These children walked 30 kilometers to beg us to build them a school. Find out why.
Mindanao has the highest number of child soldiers in the Philippines – being used and abused by the NPA, MILF, MNLF, Abu Sayyaf, and smaller rebel factions. No one knows the real number of child soldiers in Mindanao or in the Philippines because in the past, many in authority tried to minimize the statistics and they refused to address the problem. The present government desires to deal with this tragic situation, but the insurgent groups still try to deny the recruitment and use of these children. Government and NGO statistics add up to around 5,000, whereas our sources in the mountains and Islamic areas of Mindanao stretch that figure even as high as 50,000. Somewhere between these two figures lies the truth, and whatever the number, it is too high until it becomes zero.
Several regions in Mindanao have the lowest rate of literacy in the entire country, and in many of the tribal areas where the insurgent groups are operating, the numbers of those who are illiterate reaches close to 95%. The lack of education is one of the causes of poverty and the proliferation of child soldiers. In places where there is no education, NPA and MILF “educators” enter the areas to train and recruit these uneducated, directionless children, who have no cause or future in their lives. There is a need for schools and teachers in the tribal and Islamic areas where child soldiers are being recruited, to prevent the increase of this problem and to provide places for the demilitarized child soldiers to be educated and equipped to create a future life. There is an immediate need to build two schools and provide teachers and books in a Northern Mindanao tribal area by November 30, 2012. By building and staffing these schools, we will be able to prevent 100 children from being “trained” and recruited in these villages by the NPA, who have stated that if there are schools in these villages by the end of the year, they will not enter them to “educate” and recruit the children.
In July, while we (Marcus Young, Bryan Thomas, and Doc. Fritz Cobrado) were meeting with Supreme Datu Bhen and many other datus (chiefs) from the Agusan Manobo, Banwaon, and Talaandig tribes in the mountains of Northern Mindanao, one of the chiefs, from a village called Mintosing, shared passionately with us that the only way for the children in his village to be rescued from becoming child soldiers would be for us to build and begin a school before the end of the year. The NPA had given him December as a cut off date, and he begged us, saying that he could not return to his village without a promise from us to make the school a reality this year. While he was pleading his case, a second datu, from Akbayan village, shared that his village was under the same threat by the NPA. The longer we listened, the more we realized that these two schools would rescue at least 100 children right away, and many more in the future. Before the night was over, we made a promise to these two chiefs that we would return to the USA to raise the funds for these two schools. After extensive planning and calculating, it was determined that each school building would cost $4,000, and another $4,000 a year to fund the teacher, books, and education materials. On October 22, we return to the Philippines to work with the tribal leaders to build the schools, and yet we still do not have the funds to make them a reality. We are presently searching for businesses, schools, churches, organizations, or individuals who would like to adopt a village – fund the school building and teacher, or join with others to adopt one of the two villages – resulting in the protection and education of at least 50 children. Just imagine how amazing it would be to change the destiny of 50 children with one decision. This village adoption program will also provide the donor/partners with the chance to meet the children and their teacher – first via photos and letters, and later, through actual visits to the mountains of Mindanao, if desired. Please help us share these needs with other and join with us to provide schools and teachers for Mintosing and Akbayan by the end of November – the futures of over 100 children depend on it, and right now, we are their only hope … or maybe you are.