SILAY CITY—A school in Silay City, Negros Occidental is helping children of farm workers break free from the cycle of poverty and some are now working as engineers and nurses in foreign countries.
This is because a family that could have otherwise just sat back and enjoyed the profits of their vast sugar lands chose to make a difference for others.
In 1964, their matriarch Marietta Ledesma started the St. Francis of Assisi School in Hacienda Tinihaban, Silay City, because she wanted to provide farm children with education better than what was being provided in public schools.
“My grandmother believed that given quality Christian education for free, children of farm workers would not have to be forever stuck to working on the farm, they could develop their full potential,” her granddaughter Carmela “Micmic” Abello Golez, 37, said.
When their grandmother died in 1979, their grandfather, Edgardo Ledesma, continued the school’s tradition of free education until he died in 1994, Golez said. After his death, however, “the vision sort of got lost,” for a period of seven years, said Carmela’s brother, Roberto “Robin” Abello Jr., 36.
Continuing the vision
Robin said he and Micmic belong to the third generation of their family and they wanted to bring back the tradition of free education at the school their grandmother started.
“My grandmother wanted to give children of farm workers a chance for a better life outside of the farm,” Micmic said, “because for a lot of them their parents and their grandparents before them worked on the farm.”
“We want them to know that there’s life beyond the farm, that they can pursue a different career,” she said.
But as the school expanded by accepting children outside of the Ledesma farm, funding from Hacienda Tinihaban was no longer enough to keep up with the free education program.
“My grandfather, when he died, left money for the school but it was not enough for the scholarships for the poor,” Robin said.
Micmic said they started charging a minimal fee for students who were not from sugar farms and for those who could afford the fees, but the children from the farms still received free education.
Because of the funding shortage, Micmic said they decided to establish the Tapulanga Foundation Inc. in 2001.
Today, the foundation mainly provides scholarships for students of St. Francis of Assisi School who not only come from Hacienda Tinihaban but from other parts of Silay City and the adjoining Talisay City and EB Magalona town.
Micmic said St. Francis now has 370 students in pre-school, grade school and high school.
The school is supervised by the University of St. La Salle based in Bacolod City, which helps with curriculum development.
The high school department, which opened only last year, has classrooms with large windows to let in maximum light and the breeze from a nearby creek.
St. Francis of Assisi School not only educates its students inside the classrooms, it also provides many other opportunities for the children to go on field trips, watch movies, concerts and plays, learn how to use computers, be exposed to theater arts, have swimming lessons, annual recollections and more.
Tapulanga Foundation was founded “with the vision to share God’s gifts and good news,” Robin stressed.
Micmic is its executive director while Robin is president.
Micmic holds a degree in economics from the University of the Philippines at Los Baños.
Robin has an undergraduate degree in computer science, a master’s degree in software engineering from the Carnegie Mellon University in Maryland, and is married to Kate, an obstetrician-gynecologist.
Robin and his wife live in the United States but send a lot of their earnings back to the Philippines to help run the school and also raise funds for more scholarships for the poor.
How to help
Robin said those who wish to help them in their mission may get more information at the Tapulanga Foundation’s website www.tapulanga.org. Information at the website states that $150 can pay for a year of high school education and $125 for an elementary school scholarship.
Tapulanga Foundation is a nonprofit, charitable organization that also provides health care and micro-credit opportunities, Micmic said.
She said their cousin is a pediatrician so all their students get free annual medical checkups including deworming and immunization. When Robin’s wife, Kate, visits, the mothers also get free checkups, she added.
Micmic said the foundation also provides free eye checkups and glasses because they noticed that some of the students did badly in school because they could not see.
To help farm workers increase their livelihood so that they will hopefully be able to send their children to college, Tapulanga started a micro-credit fund in 2005 to provide opportunities for small-scale entrepreneurship in the Hacienda Tinihaban and neighboring communities.
Robin said he and his wife took out personal loans in the United States for the micro credit loans that they give out at zero to five percent interest with no collateral to wives of sugar workers to start businesses such as piggery and sari-sari (retail) stores.
But Micmic and Robin are not the only Abello siblings who are trying to help others. Their brother Jose Ramon, 26, a Communication Arts graduate of Ateneo de Manila University, teaches at their school, while another brother, Jay, 35, who is into the television and film industry, has also held photo exhibits to raise funds for scholarships.