Rescuing Out-of-School Children – The ERDA Way

AUG 21ST 2007

To educate a child is to save a man.”

Fr. Pierre Tritz, SJ, founder and president of the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation, often quotes this line from Victor Hugo.

But education can be a very expensive undertaking. This puts education beyond the reach of families in extreme poverty. (There are studies showing that 40% of Filipinos are in this condition.) In the tug-of-war between food and education, a family’s hard-earned money always goes to the basic necessity. Of the children who enter the First Grade, 60 percent drop out and never get to earn a high school diploma. In 1974, Fr. Tritz – then aged 60 – launched Operasyon: Balik-Paaralan (OBP). It was meant to retrieve dropouts and persuade potential dropouts to stay in school. OBP eventually grew into ERDA.

One of ERDA’s projects today is SABANA. It stands for Sanayan ng mga Batang Nananambakan (Training Center for Child Scavengers). Based in the much-publicized Smokey Mountain garbage dumping site, SABANA helps child scavengers go back to, and remain in, school.

Another ERDA project is ABAKA – Pag-Aaral ng Bata para sa Kinabukasan (Education for the Children’s Future). ABAKA targets out-of-school kids who have been forced out of school and into hazardous occupations. About 2.4 million Filipino children are into what ERDA calls the “worst forms of child labor.” They perform high-risk yet low-paying jobs in mining and quarrying, domestic labor, pyrotechnic (fireworks) production, deep-sea fishing and sugarcane growing. Some are drawn into prostitution and the cybersex trade.

To many of these children, resuming formal schooling is no longer an available option. ERDA, through SABANA and ABAKA, offers special training that conforms with the Department of Education’s Alternative and Equivalency Curriculum. The prize at the end of this special training is a high school diploma. The course appeals to indigent children because of its flexible structure and very low cost.

The Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA) is proposing to produce learning materials to support ERDA’s programs. The materials could take the form of interactive CDs to be used in the Alternative and Equivalency course conducted by SABANA and ABAKA. CFA is also thinking of training ERDA’s trainers on how to produce low-cost media materials – which could include puppet-making and silk-screen printing. CFA’s support for ERDA is made possible by a grant from LJP, a Catholic lay organization based in Holland.