I met a six-year-old girl at the Marcela Marcelo Elementary School in Pasay City last Saturday.
She caught my attention because she was half the size of my five-year-old daughter and she couldn't read. My daughter has been reading since...I don't remember anymore.
I was at the public school to write about what our employees were doing -- which was conducting a summer reading program for kids who couldn't read or had difficulty reading.
It was an eye-opener. First, I was amazed at how warmly we were received. Even before we could get down from the van, the kids had swarmed around the door. And they weren't shy about showing affection. It was the first time they'd seen me (unlike the volunteers who'd been there for the 5th consecutive Saturday already) and yet I'd suddenly get a hug or I'd have them crowding around me when i did interviews. It was just amazing.
And the employees. I got to know this one girl - pretty, young and single, although she has a boyfriend -- and she has been with the program since 2004. Yep. Every summer, since 2004, she has been volunteering to teach underprivileged children how to read. And she plans to take further studies in education so that she can teach. She and her younger brother intend to rent a room in their barangay so that she can teach children there how to read. And she's only 24.
So many stories - both of the employees and of the children. When I asked one little girl -- she must have been 7 yet looked 4 -- she told me that she walked to and from school by herself.
Marcela Marcelo is located at the end of the world. Seriously, it begins where a road peters off to almost nothing. Outside its gates are shanties, sari-sari stores, tricycles, vehicles that take up most of the road and people. Lots of people walking or sitting around, or passing the time of day smoking a cigarette...or drinking. And she walks to school by herself. And I think of my daughter who gets a ride to and from school, which is a few blocks away and within our subdivision, always accompanied by her yaya.
It is easy to feel hopeless in an environment like that but when another little girl told me that she, too, wanted to be a teacher someday because she wanted to teach children how to read, I realized that children are protected by their innocence.
And I wish with all my heart that she retain some of that innocence even as she starts growing up in a cynical world.