Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines Public Affairs
COTABATO, Republic of the Philippines -- If it takes a village to raise a child, then raising an entire village of children calls for reinforcements. At least that’s the philosophy being adopted by the U.S. Joint Special Operations Task Force – Philippines and the Armed Forces of the Philippines in central Mindanao.
Partnering with the United States Agency for International Development and a small California-based NGO called Books for the Barrios, JSOTF-P and the AFP are on an educational mission to deliver donated books and teaching supplies to needy schools in central Mindanao.
Books for Barrios has sent dozens of boxes of books and other reading materials while USAID has provided JSOTF-P with “science kits” to distribute to students ranging from elementary to high school. Together JSOTF-P and the AFP have delivered books and supplies to seven different schools over the last week impacting more than 1,000 students in conflict-affected areas.
“The AFP has been working to identify needy schools,” said Lt. Rogelio Dumbrigue, the civil-military operations chief for the Philippine Army’s 40th Infantry Battalion. “Different schools could be needy for different reasons.”
Recipient schools range from remote elementary schools with limited access to educational supplies to municipal high schools which have lost books due to natural disasters.
“Our school was flooded last year,” said Bai Isradean Sinsuat-Datukan, the principal of Notre Dame Village High School in Cotabato. “We lost about 2,000 books.”
Notre Dame Village received six boxes of books from Books for the Barrios, including a number of science text books, National Geographic magazines, and English-language novels.
“These books are all donated from children back in the U.S.,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Willie Battle, one of the JSOTF-P team members who have been delivering the books. “The things they’ll learn from these books are the exact same things the kids back in America are learning.”
Lamapog Elementary School in Midsayap was on the receiving end of one of USAID’s science kits which consist of several containers with grade-appropriate workbooks, teaching guides, and lab equipment. According to Capt. Janette Kautzman, team leader for Civil Affairs Team 735, the science kits were a welcome addition at Lamapog, particularly for the children in grades 1-3 who wouldn’t normally be exposed to science until grade 4.
As a result of fighting between government security forces and lawless elements of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the students and teachers of Lamapog Elementary had to evacuate their primary school building and relocate to a temporary structure, essentially an open air shelter that doesn’t even have walls. In spite of the difficult conditions, the students and teachers of Lamapog were grateful for the educational supplies.
“When we delivered the science kits, that afternoon there were so many messages of thanks from the school,” Dumbringue said.
According to Capt. Kautzman, the response from the schools has been very positive. She also noted that National Geographic magazines containing maps were one of the most popular items with the students.