Thursday, September 25, 2014

Filipino: Language of Unity

“In Mano Amiga, the use of English as our medium of instruction is held in high regard but equally is the use of the Filipino language which we strongly believe is one of the more admirable traits of the Filipino people. As a Filipino Teacher, I encourage my students to continuously use the language and discover its richness. The Buwan ng Wika (National Language Month) is the most opportune time when we remind our students of the uniqueness of the Filipino language and its power to bridge thousands of islands together and further unite our nation.” – Homeroom Teacher Ms. Hilda Bayotlang

This year, Mano Amiga Academy celebrated Buwan ng Wika with the theme “FILIPINO: WIKA NG PAGKAKAISA. (Filipino: Language of Unity)”. The faculty and staff prepared various activities that aimed to promote unity and nationalism among students and enhance their leadership skills, self-confidence and creativity. Some of the activities held for the month were poetry writing, Balagtasan, speech choir, slogan designing and essay writing. The celebration was culminated with “Boses Pinoy”, a singing competition that showcased the talent of students in singing and performing.

“I enjoyed all activities but my favorite was the speech choir competition where I got the chance to collaborate with my classmates in preparing for the actions and movements. We built stronger friendship through the competition.” Grade 5 student Vohnmark Cantuba shared.

When asked about the month-long celebration, Grade 2 student Ruelyn Olive shared “I did not join most of the activities for the month because I was very shy. I did not believe it when my mom said I can sing but she encouraged me to join the contest. I was very happy when the teachers announced my name. I won the Little Division of the Boses Pinoy. After that, I promised my mom I will join the school choir and never be ashamed to show my talent to the world.”

During the culmination, parents brought an array of Filipino delicacies, like suman, bibingka, kakanin, and saging which were served to all the guests and participants. “I am very happy with how the activities went. It makes me so proud to see how the parents collaborated with the teachers in preparing not only the collateral for the event but also in coaching the students. Everyone involved deemed this year’s Buwan ng Wika celebration a success. I could not agree any less.” Teacher Hilda proudly shared.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Truly A Master Chef

“In life, when you decide to learn new things, never forget who generously taught you, how you learned it and why you decided to learn it. As my Italian Chef mentor once shared to me, ‘The new things that you decide to learn will be the only treasure that people cannot steal from you. You can either use it to better serve your customer or to further develop yourself so you can teach others. Either way you are blessing the world with your skills and talents’.”  Chef Ronnie Cantuba, former Bistro 3846 Chef   

Ronnie Cantuba or Kuya Ronnie as his co-workers fondly call him is funny, hardworking and reliable.  For the past two years, Kuya Ronnie served as the head chef of Bistro 3846, the food and catering social enterprise of Mano Amiga Academy that focuses on producing nutritious meals and donates all its profits to the Mano Amiga scholarship fund. Kuya Ronnie is also a Mano Amiga parent. His son, Vohnmark, is a Grade 5 student and has been a Mano Amiga scholar since first grade. Kuya Ronnie’s story is a beautiful example of how a person born in poverty can radically  transform his situation  if you give him access to the right tools and opportunities.

Before landing in a job at Bistro 3846, Kuya Ronnie performed one odd job after another. “I used to be a messenger and a factory worker. Later on, I became a food vendor in one of the cafeterias in the University Belt. I sold mini-pizza and pasta. Even if I am already fond of cooking, selling what you cook is a total different experience.” Kuya Ronnie recalled. “After a couple of years in the food stand, I wanted to learn more so I applied to a fine dining restaurant in Malate, Manila City. The only vacancy back then was a dishwasher. They saw my potential and after six (6) months I was promoted to the butcher position. As a butcher, you wore many hats. I was the messenger, the slicer, and basically the assistant to all the assistants but I enjoyed it. I learned a lot of the basics in cooking. I was the all-around man of the chef. After less than a year, I was promoted to a higher position after another and in six years I became the second highest chef in the restaurant. It was not an easy six years but I learned a lot.”

