Tuesday, December 19, 2006

First Honor

My sister and I had shopped for school supplies last August in preparation for my trip to the Philippines. We had planned to give a few schoolchildren at the Conrado Barrios Elementary School what they sorely need and could barely afford to buy. But only 20 children would be so lucky. We would also give them toys.

My nephew at 10 years of age has outgrown toys. He is more interested in computers and his blog. I think he knows more about software than I do because he has uploaded videos to his blog. I had asked him to set aside the toys he no longer plays with so I could give it to the poor children in the Philippines. When I came by to pick up the toys he saved, he gave me a bagful of unopened McDonald’s toys from all the Happy Meals he ate.

We chose the Conrado Barrios Elementary School because this is built on the property my great grandparents donated to the school. And recently we had donated books to its very tiny library which has six chairs, a cracked table and one shelf of books. The children here are from poor families.

Since I had only enough school supplies for 20 children, I thought it best that we award these to the Top 20 first grade schoolchildren. ( There are 120 kids in 3 sections.) So the secretary was sent out to get the brightest and most deserving of these children. They came to the Principal’s office, quiet and expectant. My cousin and I asked them to form a line, in order of their rank in class. It seemed there were too many “first honor” kids but no problem. Their teachers gave them my name and they greeted me in unison. “Good Morning, Miss Charie Albar”.

I called the first honor of Section 1 to come forward and I asked her what her favorite subject was. She said “math”. So I challenged her by asking her how much 2+2 is. She hesitated a kid. Some kid peering through the windows shouted “4 and I know better than you so I should be there”. After talking with a few more kids it became apparent we didn’t have the honor students. The secretary explained that we had instead, the poorest kids in the class. They were thinking of sending them away but I decided to keep these kids as they had already seen the school supplies and toys and I didn’t want to crush their expectations.

One boy I interviewed told me he had 15 siblings. When I asked him what his parents did for a living, he told me they cooked (in the house). Another child had 9 brothers and sisters. What was striking about these kids was their blank faces. I had to ask them to smile for the camera. Some could barely muster a quarter smile. But a child by the name of Bueno cupped his chin with thumb and forefinger and showed me his teeth.

Afterwards we took pictures together. As the children went out the door, other kids hovered and grabbed the toy of one child. She warned him to return it immediately or “I will report you to “Ma’am”.

Other children who had seen the school supplies asked us if we could give them any. They had to be content when they were told we would return in January. I’m returning in January to award the brightest first graders. I’ve ransacked my bags to scrounge enough supplies and toys for these kids. I only found supplies for 10. I told myself that next schoolyear I will find a way to give all first graders the tools they need to succeed in their first year as students.

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