, and a grade school student who needs P6, 000.
"We are still short on funds but when I was asked if the awarding of the scholarship grants should be pushed through today, I said it should be," Tzu Chi Philippines Chief Executive Officer Alfredo Li told the new and old scholars of the foundation.
As a round of applause sounded off from the audience, Mr. Li asked a simple wish from the students.
"We have not reached the needed amount but we are bravely taking on this challenge. We hope that you'll study hard so that one day you'll find a good job and be able to help your family. Master Cheng Yen said that we should give without expecting anything in return but, I, personally, have a small expectation from you. I hope someday, after you graduate and got a good life, you'll also sponsor the studies of one student in need and continue what we call the 'circulation of love'," Mr. Li said.
One Tzu Chi volunteer who oversees the fund-raising effort of Tzu Chi Foundation said that all Tzu Chi volunteers have been persistently working hard to solicit donations from their relatives and friends hoping to reach the needed amount of PhP12 Million.
She also said that despite the poor situation of the economy, a lot of people have pledged their support just so Filipino students will have a chance to study.
"Even if we have not hit the target amount yet, we will not give up even one of the scholars because education should not be delayed," the Tzu Chi volunteer said.
One Tzu Chi volunteer who has worked hard in encouraging people to donate for the scholars had his efforts paid off as he was able to get donors for nine college students, eight high school and eight elementary students.
"For 6,000, 14, 000 or 40,000, can we not give these deserving students a chance?" the Tzu Chi volunteer declared, adding that what inspired him to solicit funds was the story of Master Cheng Yen who saw a pool of blood in a hospital.
"My sister-in-law, whom I've encouraged to donate, texted me and thanked me so much for giving her a chance to do good deeds," he added.
Hopes to return kindness
In the program before the actual awarding of certificates, scholars who have graduated from college shared their deep gratitude to the people who have supported their education.
"Thank you to the donors, uncles and aunties who helped me graduate. As a scholar of Tzu Chi, I learned a lot of values which, hopefully, I will be able to pass on to my fellow workers and friends," said Maynard Sy, who has finished Engineering from Far Eastern University- East Asia College.
Certificates of Recognition and gifts were also given to the graduate students. Six grade school, 13 high school and one college students who graduated with honors were also given gifts, cash and certificates.
"I am thankful to the donors and to Tzu Chi because, without them, I would've stopped from school and work instead. And maybe, I would've just gone to school after I've already saved enough. I hope that next time, I will also be able to help others," said 16-year-old Citrine Eleonor Tee who graduated high school from Philippine Cultural College with first honors.
Meanwhile, another Tzu Chi scholar Rigell Capisen, who graduated from high school as valedictorian at Philippine Buddhacare Academy, shared her indebtedness to her older brother who stopped from college to work and support her studies.
"Our family is really struggling. I'd feel really guilty if I would always depend on my brother who is also saving for himself. That is why I study very hard," said the 16-year-old Capisen.
For college, Capisen will be studying at University of Sto. Tomas with Communication Arts as course. Now on her second year as Tzu Chi scholar, Capisen is very grateful that she will be able to go to college without fully depending on her older brother.
"I am thankful that I was given a chance to continue school. Thank you to the uncles and aunties because I know that life is tough nowadays and it is also hard to accumulate funds but I am grateful to them for their willingness to help. For our part, we really need to study hard," Capisen stated.
The certificates for the scholarship grant were then handed to 172 elementary, 154 high school and 162 college students.
Over 200 elementary and high school students from Dreamland will also be getting the certificates granting their scholarship in the upcoming days. However, the three of the four college scholars were present at the awarding that day.
"The people in our community were losing hope in life. A lot of children scavenged for scraps and adults fished for a living. When Tzu Chi came, their outlook in life changed. Many of the children now go to school and the others, instead of idling their time away like what they used to do, now make doormats and rugs," said Erlyn Joy Garcia.
Now on her second year in college, 17-year-old Garcia studies at Cavite State University and has been supported by Tzu Chi since last year. Her parents make a living through the livelihood program of doormat-making that Tzu Chi has employed in their area starting last year.
"The gambling habit of my neighbours lessened because of the lessons taught by Tzu Chi. Instead of gambling they just do things that are helpful to their livelihood," Garcia said.
"I was once a simple child. I did not expect that Tzu Chi will come in our lives. They are such a blessing. Because of them, I am able to study in college hoping that, in the future, we will not only be the poor people that we are and rise from being receivers to giver of help," added Garcia whose father was also helped by Tzu Chi medically.
Challenged lives helped
Some donors of Tzu Chi's Educational Assistance Program who were present at the program also participated in handing over the certificates. One special Tzu Chi scholar shared her thankfulness to the people who fund her education.
