PHILIPPINES - I work with an amazing person who has a young family and is dedicated, kind, but quite unpresuming and quiet. Earlier this year I noticed his absence, but as a private person myself I did not inquire as to the reason. As the months progressed and his absence prolonged, I became more aware of every conversation in which his name was mentioned. It turned out that he was suffering from a totally unexpected and aggressive type of cancer. There weren’t any prior symptoms, and neither he nor anyone in his family was predisposed to this life-threatening disease.
I immediately purchased a get well card and began to pray for him. I believe that prayer works and although at the time I didn’t know that he and his family were ardent believers, it was a pleasant surprise to learn that they were people of faith. After several months I was walking through the hallways in the suite of the office and I saw him. I was in such disbelief and relief that I ran up to him. It was truly amazing to see him and to speak with him. It was a miracle that he survived and had returned to work, his cancer in remission.
During several of our subsequent conversations we spoke about faith and giving. After a while he quietly told me that he supported several children in his home country of the Philippines. He believed that education was the only way to help improve the lives of the current and subsequent generations of children born into impoverished circumstances. I was immensely intrigued by this act of generosity and felt that it in some way it was connected on a spiritual level to his miraculous healing.
Then, I discovered that he actually supported over 40 students through the Fogata Scholarship Program. I asked if I could interview the woman who ran the eponymous organization which he and other financial backers supported. He arranged for us to meet when she was next in America.
How did you get started?
Eva: Well, I actually started running the program when my husband and I retired and moved back to our home country of the Philippines in 2008. Although, my husband and I are Filipino, we had spent many years living primarily in the States, but traveled back and forth between the two countries. At that time we sponsored a child through a Christian charity. We did this for several years $21/month which by America standards is minimal, but like in many developing nations this amount is unimaginable in the Philippines where annual salaries range from $133 to $1253. (Source: World Salaries)
Prior to the inception of the organization I began seeing lots of ads on the television about several Christian children’s charity funds. I felt like something was trying to get my attention, as if the universe wanted to get my attention, telling me that there was something bigger than me that needed to be accomplished and that I was the only person who could accomplish this task.
How do you accomplish this?
Eva: I make sure that all of the donations go directly to the children who we support. We pay tuition fees for scholarship students directly to the school for the entire year. As expected the costs to outfit each scholarship student is minimal by American standards, but for these students and their families it is something that would otherwise be unattainable.
We have minimal administrative expenses and most of these are related to charitable organization reporting and tax filings. Therefore, we are able to control all hard expenditures by taking a hands on approach. I have someone make the uniforms, I personally go to market or have one of our employees purchase all school supplies at the beginning of the school year, we also make sure that students remain supplied throughout the year and purchase all the items that will ensure that they can continue to focus on their education.
What was the inspiration for the Fogata Scholarship Program (FSP)?
Eva: I wanted to establish an organization where I could actually feel and participate in the ‘pay it forward’ philosophy. Education is a really big thing in the Philippines, because without it the only hope of joining the workforce and providing for your family is to work as domestic helpers. I think I read that “Participation in the labour force remains relatively low. Only about 65 per cent of the population aged 15 and above is looking for work, one of the lowest levels in the region……This is partly explained by the high value set on further education in the Philippines: young Filipinos typically spend some time in college before entering the labor market, contributing to the lower participation rate. Others in the region go to work earlier.” (Source: CNBC)
Was there any single incident that made you realize the necessity of your program?
Eva: On one of our trips back to the country we were told about 6 children who were abandoned and living in a dilapidated shack. Their mother was a drug addict and had left alone. Drug abuse among the uneducated is very high in the Philippines, especially in rural areas where opportunities are few. Because of this and other concomitant issues the children were not able to attend school. I heard about them and we went to their house to ascertain how we could help.
They were sleeping on dirt floor, were wearing rags, and had no heat or means to cook food. Though we couldn’t remove the children from their home, we did have the mud floor of the hut cemented and a carpenter built sleeping area. We also began to deliver food to them on a weekly basis until the mother finally came back.
Abandonment is very common as a result of drug and alcohol abuse which many people use to relieve the stress of subsistence living. For those who don’t permanently abandon their children, they get caught up in a vicious cycle of feeling guilty for not taking care of their family due to a lack of financial opportunities and continuing to have children despite of their inability to care for them. Family planning isn’t common nor readily accessible, and though this wasn’t the focus of our foundation, we recognized that people who have education and opportunities often delay having children until they are established professionally.
How did you identify candidates for the scholarships?
Eva:I thought about the best method to achieve this and it became apparent that contacting the principals of local elementary and high schools would ensure that the candidates were qualified, currently enrolled, and judged as having a commitment to complete high school and possibly matriculate to a technical school or 2-year college program. In the Philippines. I asked the principal what percentage of the students are most likely to go on to high school given the fact that many families often require their labor to keep the household above starvation threshold. These children are from families where the parents simply work as day laborers, farmers, street vendors. They are consumed with working and earning a living, and often this means that they put the household needs above the needs of their children; not realizing that by choosing to take them out of school they effectively cut off any future possibility of upward mobility.
Who were the first recipients of the Fogata Scholarships?
Eva: Unlike the United States, the cost for elementary and high school education is the responsibility of parents even though these are public institutions. As I mentioned before, the students we gave scholarships to were recommended by the principal of the school. From the list of candidates identified selected we interview the parents. It is vital that the parents are committed to the process and thus must sign a document promising to support their children in completing high school despite any economic considerations.
The support of the family is the single most determining factor in awarding financial support. Though academic achievement is a factor, it is of less importance than a commitment by the parents to ensure their children’s’ academic success.
We paid for their uniforms, school supplies, books, backpack, shoes, miscellaneous expenses, etc. In order to track all expenditures and ensure that all financial and in kind donations go directly to the children, I personally oversee every aspect.
