September was a very busy month, as we got back into community work full scale. Right before the end of August we started a second round of women’s reproductive health classes in two communities, Aplaya and Magsasaka. One of these in particular – the class in Aplaya – is the biggest class we have gathered so far, with approximately 75 participants, with from 40 to 70 children on site. There are also a group of teenagers here with whom we worked last summer, so they are having their own special sessions. We work in Aplaya on Saturday mornings, which may be a partial explanation of the class size, but it is a very open community with a wide public space, and a place we often bring visitors, as there are always people. But it seems they have been waiting eagerly for another round of classes, and we are certainly glad to be back in there. Our nurses, who do much of the teaching, are generally busy with clinical services for about an hour after the educational sessions.
The sessions in Magsasaka have from 35 to 40 women, and are also going along very well. There are fewer children too as we visit that community on Fridays and many of the children are in school. We meet the teenagers on Saturdays and they are enthusiastic.
In an effort to bolster our Community and Student Health Advocate programs and to recognize her strong contributions, in August we promoted Belle Cortezano, formerly the head of our College Outreach program, to a new position as Director of Health Advocates. Belle is now charged with working closely with our CHAs and SHAs. She is still teaching as well and is being assisted with the SHA outreach by fellow teachers Mykey and Amie. Since she began Belle has been busy meeting all the CHAs in all the communities. She is strengthening the CHA program by having many more interactions with the ladies and working with them to adjust their checklists. She is also providing them with more clarity on their duties and our expectations. She has been working closely with Marcus on analyzing data to ensure we’re utilizing the CHAs well. Our CHA program is critical to the sustainability of our work in our communities so we felt a great need to improve on what we’d been doing. We can already see positive changes and are confident this program will continue to get stronger. We’re doing the same with our SHAs but that has been moving a bit more slowly, as scheduling with students is always a bit tricky. We do have student groups in both Western Philippines University and Palawan State University. Plans are in the works to get the two groups together for an open house in our office, so they can get to know all of us, and we can meet them.
In September we also started the pilot test round of our new, Barclay’s funded Financial Literacy program, with Ami heading the teaching team with Joyce and Amie. We chose Little Tondo, a relatively small community, for this, and made efforts to put together a small but consistent group of women who showed real interest and were willing to commit to full attendance of the 15-session program. We also set the class up in a separate and not very publically situated kubo (grass house) so that the class could go on without interruption. All three teachers, and the students, are enjoying this class very much – Ami says she loves it when she sees the light go on in someone’s eyes, which happens a lot! I love seeing the little class-generated skits the sessions sometimes end with in which some characters give financial advice to others. We have received a grant from Barclays to continue this program for another year, so will be having larger classes in more communities once the pilot project is successfully concluded and we’ve had the opportunity to make any necessary adjustments.
Our teachers – who do some of the Financial Literacy and Community work, were also busy in schools. They started in a new high school in Sicsican, and will finish the sessions for most of the classes there this month. They also did more teaching in Western Philippines University and did a double session, first for Student Leaders, and then a faculty training, in Palawan State University. They have been working on getting more solid backing from the Department of Education, and we feel that this will facilitate entrance into more high schools.
I was out of the Philippines most of September, but not totally disengaged! I was delighted to have an informal brunch with New York Board members Stephanie, Johanna, and Suneeta (thanks so much for arrangements, Stephanie!) at which we discussed the very successful Weil fundraising activity, and various jobs and contingencies. I urged all three – and would urge the others in New York and Hong Kong – to visit us in the Philippines!! We’d really love to show you all our work first hand!
Then I went on to Vermont to visit Board member Marty Dewees (my sister) – and also managed to get together with Hillary Martin, who did a month long internship with us in August.
Then it was on to Hong Kong where I went out to Morningside College to visit the people we have been working with there, including the students who did their service visit with us last June. We had a good chance to process this first program, and came up with many good ideas for a repeat.
My last day in Hong Kong I had a good meeting with Elise Lee of EMpower, which is one of our funders. I updated her on our successes and challenges, and she gave me many new ideas of ways to further our basic aim, which is to empower girls.
That evening I went to a fundraiser set up by our Hong Kong Committee, primarily Cristen, Marissa, and Sarah. It was a very nice chance for me to meet some of the Committee members and it was a fun night. Through the event, they came up with a great, solid contribution to ROH. So thank you ladies!!