Category Archives: Blog

Saving Commander Bara Elementary School Brings New Life to a War Torn Community in Muslim Mindanao

On September 4, 2017, in a joyful ceremony with teachers, students and parents in attendance, Cmdr. Bara Jalaidi Elementary School in the area of armed conflict and severe poverty in Indanan Sulu, Philippines celebrated the inauguration of its newly renovated building. This facility that previously lacked a roof, windows, covered floors, chairs and tables offered harsh learning conditions for boys and girls eager to learn basic learning skills. With the persistence of new school leader, Nagz Sasapan, financial assistance from Asia America Initiative and donors, local craftsmen and village volunteers, Cmdr. Bara Jalaidi ES finally has become a comfortable school for its children.

For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof
For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof.

For more than twenty years under a blazing tropical sun or heavy monsoon rains, destructed school shack, children had to sit on a dirt or muddy floor and their parents were volunteering as teachers. The school, which was built during ongoing civil war encountered severe damages during the never-ending military confrontations, local violence and natural disasters. School head, Nagz Sasapan, remembered how challenging conditions were from the start. “No school building, no teachers and no books,” he says.

For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof
For years, Cmdr Bara school lacked a roof.

After Asia America Initiative intervened due to Principal Sasapan’s numerous appeals, two months of construction led to school children starting to experience humane and colorful classrooms. “This achievement is a symbol of what Sulu can be if everyone works together for the benefit of the next generations,” said AAI Director, Albert Santoli, “children will benefit from the legacy and labor of love by their parents, teachers and local officials.”

September 2017, celebrating a school reborn
September 2017, celebrating a school reborn.

The teachers and the parents devoted their time and effort to make sure their children attended school every day, even under deplorable conditions. That, in turn, inspired people from around the world to donate their hard-earned money and compassion to Asia America Initiative’s appeal. “If there will be peace and progress,” Santoli says, “the actions we take like here at Commander Bara Jalaidi Elementary School is the foundation of teamwork and trust needed for success.”

A letter from AAI Director Santoli at the school’s reopening
A letter from AAI Director Santoli at the school’s reopening.

(Photo on top: Principal Nagz Sapasan and his joyful students at Cmdr. Bara Elementary School.)

The Meaning of Eid al Adha and AAI as a Bridge

The reason I created AAI was to be a service provider in disadvantaged communities anywhere and to be an inter-cultural “bridge” for peace.  For Muslims the holiday of Eid al Adha honors  the prophet Abraham [Ibrahim],  who is also honored by Jews and Christians. We want all people to know they are unified under One Father. There is more that we have in common than divides us.  This simple article explains the beauty of Eid al Adha:  http://www.teenvogue.com/story/eid-al-adha-islamic-holiday-facts

LESSONS LEARNED: 2017 Hurricane Harvey, 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan

The two most powerful storms in recent memory are the current Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Louisiana and the 2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan in the Visayas Region of the Philippines. In both emergency situations, the true heroes have been ordinary people of humble backgrounds and local service providers who have made sacrifices needed to rescue their neighbours. Even though these areas are a half-planet distance from each other, the Ilongos and the Texans and Cajuns are distinguished by their unselfish attitudes and tireless acts of mutual support. These every day heroes have compensated for any lack of government resources. Resilient people are the key to survival and long-term rebuilding of devastated communities requires teamwork.

While I have relatives living in Houston who are displaced by the heavy rainfall and floods, in Cuartero, Capiz in the Philippines as director of Asia America Initiative I have had the good fortune to work for the past four years with hard-working landless farmers in rural upland areas damaged by Typhoon Haiyan. Rebuilding houses, schools and churches takes time, as we have learned after four years of solid effort by residents of all ages. We have overcome a lack of financial resources through maintaining humble Faith, our hands in the soil and a consistent enterprising attitude.

Malnourished children have been fed through school-based gardens with Grandmothers and Moms cooking daily lunches on-site. Everyone eats together, without exclusions. This has built unbreakable community bonds. Texas, although better off financially, will be faced with an arduous and at times frustrating recovery period.

 

Shared lessons learned: Teamwork and community-spirit beyond any politics is vital for rescue and recovery.

Education For Children With Special Needs Transforms A Community

In most developing communities, the access for children with learning disorders or special needs to quality education is sadly lacking. Since our founding, Asia America Initiative has placed an emphasis on education equity for all children in our beneficiary communities. The Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao is one of the most impoverished and underserved territories in the world. AAI and the province of Sulu’s Department of Education, with a 98 percent Muslim population and a poverty rate of well over 50 percent, has developed a model education program for children with special needs.

At the present in a climate of martial law, a fierce war on drugs by the government and the arrival of members of the ISIS terror organization seeking to recruit children as young as 11 and 12 years old, our compassionate and dedicated education programs serve as a deterrent to violence and extremist ideologies. We have found in more than a decade of providing holistic educational and health programs into communities often considered too dangerous to improve that success is possible.

