Two years ago, I joined the Peace Corps unsure of where I would be stationed or what I would be doing. After three months of training in Olongapo, a large, fast paced city in the Philippines, and a half a day of travel, I reached my new home–the small, quiet, stunning island of Anda.
It was everything you imagine of a tropical Filipino island: Mango trees, rice fields, sunsets, and coconuts. But before I had time to gain my bearings, I was ushered to the school I’d be working at for the next two years. At the school a literal parade of students, drum lair and all, were waiting to greet me. “Welcome Ma’am Keithlin” a banner read. I gave a speech, students sang and modeled, I was overwhelmed with food, and I was officially the newest staff member of Anda National High School (ANHS).
When I first arrived at ANHS I worked to get to know my students. I would ask them about their families, hobbies, and what they wanted to be in the future. Though they could speak endlessly about their families, basketball, dancing or Justin Bieber, few had anything to say about what they wanted to be in the future. They looked at me as if I were an idiot. Their socio-economic statuses allowed them only two options: Rice farmers or fisherfolk. But one student, Queeney, had a different answer.
One day after school, Queeny invited me to her home. As we walked the hour it took to reach her house, she shared with me her dreams for the future. Because of her family’s financial and social position (both of her parents work seasonal farming jobs that pay them in rice), she wanted to be two things. First, she explained her desire to be a photographer to show the world the problems many people face. Pictures, she said, communicate more compelling, more universal, stories than words. Queeny then went on to share that she also hopes to be a doctor, to treat people who cannot afford medical treatment. Her passion for medicine began when she was diagnosed with a heart condition that to this day often causes her to pass out at school. Though there is medication for her condition, her family cannot afford it.
While Queeney receives financial assistance from an international organization for her studies, ANHS doesn’t have enough resources to fully equip her with the skills she needs to succeed in college, let alone to apply to college. Like many students from families living below the poverty line, Queeney will only be able to attend college if she receives a scholarship. Without computers to write scholarship essays and fill out college applications the students at ANHS are at a severe disadvantage.
If they don’t complete online applications they must travel to the university and apply in person, a trip the majority of students can’t afford. For the students who do go to college they are expected to have an understanding of how to use a computer for essays, research projects, and powerpoints. If a student has never worked on a computer, and therefore doesn’t know how to turn a computer on, it will take her/him a great amount of time to catch up to her/his peers at college, often leaving the students from ANHS behind in their studies.
Rural obstacles in a digital world
When I first arrived at ANHS we had no English textbooks, let alone books to read for pleasure in either Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines, or English. After a year of building relationships with the faculty, students, and parents projects to provide the school with needed resources began to fall into place. With the assistance of a few teachers and students, we were awarded a grant to build a library and fill it with 1,500 books.
Though this was a great accomplishment, it was only one small step towards providing students with the resources they needed to compete in a highly globalized and technological world. The need was clear, the school needed computers.
When I was there, I had a laptop with a cracked screen. This laptop was used to teach students how to turn on a computer, type, and save documents. At the time, the island had no Internet connection.
These obstacles didn’t stop the students from learning how to browse the Internet and set up email addresses in order to receive their scholarships and university acceptances. Several students, Queeney being one of them, saved money for weeks in order to pay the 80 peso (aprox. $2) bus fare and 20 peso ($0.50) internet cafe fee to travel with me off the island to search for college programs and begin the online application process.
During informal computer lessons, where 20-30 kids would huddle around my laptop, I watched students discover the world; a world full of opportunity, possibility, mystery, and diversity. Students gained a sense of pride as they began to improve their typing skills. Students who struggled with behavior or academic success began to gain confidence as they figured out how to operate my computer.
These students soon began to teach others, which created a community of respect. Students were able to type their own scholarship essays and college applications. The students who made it to college were able to spend time focusing on their studies instead of trying to figure out how to use a computer. This happened with one semi-functioning laptop and a few trips to an internet cafe. One computer was able to inspire hope in the minds of many youth.
Contributing towards a better tomorrow
At the end of my service, four other Peace Corps volunteers and I decided that we wanted to continue working for our schools in the Philippines from the U.S. Since returning to the states, we have been working to raise money so that all four of our schools can construct a computer class. The government established an Internet connection at the school in November 2012. There just aren’t any computers to connect to the Internet.
Each computer lab would include computer desks, an air conditioner (the only one at the school) so that the computers don’t overheat, durable cement walls, and a waterproof, leak-free, roof. We currently have enough money raised for over half of the computers, and are eagerly waiting for the funds to come in for the other half.
This project will give all the students of ANHS an opportunity they don’t have. The opportunity goes beyond writing a word document or putting together a powerpoint. The opportunity is to share their lives and stories with the world, to learn from the world, and to be given the chance to reach their academic potentials. Computers link students to the futures they talk about as they walk home from school everyday. Computers give students an opportunity to feel proud and capable, an opportunity to lead and teach.
If you are interested in helping the students of ANHS receive computers you can donate directly to the project. All donations are handled by the Peace Corps and are tax deductible.
On behalf of Anda National High School, Maraming Maraming Salamt Po at Mabuhay (Thank you very much and Mabuhay)!
Kaitlin McGarvey spent the last two years in the Philippines with the Peace Corps and is now pursuing a Masters of Water Law at the University of Dundee in Scotland. Upon the completion of her degree, she plans to use water as a tool for the social and political empowerment of women. When not in the library, she loves hanging out with her handsomely strange looking dog, a Pinoy Askal (Filipino street dog) who has journeyed across the world with her.