PAAFI: A helping hand for the youthClemen Zerrudo first became a scholar of Phil-Asia Assistance Foundation Inc. (PAAFI) as a sixth grader in the 1990s. The young Taguig resident received her monthly stipend through the social worker assigned to her case and her parish church.
She would write letters to the sponsor, sharing tidbits about her progress in school. During the holiday season, her sponsor would treat her to a restaurant meal and they would bond. Over the years, a succession of sponsors continued to help Zerrudo by subsidizing her studies until she obtained her college diploma.
Zerrudo presently holds down an office job with the very same foundation that supported her for much of her student life—PAAFI.
Zerrudo is just one of the thousands of Filipino children that has benefited, and continues to benefit, from PAAFI’s Off the Streets, Off to School program.
PAAFI was the “baby” of Roberto M. Lopez (RML) which he set up when he returned to the Philippines, recalls Presentacion L. Psinakis (PLP) who now serves as chair of PAAFI.
While in exile in the US during the martial law years, RML had worked with the nonprofit organization Philippine International Aid (PIA) founded by his friend Mona Lisa Yuchengco.On a Mind Museum tour in 2015
When martial law was lifted in 1986, 35-year-old RML returned to the Philippines. He established PAAFI—the local counterpart of PIA—as his contribution to rebuilding the country. The fledgling foundation envisioned “today’s disadvantaged children growing into well-rounded and responsible citizens of tomorrow.”
In particular, PAAFI sought to support “elementary, high school and college students who expressly desire to finish their studies but come from financially disadvantaged but supportive families.”
The foundation sourced funds locally while PIA pursued American donors. Since he was also a director of the Lopez Museum, RML set up PAAFI’s first headquarters within the facility.
The foundation’s centerpiece Off the Streets, Off to School program steadily grew its list of beneficiaries, mostly children from urban poor families based in Metro Manila. From 100 scholars in 1987, the number had more than tripled by 1990. By this time, PAAFI was also running a shelter for street children on Mabini Street in Malate.
“It operated for two years until Robby (RML) passed away. Then it was closed and we concentrated on the scholarships,” PLP says.
Today, PLP works with a lean but dedicated team: lawyer Maria Amina Amado, who serves as PAAFI president, and board members Yvonne Yuchengco, Lito Banaag Jr. and Margarita Fragante, who was one of the incorporators of the foundation in the 1980s.
Elections and EDSA
With the country on the brink of holding presidential elections two months from now and the 30th anniversary of the EDSA Revolution just passed, PLP is understandably adamant about the need to arm young Filipinos with knowledge.
“Now we’re talking about martial law again. We have to keep reminding the young people as some of them were not even born yet,” stresses the only daughter of Lopez Group founder Eugenio Lopez Sr.
(As her father had his countless advocacies, PLP too has education; she is also a veteran of many an anti-Marcos and anti-corruption picket line. The streak has apparently been inherited by her children Rogy, Michael, Yuri and Geni, all of whom have their own pet causes ranging from children, nature and the environment and art.)Scholars happily show off the books at the Mary Mother of the Church Parish portable library
More college graduates
PAAFI and its donors have seen a total of 11,523 students enrolled in school from 1986 to 2014.
For the current school year, PAAFI has 1,259 scholars, more than half of whom are grade school students; of these, 173 are slated to graduate this year. Forty-five of the 483 scholars in high school will also don their togas come the end of the school year.
Perhaps most fulfilling of all, PAAFI donors will pump more college graduates into the country’s workforce as 21 of their 92 scholars are expected to receive their diplomas this year.
For its accomplishments in its field, the Department of Education-National Capital Region in 2014 had cited PAAFI as a “valued partner and benefactor in promoting accessible and quality education for all” during its inaugural Gawad Parangal at Pasasalamat.
Parish priests, social workers and/or active parishioners endorse prospective beneficiaries in their area to PAAFI. PAAFI’s parish partners screen them and their families. Each prospective beneficiary must have supportive parents who want their child to be able to finish school, and at least one parent who has a regular source of income. This is a way of ensuring that the monthly allowance will be used for the beneficiary’s schooling needs.
