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A Page from a Volunteer’s Journal

It’s unmistakably a children’s study center tucked away in a quiet neighborhood. The colorful perimeter wall is already a give-away, and if you’re still not convinced, listen closely. A few meters away from the dark green-colored gate, you can already hear children’s excited shrieks and laughter. This is especially true during school days, when students troop to the center after classes to request for help with their homework. “What’s going on in there,” you might wonder. Oh just children doing what they do best: playing and having fun before settling down to work on their assignments. Welcome to Unang Hakbang Foundation (UHF) at Lopez Rizal Street in Mandaluyong City! I’ve been going to this study center, which is just two short blocks away from Shaw Boulevard, for about two months now. As one of its volunteer academic tutors, I conduct writing and speaking activities to help develop and improve the students’ English communication skills. English is a challenge for many of us, so we have to make the activities as fun and useful as possible. Lest you think we had our noses buried in English classics all throughout summer (why that’s a good idea!), let me be the first to say we didn’t focus on academics at all. Instead, we had a couple of life skills-building sessions where I taught the children basic cooking (with supervision, of course) and basic sewing. The instructions were still in English to underscore the language’s applications in other parts of our life, not just in school. As a volunteer at UHF, the children’s exuberance and insatiable curiosity never cease to amaze me. No topic is ever too boring; they’ll try an activity at least once. Some exercises (like those involving art) can be too absorbing that they themselves forget that time’s up, the session is over, and their friends have filed out of the room. If they can’t understand an instruction, the students will ask. Oh yes, there will be those who will hesitate to raise a hand and will content themselves with asking a peer (“Ano daw?”) or waiting for someone to ask on their behalf. And there are those who go right ahead and confidently ask – in either English or Tagalog – what do they need to do. (“Ma’am, anong gagawin?”) Children may demonstrate restlessness throughout an activity; it is after classes and it is summer, after all. But they also know how to recognize authority and sit up and listen. In fact, they appreciate it when you give them direction, when you tell them what they’re doing is right, needs improvement or, in some instances, hurting others. The students who go to Unang Hakbang Foundation know that if their administrators or tutors talk to them the way we do, it’s because we want to help them become the best versions of themselves. My rewards as a UHF volunteer? There are too many to mention: the children’s excited chatter, the “aha” realization that lights their faces, hearing them call my name, their absorbed expressions when accomplishing a task, the knowledge I gain about working with children, the fact that some of them could become future political and church leaders if we guide them properly, and going through my favorite elementary subjects (science, included) all over again. We’re never too old to learn something new, and I, the academic tutor, am definitely learning a lot from our students at the study center! So, are you up to these kinds of challenges? Would you like to help children develop their potentials as students and as future leaders? If your answer is “yes,” then I invite you to join us at Unang Hakbang Foundation as an academic tutor. UHF has three (3) study centers: one near Samat Street, Shaw Boulevard, Mandaluyong City; another in Barangay Addition Hills (also in Mandaluyong City), and one in Pampanga City. For more information about volunteering for any of these study centers, please contact Ms. Merly Adviento at 531-5189 or 531-3474. You may also send an email to unanghakbangfoundation@gmail.com. By: Elisa R. Bruan, HOM volunteer, Academic tutor at Unang Hakbang Foundation