UUCC is a partner church with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Aquino, in the province of Negros Oriental, Island of Negros, Philippines. The UU Church of Aquino is a lively but poor congregation in a rural rice-growing area, near the foot of Mt. Canlaon, a volcano. Per capita incomes in the Philippines average less than 4% of U.S. per capita incomes, and Unitarian Universalists in the Philippines tend to be poorer than average Filipinos.
The local language in Negros Oriental is Cebuano. Many people learn Hiligaynon, spoken on the other side of the island, and Tagalog, the national language. English is a fourth language spoken by very few people in this rural area.
At the start of our partnership in 2009, the Aquino congregation held services in a simple cement chapel. Our congregation provided funds for a new chapel roof and an extension to the building. Aquino UUs provided the labor. The extension provided protection from the rain during religious classes. Unfortunately, a land dispute mandated the chapel be torn down in 2013. With fortitude, UUCA built another cement chapel and recycled the roof. Electricity and plumbing are still not available. There are no pews. Children sit on the floor; adults on plastic chairs and wooden benches.
Education on this Island is not free. Also, to enter first grade a child must have graduated from a certified pre-school program. These programs are costly. As the Aquino people could not afford to send their children to any near-by programs, they started one of their own! UUCC helped with funding for certification, supplies for the school, playground equipment and vitamin supplements. The school started in a humble, small bamboo structure; now, thanks to the Filipino military a much larger cement school stands near the UU Chapel. The military provided soldiers for building the structure.
The Aquino church holds religious education (RE) classes in the Chapel on Saturdays for as many as 40 children. Several classes are held to accommodate the different age groups. A feeding program provided by the mothers and supported by UUCC is held the same day. This year we doubled the funding for the feeding program. The mothers are excited and have plans to provide meals with protein.
Dollars for Scholars Program
UUCC members learned that UU children in Aquino were not attending elementary school or high school as their families could not afford the expenses associated with education. It costs about $300 a year to send a child to elementary school and over $600 to send a child to high school (as much as $800.) Also, attendance requires uniforms and school supplies. The high school students must provide their own transportation. Tricycles – a motor bike or a motorcycle with a side car, act as school buses. Built to hold two adults at best, as many as five students will crowd the tricycles on the way to and from school over very bad roads.
How many to support was the big question? We knew there were 34 children attending RE at the time. The Partner Church Committee took it upon itself to commit to 34 students. So began our Dollars for Scholars program in 2010. With the help of sponsors and numerous fund-raising events, we have successfully supported all 34 students each year. We send $100 to each Elementary child and $200 to each high school student. This year there are 18 high school students, 16 elementary students and 29 sponsors.
Sponsors are paired with a child. Each Christmas we receive a packet of cards from our 34 students with grateful messages, thanking each sponsor for their help. For students with no sponsor, the committee holds suppers, raffles and other events to raise their education funding. This program has been one of the most satisfying aspects of our partnership.
When we started this program, elementary school was six years and high school four. In 2012, the central government added two years to the high school program. Now, instead of obtaining a high school diploma in ten years; a student must complete 12 years as in this country. This new development is positive for the students but increases the amount of money the Partner Church Committee must raise each year. But no one is complaining, our congregation, spear headed by the dedicated partner church committee, is committed to the Sixth Principal:
To affirm and promote the goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all.