This month, our team sat down with Sister Eva in Minglanilla Boystown to get an update on how the boys are doing, their most urgent needs, and how the children are progressing in their education.
In July, 367 new boys were welcomed into the school in Minglanilla. These youngsters are from the most deprived regions throughout Cebu and many are from rural communities where families struggle to make a living as climate change and adverse weather events increasingly affect crop production. Most recently this has included the terrible landslides witnessed in the region. This leaves families without produce to sell or eat, and often homeless.
The new boys at school are doing well. Sr Eva reported that this year the boys have a little more education than the incoming boys from the two prior years and although these boys are not yet fluent their reading and writing is progressing well.
The boys are loving their time in the care of the Sisters. They are very keen to study and they are learning English quickly. With the help of the grade 12 (senior students), class sizes have been reduced so the teachers can focus on the boys and give them the attention they need to succeed.
Inside and outside the classroom, the total of 1,963 boys in Minglanilla are growing and thriving. With three regular meals a day the boys gain strength and their health improves. As their confidence grows so does their energy and the boys enjoy a range of after school clubs and sports activities which help them make new friends and learn new skills. Sr Eva listed a few – performing arts, handball, band, choir, dancing, folk dancing, volleyball, arnis (a Filipino martial art), football, chess and table tennis.
The children also enjoy specific class clubs like tailoring club, machining club, bread and pastry club, journalists club (in Filipino and English), and science club. There is also an ecology group which helps to sort all the recycling and allows the Sisters to keep the school activities sustainable.
The Green (agriculture) club is particularly popular, the boys love to grow their own fruit and veg and the produce allows the school to manage the rising cost of food. From 1 hectare of land, their small farm now grows cabbage, string beans, squash, tomatoes, aubergine, horseradish, sweet potatoes, cassava, chilli and peanut. They started harvesting on 15th Sept and last week (16th Oct) were able to pick all the veg they needed for the whole week. They were also able to provide some produce for the girls’ school in Talisay. The school also manages to make some natural juice for the boys eg lemongrass.
Sr Eva reported that as the boys grow, they become more hopeful and ambitious for their future. They love to challenge their knowledge and skills against other schools both regionally and nationally and over the last year this has resulted in national awards in Chess, Basketball and Athletics. They became champions in the Maths Olympiad, arnis, arts and achieved Silver medals in weightlifting.
The ultimate focus for everything that the Sisters do is, however, employment for the children to ensure their future success. ‘Work Immersion’ also known as on the job work experience, is key to final employment success. The Sisters work hard to create relationships with employers and opportunities for the boys – putting as many boys as they can into new organisations in new regions.
The approach works. Sr Eva confirmed that employment rate is at almost 100% for the boys but that to maintain this the Sisters at school need to focus on providing good, relevant vocational training using updated technology. Her current priorities are to “level up the new technology used in the workshops including the training of the teachers” to ensure that the children have the skills needed locally and for this they need properly equipped labs, new computers, books and TVs.
The Sisters at the school have a lot of other challenges too. Price of staple foods like rice and flour (which they cannot grow at school) has risen by more than 30%. This is a significant problem for feeding 1923 hungry young boys who eat rice for most meals and get through 15 sacks of rice per day (a whopping 750 kilos!!). The price of flour and school supplies is similarly affected.
The greatest hurdle for the Sisters however is maintaining an aging school. Whilst the Sisters prioritise the care of the children, the schools which were built in 1990, continue to age, parts needing urgent repair and renovation, the most particular of these is the Cistern Tank. This pump has become unreliable and now threatens the operation of the water system in the entire building. This project will be a priority for helping the Sisters over the coming months.