At the Nursing Section of the Sulu Department of Education, Head Nurse Hja Shareen Lakibul says, “The reason for our success is because even with so many people who have suffered and are in need, the programs we are creating have fundamentally changed their attitudes about what is possible.  These programs – such as inclusion of children with special needs – have made the entire community think differently toward overcoming their fear of failure. A new attitude of joy and contentment has taken root, no matter how much they have suffered in the past.”

The Little Nurses of Sulu Inspire Their Communities

On August 17 and 18, the second group of 50 nurses’ assistants representing more than ten elementary schools concluded their training session to conduct first aid and promote safety measures in their schools. The girls and boys, between the ages of 10 and 12 years old, have become enthusiastic helpers of their school nurses. The Training, conducted by Red Cross volunteers, introduced them to healthy lifestyles and opening their young minds to consider careers in public health services.

The training for “mini nurses” is crucial to places such as the Philippine islands of Sulu where unstable militancy and natural disasters seem to be never-ending. By empowering the 4th to 6th graders, their joyful awareness of public health reaches the whole community and creates a continuous source of health services.

The Mini Nurses program on Jolo island is supported by the private NGO, Asia America Initiative, the Sulu Department of Education, the Red Cross, local nurses, teachers and college volunteers. The program has expanded in its second year from three schools to almost thirty. The recent mass training is the first community-wide “Child To Child” [C2C] peer learning opportunity since the idea blossomed in 2014.

Red Cross volunteers and the Sulu’s Department of Education school nurses instructed attentive mini nurses how to create bandages for head wounds in the case of earthquakes or other natural disasters. “The children’s focus speaks highly of the encouragement from their families and teachers in their communities,” AAI Director Albert Santoli said.

The program is intended to prepare future generations of healthcare professionals within isolated communities. This is essential in rural areas where public health is not available. Positive results, starting with a positive attitude, are already apparent.

Fukushima Radiation Crisis

Fukushima Radiation Crisis

NGO Community-Based Partnerships Improve Lives of Typhoon Survivors

IWP Professor and Asia America Initiative President Al Santoli’s  recent field work visit to Philippines was a very effective model of citizen diplomacy under difficult bi-lateral political conditions.  The following report describes our warm relationships between AAI and  local communities in strategic provinces while US – Philippines relations on an official level are deteriorating; where there is a growing local communist insurgency; and near the coast where Chinese military forces are advancing.   While a fierce anti-drug campaign is being waged and the thousands of deaths are criticized,  the Philippine government retaliated with insisting the US military scale back or depart their temporary bases.  In a follow-up blog I will explain how  AAI programs are creating peace zones in both Christian and Muslim cultural areas where ISIS is on the offensive and children ae being recruited into terror training.  Many of our schools are now winning District and regional awards in academics, athletics and health & hygiene.  This is our campaign against terror and drug gangs.  We do this without one penny of US Government or Philippine Government funds.  It is also the fundamental methodology of the IWP’s Center for Culture and Freedom that is coordinated by AAI Director and IWP Professor Santoli. 

Dear AAI:  Thank you for giving us books, seeds, rubber slippers [sandals] and school supplies.  We appreciate your concern for us.  We promise we will study hard.  Thank you and God bless.” Noel C., Grade 6 pupil, Catig-Lacadon Elementary

In November,  2013 Super Typhoon Haiyan devastated the central Philippines islands and coastal areas.  Brutal 200 mph winds and 30 foot storm surges [tidal waves] made Haiyan the most devastating storm in recorded history. Some 9 million people were rendered homeless and hundreds of schools and clean water systems were destroyed. As we approach the third anniversary, many communities and schools are still in recovery.  Asia America Initiative is one of the few international humanitarian organizations that is still in full operational mode in the countryside areas of  Iloilo and Capiz provinces.  Even before the storm, the poverty rate of agricultural workers and small farmers was rampant and the malnutrition rate of children, whether of the Ilongo ethnic group or the mountain hill tribes was well over 50 percent. In his recent visit to some 10 school districts or village schools in those areas, AAI Director Albert Santoli found the malnutrition rate is now below 10 percent. held community meetings with teachers and parents to better understand and adapt these model programs for a wider outreach and scope of services. Principal Rowena Siverstre Ortizo of Catig-Lacadon Elementary in Duenas, Iloilo, says: “Thank you so much for the continued feeding programs of AAI The parents and students look forward to school each day because our schools have become true centers of health and learning. Our children’s health directly affects their school attendance and classroom performance. We are so blessed and grateful to be one of your recipient schools.”

