Our kids attend a very nice fee-paying school. This is possible, in part, because the Irish Government pays the salaries of all teachers, making private education accessible to many more than would otherwise be the case; in part, because the school offers very generous terms to clergy. On a stipend that is roughly on a par with the average industrial wage, we can send them to what the English call a “public school”.
Very good sets of exam results came home last night and pondering these I opened this morning’s email. It included a newsletter from the Preda Centre in the Philippines run by Irish priest Fr Shay Cullen. (www.preda.org) It tells of the suicide of a twelve year old girl.
Thousands of Filipino children die of preventable diseases, malnutrition and neglect. But few 12 year old little girls commit suicide because of poverty. Mariannet was only twelve years old, a small Filipina girl from Talomo district, Davao City in Mindanao. She left a diary and one of her problems was the hardship and poverty of her family and the fact that they had no money to pay for her school projects. The projects are not requirements by the Department of Education and the department has banned all such collections as money making scams run by some irresponsible teachers to earn money for themselves.
The unscrupulous teachers dream up a “project” for the students. They tell the children they have to make it and buy the material from the teacher. Some projects can cost twenty, fifty or a hundred pesos. That is a lot of money for a poor Filipino family. There are at least fifty students in class and that’s a whopping 2000 to 5000 peso earning for the teacher. The parents or child will sacrifice food or something else to pay it, fearing that the teacher will have a reason to give their child a low grade because they did not complete the project. With the ascendency and authority of the teacher behind the scam, it becomes a kind of extortion.
At the Preda Children’s Home we send many children to school and we are getting endless requests for money for “projects”. We were asked to pay for sheets of paper, a paper clip, a piece of foam to cut and stick together for the students to make a small house. These are 12 to 16 year old teenage students and were given projects fit for kindergarten. On another occasion an assistant principal was sending children out to sell candies and snacks during class hours. We protested when it was discovered and she was transferred. A retired high school Principal Mrs. Sison wrote to another newspaper saying in thirty years teaching and as principal she never gave any such project, they are unnecessary. I have written to all the officials of the Department of Education to tell them that we will not pay for such projects. It’s not likely it was the prime cause of the death of Mariannet, but a contributing factor perhaps.
In the Philippines elementary and high school education is supposed to be provided free to the students by the government as their human right. But it’s not free. The children can’t enrol and that’s why there are hundreds of thousands of street children, working children and abused children begging on the streets and living in slums and unbelievable poverty surrounded by the sumptuous wealth of the few rich that have it all. That’s the reason they unknowingly take food from pimps and pedophiles and are trafficked with promises of food and money into the sex business. When church people and the public realized that Mariannet was not responsible for her own death, they accepted that all were responsible. Yes, all who don’t care about the suffering poor, the abuse of children and injustice and corruption that dominate society. All those who are part of it and do nothing to change it are responsible.
Why should a little twelve year old girl with her whole life ahead of her not have had the same chances as my two kids?