A Call to Serve, 29 is the continuation of the works of the apostles and our commitment to respond in simplicity and in solidarity to the mission of the Church.
Many children living on and around the garbage mountains of the Payatas dumpsite do not have birth certificates and are thus unable to enrol in formal schools. Started in 1988, Paaralang Pantao (School for Humanity) is a small non-formal school providing alternative learning for out-of-school kids and teens (aged 4 to 17). Every year, it takes in 100 or more Payatas children.
The streets of Payatas Area B are filled with children who work on the garbage mountains to eke out a living for their family, some as scavengers, others as dump truck assistants and a few as drug runners for crime syndicates. The children and their families come from as far as Visayas and Mindanao.
With the dumpsite as backdrop, the children living on the fringes of the urban cities of Metro Manila have never ventured beyond the area and so their world and dreams remain within the confines of the Smoky Mountains of Payatas.
In 2001, it was brought to the attention of Acts29 that the students of Paaralang Pantao were often covered with wounds and insect bites, complained of toothache and hair lice, and displayed obvious signs of malnourishment. Students came to class in torn shabby clothes, broken footwear and were unwashed due to irregular supply of water.
Upon the request of Leticia B. Reyes, the Principal, volunteers from Acts29 began to administer simple first aid to treat the children’s wounds and teach them how to care for their wounds. In addition to making the students take a bath before coming to school, teachers and volunteers also made sure they brushed their teeth thoroughly every day. As a result, the students had less serious wounds and fewer problems with hair lice. To enhance the health measures, first aid supplies were stored in the school and a corner for treatment was set up. Acts29 volunteers also proceeded to deworm the students and give them an overall health check-up.
In 2003, a feeding project was started when the school noticed a drop in attendance during festive seasons and an overall drop in enrolment. The children were not coming to school as they had to work to earn money for food. With the feeding programme, all students were provided with one daytime meal every day of the school year. Thereafter, enrolment increased and attendance improved.
Projects Dream beyond the Dumpsite and Through My Eyes were initiated in 2004 after the children shared their hopes, dreams and aspirations for the future. Some wanted to be teachers, policemen, soldiers and so on. But others thought their future lay in selling drugs, guns and babies. To show them that there is hope for them beyond the dumpsite, students are taken on learning trips around Metro Manila and beyond to have a sense of life around them. They have since been to parks and playgrounds (Quezon Circle, La Mesa Dam), Children’s Museum, Planetarium, Tagaytay, Manila Ocean Park, amusement parks, etc. To help them discover and express themselves, the students are also given art lessons. In project Through My Eyes, a group of children are given cameras. And they tell about their life and how they see the world around them through their photos.
Since 2008, Acts29’s mission at Paaralang Pantao has focused more on education. In order for the children of Payatas to be able to further their education, the organisation works in cooperation with the National Registrar of the Philippines to issue birth certificates to those who did not have one so that they can enrol in higher institutes of learning. On the health front, students are tested yearly for TB, with medication provided by the National Health Department. As for the mental wellbeing of the children, a full-time Pastoral Coordinator has been deployed to listen to their needs. In addition, visiting groups conduct lessons on Children’s Rights, Anti-Drug Awareness and Art Expression.
The year 2010 kicked off a Scholarship Programme to send bright at-risk kids to formal school. The Programme includes: a Formation House for scholars in need of a home to stay and study under supervision; weekly tutorials for scholars; and a summer programme for scholars to pick up new skills (e.g. swimming classes, camps, etc.).
Paaralang Pantao operates another school in Montalban with an annual enrolment of 250 children. With the growing needs of the community there and the lingering effects of Typhoon Ketsana which affected the area in 2009, the projects of Medical Missions and Scholarship Programme have also been extended there.
Acts29 maintains a volunteer house in Montalban for visiting volunteers.
It will also be expanding its Formation House to cater to more young people who seek education and faith formation. Its Formation House mission to “Know God, Love God and Serve God” aims at providing formation to youths to be contemplative missionaries bringing Christ to others.
"The Church entrusts to young people the task of proclaiming to the world the joy which springs from having met Christ…
Go and preach the Good News that redeems, do it with happiness in your hearts and become communicators of hope
in a world which is often tempted to despair"
– Pope John Paul II, WYD 1993