Thirty-Three years, three chairmen, 1,200 students from urban poor families sent to school via the Off the Streets, Off to School program.
That’s Phil-Asia Assistance Foundation Inc. (PAAFI), the nonprofit founded by the late Roberto M. Lopez in 1986, in a nutshell.
Now headed by chairman Maritess Lopez, PAAFI aims to help even more Filipino students get an education in a landscape changed, for better or worse, by the K-12 program and the Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act.
The Universal Access to Quality Tertiary Education Act that took effect in 2018 widens the door for PAAFI scholars to enter almost a dozen state colleges and universities (SUCs). In the National Capital Region where PAAFI operates, these SUCs include the University of the Philippines (UP), Polytechnic University of the Philippines and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila.
This school year, a total of 29 PAAFI beneficiaries will get a shot at enrolling in these SUCS after hurdling their respective college entrance exams, reports PAAFI president Atty. Amie Amado.
Four of these students were accepted into UP, making it PAAFI’s best performance in the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT) ever, Amado adds.
Even as it celebrates this milestone, PAAFI looks to make use of newer methods, specifically video reviewers, to further improve students’ performance in college entrance exams.
The foundation had sent its best students to a review center in order to prepare them for the college entrance exams and give them a fighting chance against their private school counterparts. The undertaking was made possible by a donation from the Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation, which was facilitated by Lopez Group chairman Manuel M. Lopez (MML).
“How can our students compete if they don’t get the same opportunity? But the result was that they had difficulties, they were seeing a lot of the review materials for the first time,” says Amado, who also serves as Lopez Holdings Corporation’s head of Legal.
This prompted PAAFI to look for a more efficient alternative to the review centers. It has taken steps to work with a Japanese foundation that had produced an UPCAT video reviewer in 2013, before the K-12 implementation. The plan is to supplement the Japanese foundation’s original reviewer with material from the senior high school curriculum. But, for now, PAAFI will use the existing video reviewer for its beneficiaries.
“We want to give them a leg up because the free tuition in state colleges and universities is the opportunity for them to get there, to have a college education,” Amado says.
Seen to benefit from this project are about 60 graduating high school students, the PAAFI president adds.
Sponsoring a child
The relationship between sponsor and scholar can conceivably be a long-term one, lasting through six years of grade school and another six years of high school.
Thus, potential scholars as well as their parents or guardians are vetted twice; first, by PAAFI’s parish partners and second, by the PAAFI panel.
“First and foremost, the child really wants to go to school and the parents also want the child to go to school. And, as much as possible at least one parent is working because if both parents do not work, whatever allowance that’s supposed to go to the child will just be spent for the family,” Amado emphasizes.
Once the child passes the screening, he or she is assigned to a sponsor.
“We’ve also had sponsors tell us who they want to sponsor. For instance, we had someone who wanted to sponsor a child he saw on the street. The child was outside of Metro Manila, so we found a way to be able to give an allowance and monitor him because the donor had wanted to help that particular child,” Amado recalls.
A sponsor shells out P8,000 per year per scholar, with P7,000 going directly to the child in the form of a P700 monthly allowance.
“For the longest time we were just focused on giving the child an allowance. It was only recently that we said, what else can we give the child to help him with his academics, to help his family at minimal cost? We don’t want to take away too much from the allowance, which was only P500 for the longest time.”
PAAFI allocates the rest of the amount to extras and expenses such as medical and dental checkups to ensure the child’s health and well-being, annual Christmas parties with giveaways, and even livelihood training for the parents.
In 2015, PAAFI added another perk for its scholars—a portable library that it initially set up in two parishes. The “seed” that kickstarted the project was a gift of several books from Philippine Science High School students.
Today, PAAFI has 23 portable libraries, each containing about 250 books. The foundation rotates the libraries among the parishes to ensure a fresh batch of reading materials for the children when they come to claim their monthly allowance.
“Every six months the kids have a new set of books to borrow. We’re trying to encourage them to read as studies have shown that readers have higher grades in school. Most schools don’t have a lot of reading materials in their libraries, so that’s one way we help them with their academics,” Amado notes.
The latest contribution to the portable libraries, a batch of 500 books from employees of Sumitomo-Mitsui Banking Corporation’s Manila branch, was also facilitated by MML. The books were turned over to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Pasay in 2018.
“We’ve also had a lot of books from employees in the Lopez Group. A call center donated books to us as their project. Some students ask for books from their classmates to donate to us,” Amado shares.
PAAFI also continuously looks for backers for its incentives program, where they take the children to museums, parks or film showings. The sponsor normally shoulders the cost of the meals and transportation.
It is also during such activities that former scholars revisit their benefactor, reunite with the PAAFI staff who shepherded them through their years as young students, and, to some extent, pay it forward.
“They come whenever we have activities, like the Christmas party; that’s for all 1,200 kids so they’re there to volunteer. When we have other projects, they’re there,” Amado smiles.
The crop of former PAAFI scholars includes young men and women who are presently taking their graduate studies in top schools in Metro Manila. One beneficiary, meanwhile, will soon be completing his PhD from a university overseas.
“You have these gifted kids, kids who really want to study, improve their lot in life. When you sponsor, you’re going to take them out of the cycle of poverty that their family is in. We’re seeing that with our beneficiaries, especially those who went to college.”
Cup of latte
For those who are thinking of sponsoring a child or two, Amado assures: “It doesn’t take much to be able to help change another person’s life for the better. You’re only going to be giving up a weekly cup of latte, that’s it. You give that up and you’re helping improve someone’s life for the better.”