"This scholarship will be very beneficial for me to finish school because I don't have parents who will provide for my education. To the donors of Tzu Chi Foundation, thank you very much. Were it not for them, no one will help the people who are in great need like us. I am very grateful to be a scholar of Tzu Chi Foundation," said Dianne Mallari, 17.
A new scholar of Tzu Chi this year, Mallari struggled to live a normal life because of her disability. In 2005, Mallari's left leg was amputated because of bone cancer and now uses crutches to support her stance and help herself walk.
Though physically challenged, Mallari still graduated from high school at NOH School for Crippled Children as valedictorian. As she now enters college, to be studying AB Literature in University of Sto. Tomas, Mallari shared her excitement in going to a renowned school with the help of Tzu Chi.
"For me, as a Tzu Chi scholar, I promise that despite being physically challenged, I will study hard at the best of my abilities. After school, I will look for a good job and return to others all the help given to me in any way possible," Mallari said.
Aside from her physical condition, Mallari also bears the loss of both her parents. After she was born, Mallari suffered the loss of her father, while her mother died at the age of seven.
Since then, Mallari was taken under the care of her relatives until she was diagnosed with the disease and underwent surgery at the Philippine Orthopedic Hospital where she now stays. The hospital has a dormitory for physically challenged people like Mallari.
Meanwhile, a student from Barangay Nangka, Marikina also got his certificate of scholarship grant and was very happy to be accepted as one of the Tzu Chi scholars this year as he now enters college at Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) with Bachelor in Journalism as his course.
"This (scholarship) will be of really big help to our family. My parents' hope is that all three of us will finish school but that has not been fulfilled up to now because my older brothers had to stop from school and work. As the youngest, my mother aspires that I fulfill their dream because, for her, education is the most valuable treasure she can leave me," Raymundo Laddaran, 16, said.
Laddaran was among the participants of the recently concluded Filipino Tzu Chi Youth Camp where he said he learned a great deal of lessons like filial piety.
"I did not apply for the scholarship (of Tzu Chi) only for the financial assistance but also for their support on the development of my personality. The past seminars that I have attended have gradually changed my character so I think that that will be the biggest help I'll have from Tzu Chi," Laddaran stated.
Nineteen-year-old Haseena Mahilom, who is an incoming sixth grade student, was also granted scholarship that day and once more took the stage to give inspiration by sharing her story.
Filipino volunteer from Barangay Nangka Angie Villanueva, whose two children were also accepted in Tzu Chi's Educational Assistance Program, also called on the scholars to not waste the assistance being extended by Tzu Chi.
A video clip of Master Cheng Yen's Talk about Nurturing the Seed of Goodness Within was then showed. To further inspire the scholars to study hard for the betterment of their lives, one Tzu Chi volunteer spoke about the efforts of the foundation in making their dreams possible.
"Soliciting funds is not that easy so please do your best while studying... Each certificate you received means the love of thousands of our fellowmen," said the volunteer after describing the efforts of the locals of Marikina when making monthly contributions.
After offering a solemn prayer, the scholars were given school bags and a few school supplies. Eleven-year-old Cherry Mae Marcos was among the students who happily received new school supplies from the Tzu Chi volunteers and donors.
Thankful for the scholarship granted to her, Marcos shared what she would do to make Tzu Chi's educational assistance worth it.
"I will do all my home works and come to school everyday," said the incoming fifth grade student from Barangay Nangka.
Marcos' mother was tearful for the scholarship grant given to her daughter since her husband has a new family now and supports them irregularly with alimony worth PhP3, 000 a month.
Even though she would like to find a job, Marcos' mother could not leave her five-year-old son who has mild autism alone.
"The scholarship is a really big help as I really want my daughter to go to school. Life is very hard that is why I am very thankful for the assistance given to my daughter. I truly cannot provide for her studies since the support given by her father is not enough.
Coin cans were also distributed to those who want to adopt," said Cherry Leonor, 33.
Tzu Chi volunteers also handed out activity sheets to the scholars and parents to inform them of the upcoming events they could join. Coin cans were also distributed to those who want to adopt.
Inspired by the words of a Tzu Chi volunteer, Capisen, who already got a coin can in the past youth camp, shared her thoughts in continuing the circulation of love.
"Even though you drop one peso a day, what is important is that you remember to drop one seed of love," Capisen concluded.
As they embark on another challenging undertaking, the Tzu Chi volunteers pray for strength and wisdom in accumulating goodness and blessing from all people—rich and poor—to create a cycle of kindness and make the dreams of the needy families come true with even just a drop of compassion.