This month, Sister Belinda and Sister Zeny from Talisay Girlstown in the Philippines gave us an update from the programme and reported on how the girls are doing. They told us about the girls’ achievements, how the new girls are settling in, the situations of families they met while doing community visits earlier in the year, and how the vocational training benefits the girls when they go out into the working world.
Sister Belinda reported on the community visits the Sisters made in January 2023 to reach out to more children living in extreme poverty.
The families in these communities are still desperately trying to recover from the impact of Typhoon Odette, two years ago. Many of the families are looking for work but with the additional effect of the pandemic lockdown causing companies to close, and with a lack of education and skills, the poorest families are struggling to find employment and without income find it very difficult to cope.
Families in the mountains try to exist by farming land and growing sweet potatoes. Where crops are successful families are able to sell some of the crops to make a little income to buy rice. However climate changes affect this activity and increasingly make this a meagre existence. Many of the new 2023 girls have come from families like this and join us malnourished, anaemic and in desperate need of food, care and attention.
Sister Belinda reported that demand for places at the school continues to increase and in early 2023 they met a whopping 2800 girls who were in need of a place at the Sisters of Mary school in Talisay. After meeting these children and visiting many of them in their homes, the Sisters were able to offer places to 558 of the most deserving children and thanks to your support, these young ladies joined the school in July. This brings the total number of girls now in school in Talisay to 2633 for 2023, the highest ever.
As in previous years the Sister reported that joining school had been an emotional time for the girls. The girls enjoy a balanced diet for the first time. They have their own bed to sleep safely in at night, new clothes, school uniform and shoes, books and supplies and everything they need to live a healthy and comfortable life.
In the care of Sr Zeny, the new girls are receiving medical care, catching up on lost sleep and each night they drink a glass of fortified milk to help them gain strength. Now they have been at school for two months these new young girls are growing and getting stronger, getting up to speed with their new lessons and beginning to flourish.
All the girls have settled in well, made new friends and they are beginning to learn the skills that they will need to succeed and live a poverty free future.
Sister Belinda reported to us that the major challenge for the Sisters this year is the steep rise in the price of food for the children. Rice forms a major part of their diet and rice price has been particularly affected, increasing by 34%. The Sisters have adjusted to this challenge by taking every small square of available land at the school and turning it over to crop production, they now grow lettuce, tomatoes and spinach on site. The girls love to help the sisters with the gardening and the produce supplements their diet.
The Sisters were thrilled to share the successes of the girls in and out of the classroom over the last year. The girls have triumphed in some of the regional vocational competitions in dressmaking, food processing and technical drafting, become regional champion in the Technolympics category and came 3rd out of 100 in the regional Athletic Association competition.
Two grade 12 girls (Blessy and Queenie) have also succeeded internationally by taking Bronze awards in the ICDL Asia Digital challenge. This is an enormous achievement for the girls and the school. The competition covers business, 3D design and Emerging Technologies. All the other participants were University teams and all were men. Only three schools from the Philippines were chosen to participate. The girls studied hard for the competition which covered subjects from grade 7 to grade 12 and were thrilled with their success in the Emerging Technology track.
Education leading to employment is the central focus of the Sisters work and vocational training and on the job work placements are vital to achieving this.
On the call, Sr Belinda emphasised how important it is for them to level up the vocational training their girls’ receive compared to other students in the Philippines, to ensure that they have the necessary skills to find work quickly after school.
Employer needs are changing and the Sisters remain closely in touch with organisations about their requirements. It is not just about providing the right training, but also about having and using the right technology in the classroom and ensuring the girls skills are up to date. These areas are a funding priority for them for the coming year.
Employment rates are good for the girls in Talisay, these are greatly helped by the good performance of those who have gone before – the alumni. These graduates who are now the employers of the future are good advocates for the work of the Sisters and active in providing opportunities for new children as they finish school ready for the world of work.