The Philippines is plagued like other nations with the issues of child labor and the lack of protection and safety standards for them, pulling elementary students out of school to work arduous jobs for unimaginable hours seems to be the norm, and I made a decision to do something more than sending a monthly stipend to a charitable organization or merely paying lip service. This was the motivation and I chose to focus on granting scholarships to school age children. In the Philippines elementary school is comprised of grades (1- 6); and high school runs from (7 -13). When I engaged in dialogue with the principal of a local school to ascertain interest in our scholarship program he informed me that the percentage of elementary students who go on to high school is only about 70% while the remaining 30% go out into the workforce in service jobs.
Besides giving financial support do you provide other services to ensure the children’s educational success?
Eva: Yes, another component of the program is nutritional support. As we expanded our organization we started a feeding program because some of the kids are so poor that they only eat one meal a day. Hunger is a major contributor to poor academic success and I concluded that in order to ensure that the elementary students we sponsor would successfully matriculate to high school, we had to make sure that they are properly fed.
We provide lunch for students on Monday through Friday, and to ensure the efficacy of the program we ask the school to weigh the students to determine if they are severely malnutrition, moderate, etc. The students were ranked for the necessity of receiving food and every 3 months the weight of each student was rechecked to evaluate their continued food support. This program has grown exponentially and now serves over 70 students.
I started a feeding program because hunger is a major contributor to poor performance in school. Some of the students who participate in the feeding program are so poor that they were only eating one meal a day.
What is the rate of successful for Fogata Scholarship recipients?
Eva: In 2008 the year that we started the program we awarded a $500 to support 10 elementary school students who were matriculating to high school. Then, in 2010 we added an additional 26 students. In March 2014 all finished the program and 7 continued on to post-secondary trade school called Tesda and are successfully employed in their fields of endeavor. 5 work in hotel restaurant services (HRS), while 2 others are Information Technology (IT) professionals.
This coming March 2016 another 6 student will graduate from a 2-year program. 2 will receive degrees in IT, while the other 3 will receive degrees in HRS. The hospitality industry is a strong market sector in the Philippines and competition is fierce for opportunities to work on cruise ships in professional and non-professional capacities. 1 student will graduate from a four-year university with a degree in Mass Communication.
Anything else that you would like readers to know?
Eva: Yes, that though this may seem like a small organization we can each effect a positive difference in the lives of others, especially those less fortunate. Many times people may think that the problems in the world are so many and they are just one person, but I learned through this process of founding and running the Fogata Scholarship foundation that what we view as small efforts others take as great gifts.
Also, it is important that people understand that this organization is legitimate and operates under the auspices of the Filipino United Network. We have adopted a hands-on approach which engenders confidence through transparency and enables us to actively engage in our belief that “it takes a village to raise a child.” We have been successful in implementing a charity that is based on developing self-sufficiency versus dependency on government support. At the Fogata Scholarship foundation our philosophy, moto, and drive is to “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
And what of the man who inspired this interview?
His name is Amante Bustamante, and like Eva he is Filipino. I asked him if he felt somehow because of his generosity and giving that he had been blessed and spiritually repaid during the deepest, darkest moment in his life when confronted with the awful specter of dying of cancer. Amazingly, he never connected the two, but acknowledged that it required a great deal of faith and belief in God, strength, and the support and love of his family to attain healing and remission.
What made you choose to support the Fogata Scholarship Program?
Amante: I didn’t engage in this for any personal gain or tax write off. I recognized that because of the opportunities that my middle class upbringing afforded me and my siblings that I was able to finish school, come to America become a partner in a successful IT company, which helped my family advance. I realized that the only way that less fortunate Filipinos would achieve these types of opportunities was to give the rising generation a chance to achieve economic freedom which is why I chose to financially support elementary and high school students.
Education is the most effective means to achieve freedom from poverty and thus upward mobility. It isn’t about becoming wealthy, though this may be one result, but it is about preparing the way so that the next generation will be able to improve themselves and pay it forward thus ensuring that this positive cycle continues.
My ultimate joy with being involved as a supporter of the Fogata Scholarship foundation is that I have virtually met through Facebook a few of the scholarship recipients and have witnessed just how effective our financial support has been in helping them to mature and find professional jobs. Through the years I have had the pleasure of watching children who have benefited from this scholarship program mature into adulthood and then they themselves also begin to give to others and improve the destinies of their families by making education a cornerstone of their “new life.”
Have you chosen to support other charities?
Amante: As I mentioned, I moved here from the Philippines and after years of working in the IT industry in the Northern Virginia region I was fortunate to have the opportunity to become a partner with Ashburn Consulting, LLC. As our partnership coalesced we discovered that each of us shared a strong desire to give back. Each of us, unbeknownst to the others, were supporting charitable causes both in the States and internationally. It was then that we decided to promote a culture of altruism by providing opportunities for the employees to participate in "charitable giving."
My partners and I decided to actualize the commitment to our credo of "giving back to the community that we serve, either by giving our time and talents or by providing financial support." So, in addition to providing Ashburn employees with the means to allocate a percentage of their salaries toward investments, retirement, and education, we also established a selection of charities to which they can donate. Supporting a particular charity or cause isn't mandatory, but we have discovered that the culture of altruism at the company inspires everyone.
Was Amante's recovery from cancer a result of unselfishly giving of his time and resources in the years prior to his illness? Perhaps his life was spared because of his passion for humanity and his commitment to the advancement of his fellow citizens through education? We may never know the answer or whether the miracle of his healing was the result of giving; but it should inspire all of us to stretch and grow, to give and live beyond ourselves and our circle, without hope of return, and only because, it is the right thing to do.