Scholars ready for a KidZania Manila treatOn the donor’s part, they can pledge P6,000 a year for six years for a child to complete either grade school or high school. A one-time donation of P6,000, on the other hand, will cover a scholar’s expenses for a full school year.
“In the public schools the students don’t pay tuition, but they have to pay for the transportation to go back and forth to school, they have to spend for uniforms, books, baon and other miscellaneous expenses—all that already comes from the P6,000. It’s not much,” Fragante says of the pledge amount.
Training in sharing
“If your seven- or eight-yearold child receives a scholar’s letter, that’s also a way of training them to share,” she adds, noting that there are Lopez Group employees who pledge on behalf of their children.
Those with limited funds or who are simply interested in giving sponsorship a try are welcome to contribute any amount they can spare.
The donor regularly receives updates in the form of handwritten letters from the scholar and copies of his report card.
The PAAFI staff, which includes a licensed social worker and volunteer coordinators, checks up on the student both at home and in school. To expose the children to the world beyond their circumscribed environments, there are donors— including those who are based abroad—who spend their birthdays with the scholars, inviting them to their homes and workplaces and other places in the metro.
To prepare them for the year ahead, PAAFI even conducts medical and dental checkups for the beneficiaries before the school year starts.
“We’ve done it the past two years and it will be a regular activity going forward. We undertake this in partnership with other NGOs which provide the medical and dental professionals,” says PAAFI president Amado.
PAAFI beneficiaries choose books to borrow from the portable libraryMeanwhile, an incentives program further rewards students when they do especially well in school. They get to go on trips to museums and edutainment centers and take in plays and concerts courtesy of generous donors. Additionally, PAAFI arranges career orientation talks with accomplished individuals to help steer graduating high school students towards the college course that best fits their skills and interests.
Thus far, PAAFI has also produced engineers, accountants, teachers and nurses, reports overall program coordinator Fe Beltran. Two of these former scholars are now based abroad while another works for Petron.
Supporting the parents
“We also try to help the scholars’ parents by giving them livelihood training and workshops for them to be able to learn some skills that they can use to augment their income,” says Beltran, who has been with PAAFI since 1997.
If the parents are fit and able to work, PAAFI goes so far as to assist them in finding jobs or, if they’re already employed, help them get better- paying jobs. This way, the family is well placed to take on the responsibility of supporting college-age children instead of relying solely on the generosity of sponsors.
Amado says: “For example, we have a parent who started her pork barbecue business with a capital of a few hundred pesos; she was able to make it grow such that she was able to send her two daughters to college. We didn’t help her start a business, but it’s parents like her that makes one realize that it’s doable to have more beneficiaries get college degrees if we can help their parents earn enough.”
Books on the move
PAAFI has spread its wings to other endeavors. In late 2015, the foundation turned over portable libraries to the Mary Mother of the Church Parish in Camarin, Caloocan and the Holy Family Parish. Almost a hundred PAAFI scholars benefit from the books donated by Lopez Group employees and others who responded to PAAFI’s call.
The endeavor hopes to mold the scholars to become readers, as readers generally tend to do better academically compared with nonreaders, notes Amado.
The library will be transferred to another parish after six to eight months for other PAAFI scholars to make use of.
“Our goal is to be able to provide each of our over 20 parish partners with a portable library of at least 250 books,” Amado says. “Our beneficiaries will have the opportunity to borrow as many books as they want and return books once a month when they get their allowance.”
For the feisty and outspoken PLP, just seeing PAAFI’s children, especially on occasions such as her birthday or during their Christmas parties in Benpres Building, is already a reward in itself.
She says: “We have so many problems in this country, but it makes you feel very good to see them. That, for me, is really something.”
As PAAFI celebrates its 30th foundation anniversary later this year, the team hopes more sponsors will join the cause and fund more scholars. After all, a properly educated and globally competitive citizenry can only be good for the country.
With Operation Blessing Philippines, PAAFI conducted medical and dental missions for its beneficiaries