QUEZON CITY, Philippines // Dubai Cares marked International Day of the Girl Child by officially launching a US$2 million (Dh7.34m) programme aimed at keeping poor, rural Filipino girls in schools and supporting their communities.
The four-year programme, called Real Assets through Improved Skills and Education for Adolescent Girls (Raise), is being implemented in Masbate and Northern Samar, two of the country’s poorest provinces where the dropout and teenage pregnancy rates exceed the national averages.
“We at Dubai Cares believe that education is the key that will unlock the potential of every child, irrespective of their background, setting them on the path of progress and opportunity and eventually breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Tariq Al Gurg, chief executive of Dubai Cares, at the launch of Raise on Friday. “Gender equality is a theme across all of the Dubai Cares programmes and specifically education programmes, where we work towards securing equal access for boys and girls.”
Plan International Philippines (Pip), a non-governmental organisation that teamed up with Dubai Cares last year to execute the project, has also committed about $300,000 in funds and services.
“The Raise project will help keep more children and adolescents, especially girls, in schools,” said Carin van der Hor, country director of Pip. “It will help ensure that adolescent girls make better life choices as a result of increased opportunities and investment in social, personal and financial assets.”
Raise will directly affect nearly 11,000 pupils. Seventy per cent are girls between the ages of 10 and 19 from 32 farming and fishing villages. Nearly 4,000 parents and teachers in eight municipalities across the two provinces will participate. The programme’s primary focus is to address basic barriers preventing children from attending and continuing school.
“The challenges are basically poverty,” said John Diviva, national programming manager for Pip, noting that 42.5 per cent of the population lives below the poverty rate in Masbate and 41.7 per cent in Northern Samar, compared with the national rate of 21 per cent. “Their families don’t have enough money to send them to school and support all their daily basic needs.”
Latest figures provided by Pip show the dropout rate for primary school-aged girls in the two provinces in 2011-2012 was 5.1 per cent in Masbate and 10.9 in Northern Samar, compared with 4.9 per cent nationwide. At high-school level, the dropout rate was 10.7 per cent in Masbate and 10.4 in Northern Samar, nearly double the national figure, 6.2 per cent.
“We’re seeing an unprecedented rise in the case of teenage pregnancies,” said Mrs van der Hor. “Every hour, let me repeat that, every hour, 24 babies are born to teenage mothers, and this is according to the National Youth Commission.”
Through Raise, children will be provided family planning guidance and grants to help cover the costs of transport, school supplies, food or any other financial burden identified as a barrier to their education.
The initiative is also supporting existing education programmes by training teachers how to administer alternative and flexible learning programmes that allow students to study at home.
“The government has some good ideas, but governments are often underfunded,” said Dr Tanjina Mirza, vice president of international programmes at Plan International Canada.
Local governments, which are in charge of funding schools, often run on tight budgets and are forced to funnel money toward infrastructure, said Mr Diviva.
“They have very small budgets and sometimes they don’t value education so much in the budget,” he said. “It’s a poor area, so the priority of the local government is the road construction, the bridges from farm to market roads. So, the school, education, health and child protection programmes are budgeted very, very small. That’s why we’re advocating that education should be a priority.”
Mr Al Gurg is leading a Dubai Cares delegation to Masbate to meet members of the community as part of a programme evaluation.
“Monitoring and evaluation ... serves as a critical part of our efforts as it helps gauge the effectiveness of each programme,” he said. “It also gives a first-hand understanding of the socio-economic forces at play in the beneficiary communities, and helps us incorporate our programmes into local frameworks which in turn spurs local communities to take ownership of our programmes.”
Commenting on the Dubai Cares programme, the UAE ambassador to the Philippines, Moosa Alkhajah, said: “The continuous humanitarian efforts of the United Arab Emirates abroad are testament to the generosity of its people and leadership. Dubai Cares’ work in the Philippines represents a portion of the support that the UAE extends to countries in need.”