Thank you for giving us garden tools, books and many school supplies.  Many children are very happy because in afternoons pupils come to library and read books.”  Ann P., Grade 6 Pupil, Aurora-Araneta Elementary

In addition to food and clean water, the education, sports and health needs in damaged schools are being replenished.  Student’s fathers do volunteer construction and renovation of buildings destroyed in the mega-storm.   In Cuartero, Capiz the results have been dramatic. “I have been to Carataya Elementary School, San Antonio Elementary and Maindang Elementary School conducting the pre-assessment in Math and English,”  says Dr. Luz Rojas Mayo of the Curatero Department of Education.  “I am happy to inform you that the said schools are now improving in terms of their health status as well on their academic performance. We are so blessed for the continuous support of AAI and our community mobilization campaigns.”  The recovery of Capiz province schools which were heavily damaged by the super typhoon has has been made possible by the generosity of foundation donors and private citizens. The key catalyst for success is partnership of AAI with local civic groups, village officials and parents and teachers at under-supplied schools.

“Thank you, Sir Albert Santoli and your friends for giving the food to my classmates and other children in this school Catig-Lacadon.  We love you because you help this school.  We remember you wherever you are going to help many children in their places.  God bless you and your friends’ families.”  Juna Lyn R., 5th Grade, Catig-Lacadon

The new 2016-17 school year began in mid-June. Each school now has a water tank and wash basins to provide for adequate sanitation. The quality of drinking water has dramatically improved, reducing water-borne and mosquito related illnesses. AAI and our donor-partners are viewed as reliable friends while communities re-establish farming and fishing as means of livelihood and basic sustenance. In September AAI added a new component to the rebuilding of western Visayas — support to schools to keep youths away from drug addiction and to assist the police to reduce violence in the country-wide war on drugs.  AAI’s Coordinator in Visayas, Nurse Faith Omel Dela Torre also works with the national police on the coastal Sebaste District, a frontline of the government’s anti-drug campaign.  “We are coordinating with the police to distribute books, classroom supplies and games in isolated public schools,”  Nurse Faith explains.

“The Sebaste police station officers would like to thank AAI for the generosity. The program is titled, “Oplan Ikaaram sang Kabaataan”… Ikaaram means knowledge and kabataan means children.  Everyone is very happy that AAI is part of this initiative of PNP [Philippine National Police].”

We are preparing for one more year of typhoon recovery programs until Christmas of 2017.  Our goal is for these hard working communities to get fully back on their feet.  We humbly ask you to join us through your ongoing support to build our school-based programs in Duenas and Capiz into Global Models of Excellence for Natural Disaster Recovery.

The Strange Case of Joseph Kony and the Role of Trust in Development Work

When people work for or donate to NGOs, they often want to know what they can do to see if their actions are getting things done – that is, whether they can really trust the organization. That was certainly one of my concerns when I joined Asia America Initiative at the beginning of the summer. Before I continue, does anyone else remember Kony 2012? If you don’t, the gist is that Kony 2012 was a public awareness campaign designed to lobby for world leaders to take action against a Ugandan warlord named Joseph Kony, infamous for recruiting child soldiers.

It later turned out, of course, that the campaign was essentially a scam. The international community was already fully aware of Kony, who had actually himself been inactive for years at that point. Most of the donations and profits from merchandise went toward the Kony 2012 staff’s salaries, and the campaign was heavy on social media posts while remaining light on action. I recall that from then on, people laughed at the idea that raising awareness or creating networks was an important goal for charity work.

Fortunately, my fears weren’t warranted when it came to AAI. Interning at Asia America Initiative gave me a completely new perspective on how development works in the real world. I learned that incidents like Kony 2012 shouldn’t be taken as definitive proof that all charity needs to be based on cold, robotic utilitarianism. Building relationships is, in fact, vital to creating effective development programs. The problem with Kony 2012 was not the tools, but the intent. AAI does not use outreach and social media to achieve wide public recognition, but to accomplish its goals.

As an AAI intern, I saw that a focus on building trust and connections with both the people our organization helps and potential donors to our projects can help a small but dedicated NGO like ours make lasting changes. A child will receive life-saving liver surgery thanks to donation requests we made via Facebook. One of my duties was to write and revise a letter of inquiry to foundations that could provide us with the money to buy the hundreds of children with school supplies we donate to schools each year. Without maintaining relationships with people in the Philippines who otherwise might not have trusted us, we would not be in a position to make real differences in their communities. You can tell whether trust an organization using a website like Charity Navigator to test for transparency – but if you want to be absolutely sure, look for personal investment and dedication. The chance to work for AAI is a chance to be part of an organization that has proven it cares.

Their Success is Our Success–from Students in Sulu, Philippines

During the last week of March, more than 30,000 students from AAI-assisted elementary schools, high schools, and colleges in Sulu, Philippines celebrated their graduation and promotion. Their outstanding achievement is a measure of our success and a great motivation for us to continue working for the inter-faith communities.

On behalf of students, teachers, and parents, we send our heartfelt gratitude to all of our donors and loyal friends. We are now developing programs for the new school year, which will begin in June 2016.

12935267_10207614469812050_1041695875_n12939676_10207614420090807_2069191038_n12957129_10207614469132033_1174601215_n