'Children's champ' delivers boxes of hope-A A +A
Tuesday, February 22, 2011
WHEN then Unicef Country Representative to the Philippines Dr. Terrel Hill walked into a classroom in one of the grade schools in the Philippines being assisted by Unicef, he noticed how very, very short the pencils being used by the children were.
He joked to the classroom teacher that they must have very good pencil sharpeners, but the teacher shook her head and hastily replied, "Oh no, Sir, it's not that. We have to break each pencil into three because we can't find enough pencils for the children."
This incident moved Hill so much as he thought of the hundreds of pencils, crayons and storybooks that his grandchildren own.
"How difficult it must be for these kids whose parents can't afford to even buy them a pencil," he said with an intense look in his face as he sat in the air-conditioned room of the Provincial Planning and Development Office (PPDO) for the interview that took place on the day he flew in from Manila.
Hill was in Dumaguete City to make the 44th delivery of boxes called "School in A Box" - crammed with school supplies and equipment - to seven day care centers in the city.
Clad in a light blue collared shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows, jeans and rubber shoes, nobody would have guessed that the stocky, soft-spoken Illinois native had been going to villages like those in Mabinay -- a town nestled so far up on a mountainous terrain in the central part of Negros Island.
Hill has been making trips like this since 2005 when he put up a small, private foundation aptly named Anak Natin- or "Our Children" - after he retired from his 25-year stint with Unicef.
Headquartered in Idaho, USA, the foundation's lone project, School in A Box, specifically targets children in day care centers situated in depressed areas around the country with the help of local government officials.
By now, Hill has personally delivered boxes to a total of 44 day care centers in various villages in the country, most of which are so far-flung and almost inaccessible but Hill likes it that way.
"I like to go to far-flung mountain barangays because they are the most depressed and they have the most difficulty in accessing educational materials. These are my favorite places to go to, those that are at the end of the road," Hill said, eyes twinkling.
Hill has been literally going the extra mile after his retirement, having been a champion of children for most of his working life. Two years after he left Unicef, Hill bandied together some of his also retired Filipino pals whom he met during his Unicef days to create a five-man Board of Directors - all working voluntarily- which directly runs the foundation's operations with zero employee, very low overhead and from out of their own pockets.
"We pay for own expenses. When I come to the Philippines to deliver the boxes, I pay for my own tickets, hotel, food, everything. We maintain our own website and we have a post office box and a credit card processing facility to collect donations. That's it," he explained.
The donations are usually, either individually or collectively, from Filipino Americans whom Hill meets when he goes around America. "After I tell them about the foundation, they give me some money from $10 to $20 per person," said Hill. Out of every dollar the foundation receives, 97 cents go to buying what goes inside the School in A Box.
So what exactly goes inside the box? "A lot," said Hill, and whipped out from his backpack a laminated list which later on will be posted inside the day care center benefitting from the project. The list reads like a wish list of every schoolchild: wooden beads, table blocks, inch cubes, art papers, crayons, multi-colored chalks, pencil sharpeners, staplers, scissors, posters, marking pens, rulers, bondpapers, mimeo papers, glue and tape.
Each box also contains 25 storybooks from the Filipino publishing company Adarna Big Books and Lampara, both of which come in English and Tagalog versions. "The books from Adarna are large so that the teacher can read them to the children and show them the pictures," Hill said.
Aside from the box, every kid in the day care center also gets a plastic envelope filled with one pad paper, a pencil, eraser and yes, a toothbrush. For the latter, Hill explains why: "When I take photographs of the Filipino children in the schools I visit, many would not open their mouth when I ask them to smile. It turns out they were ashamed of their bad teeth!" he laughingly said.
This prompted Hill to talk with officials from the Philippine Dental Association who said that he can give toothbrushes since the children can use salt mixed with water for toothpaste.
An average day care center in the country will have a maximum of two classes of 30 students. "Each child will receive this package," he said.
When Hill and his group of representatives from the local governments arrive in the day care center to deliver the box, the event is akin to a small fiesta.
"Each time it's like a celebration. The parents are there with the barangay leaders and the children sing and dance as we bring out the CD player to play some of the children's songs in the CD. Then we take out the books and the learning toys and dump them on the table and the children, they jostle as some would try corner all of the blocks," Hill said; his eyes lighting up and sounding like a grandfather talking about his grandchildren.
Before his group leaves the centers, Hill makes the children pose for a class photo and when he prints it in his mobile, battery-powered printer, the children would usually huddle around it and blow on the printer like a birthday cake as the photo prints out.
"I tell them they're going to be stars because their photo will be posted on our website," he said with a chuckle as he stuffed the laminated list back into his backpack after a PPDO staff signaled that they were ready to leave to deliver the boxes.
As Hill walked over to the huge pile of School in A Box boxes lined along the wall of the room for a photograph, the 68-year-old retiree, who is scheduled to come back here for another round of delivery in October this year- said he has no plans of stopping his mission work just yet.
"Yeah, I'm here. You can't get rid of me," he quipped before the camera's flash went off. Then, swinging his backpack over his shoulder, he walked out into the cold, unpredictable weather to deliver boxes of hope to children who no longer need to use broken pencils in their classroom. (PIA)