For the past three years now, hubby and I have been rallying some of our family and friends to help us send to school a number of our Gawad Kalinga-Prayer Mountain Siga members. This school year, we have 7 High School scholars and 4 College scholars. Of the 7 HS scholars, 2 are new. We have 2 more college scholars waiting for their sponsors to come around and make good their pledges.
It was during a GK (Gawad Kalinga) Rally in ULTRA that I was convicted to see that all our Siga members would get their chance to an education that will help alleviate their families from poverty. An elder of our Catholic Renewal Community led us in prayer and when he said, "I will not stop serving until I see all our youth back in school..." I found myself crying unceasingly. That weekend, when we went to Prayer Mountain, I did the unthinkable (at least for my hubby) --- without looking into their family backgrounds, their past grades or even how much they had in unsettled balances at school --- I promised all those who were not yet enrolled (due to financial concerns) that I would find a way to put all of them back in school. They simply had to do their part, to enrol.
HS education is supposed to be free here in the Philippines, however, our youth were having difficulty coping with their daily transportation fare (about $0.30 a day) and school project expenses. Their day-to-day survival included making a choice between sacrificing a meal for the family over completing a school requirement. Thus, for their families, education was just another cause for their poverty.
I've learned from last school year (SY) that a verbal agreement with our scholars is not enough. For the HS scholars, we had agreed that they were supposed to maintain a grade average of 80 in all their subjects, with no grade lower than 75. For the College scholars, no grade of 3 or lower. Of the 12 scholars that we had last year, only 2 would have remained for this SY if we held true to our verbal agreement on their grade requirements. But thanks to the sector head of the Siga program, we were reminded of what was essential in our work in GK, "It's better to love than to be right."
There are some more gray areas in all this. In fact, 3 of the scholars from last SY "didn't make the cut" this year. A male scholar due to poor attendance at our weekly values formation assemblies and for 2 female scholars (who fortunately still got their HS diplomas) behavior unbecoming of Siga members. In effect, they took themselves out of the scholarship even before we could really decide to do so. Tough love was the order of the day when one of the female scholars presented herself to be interviewed, still hoping for a chance to a college scholarship (the other two scholars sent "feelers" but didn't arrive that morning). She was laughing and crying at the same time when I had ask her why she still deserved the scholarship...what made her more deserving than the others. She said she didn't know. A wasted opportunity? Possibly. However, ours is a God of nth chances. So who am I not to give her another chance? But maybe not this year. Thankfully, she remains to be an active member of Siga.
This year I've come up with a written agreement with our scholars and their parents. Some sort of a "contract" pledging their commitment to get good grades and to show good moral conduct wherever they may be. However, I have put our new scholars on "probationary status" and last year's scholars (those who didn't make the grade cut) have been served their "1st warning". They get 3 warnings before they have to give up their scholarship.
I hope that nobody gets served that final warning. I want to see all of them with their college diplomas. Not for anything else, but for the promise of a better future because they have been loved.
For more information on Gawad Kalinga: http://www.gawadkalinga.org/