The girls gathered in the living room, waiting patiently. Surrounding them are notebooks, new shoes, and backpacks, which are packed and ready to be distributed. Tomorrow, they go back to school. Excitement, joy, and slight apprehension can be read from their eyes.
“Being able to go to school is a real inspiration, a chance,” says Lenny, 16. “Later, I want to become a photographer, and school allows me to learn a lot and take steps towards that dream.” A glimmer of ambition shines in her brown eyes.“Going back to school really makes me happy. I cannot wait to see my friends, and also my teachers. At the end of this semester, I have to pass my exams and then I hope to enrol in a school to study photography. “ Thoughts of the future are obviously making her happy.
Lenny follows the Alternative Learning System (ALS), which is a parallel education system set up by the Philippine government. ALS allows children unable to access or finish a formal education the opportunity to fast-track their education and still qualify for graduation.
Earlier in the week, school uniforms were ironed, folded, and stored carefully. On the wall, a sign has been installed — the golden rule was simple: “Books Before Boys.” The girls stifle giggles, quickly taken over by the serious look of Mama.
“Getting a good job is difficult when you do not have a diploma. Without education, you’re at a disadvantage,” begins Mama Malin, mother of Elizabeth home. “Being able to go to school is very important because it allows you to learn the rules of good conduct in companies, including respect for others and self-confidence.”
“As parents, we play an important role in the education of children. For example, here in Elizabeth, it is my responsibility to remind them to do their duty, but also to help those having a hard time in school. Upstairs, we have a library and I think it’s important for girls to read and use the resources available to them other than the internet.”
“For the new school year, we ensure that the children are well prepared to manage their schedules, such as waking up on time and having all their materials ready. Often, the girls will fake a headache or invent excuses not to get up and go to school. It is therefore our duty as adults, but also as parents, to remind them that education is important and that is one reason why they are in Virlanie. A good education is the key to a better future.
The hope for a better life, the ability to not only meet her personal needs but also to help her family, is what keeps the Elizabeth girls going.
“Getting a good degree is important,” says Charlie, another girl from Elizabeth Home. “It allows you to be independent, not dependent on your husband or anyone else. This year my goal is to get the score of 86% and above, and join the math club. I want to get a scholarship and go to college.”
“Many children in Virlanie take school very seriously,” says Trisha, the social worker in the home. “They understand that having a good education is the only way to get out, to help their families. So this is a real priority.”
In the case of the Elizabeth girls, Trisha tells how her presence in the house helped the girls prepare. Through different group sessions, Trisha listens to the concerns raised by the girls, but also gives them the time to process how important getting an education is.
“In the beginning of the semester, the girls made a list of goals for themselves. Some would just dream of passing their exams, while others want to be the first in class. Some of our girls also aim to be more attentive,” Trisha added. “At the end of the semester, each objective is evaluated within the house and the girls are rewarded for their efforts. It is important to walk along with them in this journey.”
Students returned to school in the Philippines on 13 June.