Leslie Boncay was born and raised in a farm in Bicol during the mid-90s. When she was in Grade 4, her mother was diagnosed with rectal cancer, forcing her parents to relocate Leslie and her siblings to Manila. The two sisters lived with their grandmother, who in turn was already housing five families of her children and grandchildren.
Residing in an urban poor community under the Paco Bridge in Quirino Highway, it was during these times when Leslie learned how to study with only a makeshift lamplight or a flashlight if they could afford the batteries. Their father patiently took care of their mother for three years until the latter finally succumbed to her illness. Since then, each morning was a daily grind to make-do with their grandmother’s pension, which had to be split with her many uncles, aunts and cousins.
Last March 2011, however, Leslie graduated from the Jesuit-run ERDA (Educational Research Development Assistance) Technical and Vocational School (ERDA Tech) — a vocational high school under the specialization of Food, Beverage and Servicing. Thanks to her high school course, Leslie was given a rare experience to train under the tutelage of famous Filipina chef Reggie Aspiras and was assigned to work in Cakes and Bakes. Grabbing the opportunity, Leslie continued working for the company even after her practicum hours were done and saved enough to enroll herself in PUP. Whenever her family would find itself unable to support Leslie, she would work part-time in the company where she learned that trust is earned through hard work, expertise, loyalty and service.
Leslie is just a portrait of our country’s at-risk students, those who face enormous obstacles to achieve academically in school due to their low socioeconomic standing. Eric Jensen, author of the book, Teaching with Poverty in Mind, shared that a “study of students who grow up amid economic insecurity often face many obstacles: parents without education, lack of healthy attachments, lack of cognitive stimulation, lack of enrichment activities, violent neighborhoods and lack of access to medical resources.”
It’s truly a wonder then how Leslie’s very small and little-known school in Pandacan, Manila — ERDA Tech — has made remarkable achievements and has left a lasting impact to the lives of its students. ERDA Tech is a private, non-profit, sponsorship-driven secondary school for poor students. Unlike public schools or foundation schools, ERDA Tech offers more than basic, secondary education. Its strategic edge lies in its integrated academic-technical curriculum, meaning students devote additional hours to develop and hone a technical-vocational skill on top of the required DepEd academic subjects.
At the end of their 5th year, after mastering a skill and expending two quarters working for a real company as part of the Dual Training System of TESDA, each graduate finishes with an academic diploma and a certificate of mastery that would ensure that they are able to find a job immediately. These students are then given a viable option to skip college and choose instead to work their families out of poverty at the soonest possible time. The school thus directly and purposefully prepares each student for the world of work as solution to poverty.
French-born Jesuit, Fr. Pierre Tritz, S.J., branded by former President Corazon Aquino as the Philippines’ Mother Teresa, founded the school in 1993. At 97 years old, Fr. Tritz’ benefactors and source of support have unfortunately lessened, due largely to the ongoing global recession.
During its peak, ERDA Tech had 75 percent of its students under direct sponsorship by individuals and organizations. At present, that number was reduced to 45 percent translating to a loss of P5 million yearly. “Money is the nerve of the war,” Fr. Tritz would quote Napoleon, qualifying that his war is to save the Filipino youth, his countrymen by choice. Despite the dwindling international support and contribution for Fr. Tritz’ scholars, what is remarkable is that the Jesuit-supervised ERDA Tech has continued on its mission of ensuring a better life for the poor.
Most notable of these achievements was ERDA Tech’s impressive placing of being the 12th highest-scoring school among all private schools in the district of Manila during the 2010 National Achievement Test - besting many other well-funded private schools in the same district. This was a pole vault jump from #36 in 2008 and #24 in 2009. Of the top 12 schools in the list, ERDA Tech is the only private school for poor scholars and it would be safe to assume that it is the only school in the top 12 list without textbooks.
Further analysis of ERDA Tech’s NAT results reveals that the school would have placed much higher had its students scored higher in Math and Science. ERDA Tech teachers attribute the low score to the lack of textbooks, the presence of which could have encouraged students to practice drills and exercises.
Calculating the needs for ERDA Tech’s textbooks, the school would only need a minimum amount of P500,000 so that each batch of students could at least share these resources among themselves. This would at the very least, ensure a 1:1 textbook-student ratio per class.
ERDA Tech and Leslie’s story offer a glimmer of hope as it proves that the poor can achieve as long as there is enough support for innovative practices. Poverty, after all is a complex problem demanding fresh and creative solutions. Investing in the right school that offers unique approaches to structural problems is the most effective solution to address the Information and Wealth Gap of our country.
You may support ERDA Tech’s goal of raising the minimum amount of P500,000 to purchase textbooks by donating to its BPI Account Number BPI Peso Savings Acct No: 0153-2317-61 (for Peso donations), BPI US Dollar Savings Acct No: 0154-0103-35 (for US Dollar donations). SWIFT CODE: BOPI-PHMM. Both accounts are under the name of ERDA Tech Foundation, Inc. You may email a scanned copy of the transaction receipt to erdatechprinci email@example.com. You may also want to learn more about ERDA Tech and be updated about current events through its website (w4.xs.edu.ph/erda/).
Harry Kemp once said, “the poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream.” Help poor students believe that they could still dream in our country through an educational system that doesn’t promote dole-outs and mendicancy but one that hones its students to the value of discipline, hard work, and determination through secondary education and technical-vocational training. Through your support, ERDA Tech makes sure that education will work for our country’s youth.
Only the poor can help themselves but not alone, the Focolare Economy of Communion revealed. This New Year, let’s resolve to help the least of our brethren, as Jesus Christ had commanded us.
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Chair Wrecker email and website: firstname.lastname@example.org and www. chairwrecker.com