An Education for Hungry Minds | #AkoSiDaniel*

By Sierra Jamir, a sophomore at Cornell University studying Food Science. As a Massachusetts high schooler and a member of her local Filipino school, Sierra led the creation of several initiatives to connect with the Philippines and support the Aeta community in Bataan. She is currently a Kaya Co. fellow interning with Food for Hungry Minds.


During one talk I had with Justine, a Food for Hungry Minds scholar in her 3rd year at UST, I asked her what problems she remembered from attending public elementary school. Rather firmly, she listed her answers: the 1 to 60 ratio of teachers and students, sharing and borrowing books with classmates and the little help and guidance from the school to do well. Then, I asked, why move to Hungry Minds?

A complete change in her language as she said: Read Naturally, their daily English speaking exercise; field trips to museums; small class sizes of 30 or 20 students and a full day of class with 5 to 10 subjects a day; culminating activities; weekend tutorials; social workers who visit the homes; parent aid; brand new textbooks that didn’t need sharing; uniforms; breakfast and lunch; notebooks and a nice yellow school bus that picks them up and brings them to school — and the fact that this was all given for free.

For a fourth grade student entering Hungry Minds, as Justine had been almost 9 years ago, these initial differences of moving from public to private school would make any student determined to work harder, especially knowing that this once in a lifetime access to good quality education is their key to a bright future. As I see in the current fourth to sixth grade students and high school and college scholars, a majority of them excel in school, even reaching big names, like De La Salle, Ateneo and UP.

This drive to learn starts in elementary school, from those determined students who wake up before sunrise to attend class for up to 9 hours a day; who study in the most unconventional ways, using gas lamps or under city lamp posts; who know, even at their age, that education is one of their only means of escaping the hardships they see in their families. And Hungry Minds helps them do just that — by providing a private education for these underprivileged students.

Elmark, only a fourth grader at the Hungry Minds Malolos, showed me his passion for learning despite having to travel more than an hour off the main road from his family’s kangkong farm. This passion resonated in Nino, Alianna, John Ace, Kristel and many others fourth, fifth and sixth grade students living in Sta. Ana, who must take a boat every morning across the Pasig River to get to the bus stop just before sunrise. I saw the same in Joan and Carmina, both Manila Science student, with Joan once living in a makeshift home perched between a tamarind and coconut tree and Carmina having almost lost a father in a holdup. What impressed me most was their bubbling positivity and willpower to succeed academically despite the extreme hurdles they had gone through.

Finally, meeting the college scholars — Kim, Gilbert, Daniella, Wesley and Ronnie just to name a few — showed me how academic competence, perseverance, and resilience, values learned while at Hungry Minds, continue to shape their lives. Dianne, for instance, who spent her elementary years studying by candlelight, now is a third-year at Ateneo de Manila with the dream of becoming a neurosurgeon. I have been touched by their determination to do anything to get an education. Most importantly, though, I was moved by their love to give back and inspire their family, friends and community.


Education is a human right, but having been in the Philippines for more than two months now, I realize that a decent education is a privilege that not all students can afford. Even at Hungry Minds, those who are lucky to be selected make only a small percentage of the thousands of students living in dire situations within Manila. While Teacher Candy, the principal of the school, would love to serve more students, it would be too costly and difficult for Hungry Minds to focus on the progress of each student.

The way the current system is set up, education has become inaccessible to those at the bottom of the pyramid. This extreme social inequality denies the masses of poor but deserving children the ability to see their potential beyond the current struggle that they and their parents have to go through just to eke out a living. The goal of Hungry Minds is to help these children open their eyes and see something bigger than what their parents could ever imagine. For, given the chance, attention, and support they need to foster these dreams and make them a reality, they can and will do it.

What I have learned from my experience interacting and co-learning with the Hungry Minds scholars over the last few weeks — from Justine to Jimmcel, Jamez, Allen Mae and a handful of others — is the realization of the power of education to overcome some of our greatest challenges. Coming from communities where all hope seems lost, the awe-inspiring lives, struggles, aspirations, and triumphs over adversities of these young heroes also teaches us valuable lessons: to prepare to be surprised and have the confidence to brave the harsh city, to expand your horizons, to be patient and kind, and to know that even the smallest of things matter.

From one child, you can change a community.

*

#AkoSiDaniel is a campaign inspired by Daniel Cabrera, a child from Cebu who was recently photographed studying on the sidewalk beneath streetlights.

The campaign, led by The Philippines Foundation, is galvanizing support for global education and collecting signatures to present to a United Nations meeting in the fall. To get involved, sign the petition at akosidaniel.org.

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