When asked what motivated him through the challenging years, Kuya Ronnie eagerly shared, “I cannot decide which is harder, waking up in the middle of the night due to the scorching rain that fills your house because of the holes on your ceiling, or trying to catch some sleep knowing that in any minute the bucket that you placed to catch the rain will soon spill over to the bed of your children. These moments certainly served as my motivation to earn more and provide better for my family.”

The search for a a greener pasture led him to apply to Saudi Arabia and to take on multiple jobs. “When I was there, I worked as a chef in one of the biggest hospitals in Riyadh in the morning and a salesman at night.   Every weekend, I was a part-time cooker in a fast food. I was very lucky to have stronger body back then. I was never sick so I was able to work more and save more.”

With enough savings in his pocket, Kuya Ronnie went back to Manila to be with his family. Using his savings, he put up a small food stall to generate a steady income for his family. Due to a series of events, including someone close to him running away with their business earnings, Kuya Ronnie found himself again in debt and without enough money to provide for his family’ s needs.
“Luckily, I met Ate Melody, the Bistro 3846 Supervisor and my fellow parent in Mano Amiga. She told me to apply. I got accepted and what followed was the most fruitful and stable years of my life.” Kuya Ronnie recalled. “I have been through a lot in life and the feeling of being reunited with the wok and the stove brough me so much happiness. I cannot imagine doing other things but cooking.”

Under the tutelage of Bistro 3846 co-founder Chef Amelia Alba, Kuya Ronnie learned proper food preparation techniques and an extensive list of recipes from different parts of the world. Kuya Ronnie was eventually promoted to Head Chef, applying and honing further all the skills he learned. “I am very grateful to Bistro 3846 because they expressed their belief in my ability and motivated me to always be better in my craft.”

Last July 2014, the Bistro family received wonderful news. Kuya Ronnie has been chosen as a Chef de partie (CDP), in a 7-star hotel in Jeddah. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for Kuya Ronnie and his family. While the Bistro family felt sad that they wouldn’t be seeing him for a while, they were all very happy and proud of their Kuya Ronnie.

Kuya Ronnie (far right) with his Bistro Family

“We cannot be prouder of his achievement. We fully support his decision. We know this will truly help not only his family but also his career as a Chef.” Operations Manager Ms. Mithilaya Miclat shared.

Last month, Kuya Ronnie safely arrived in Jeddah. When asked what advice he would like to share with other aspiring chefs, he proudly answered: “For future chefs, always strive to give your 100% in the dish that you cook. Think of it as the last meal you would ever eat in this lifetime and make it a point that your tongue will rejoice with the last flavor it will ever taste.” 

Feature Story : Education Hero

“I experienced what it’s like for my own education to be threatened, and I think that’s a feeling that no child should ever go through.”  - Lynn Pinugu

She is Eleanor Pinugu to the world - a multi-awarded Filipina and a hard working social entrepreneur. She was a recipient of the prestigious The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) award for social enterprise and education in 2013. She was also hailed as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and was handpicked to represent the country in the WEF 2012 Annual Meeting in Davos.

To the Mano Amiga family, she is either Lynn, Ms. Lynn or Ms. Pinugu – the young Co-founder and Executive Director of the school who is constantly looking for innovative solutions to make quality education more accessible to the poor, and bring positive change in the Philippines. Her goal is to lead to sustainable scale-up of Mano Amiga in 15 new locations nationwide by 2025.

Manila Bulletin recently featured her as an Education Hero. Here’s a preview of the feature:


It was in her junior year in college at the Ateneo de Manila University when Eleanor Rosa Pinugu was faced with an uncertain future. Suddenly, her privileged life and all the luxuries that came with it were threatened when her mother lost her job and their business has almost gone bankrupt.

Pinugu, then a regular paying student taking up AB Interdisciplinary Studies, major in Journalism and Sociology, had to face reality and think of ways to be able to continue her studies. Luckily, there was an essay competition where the prize was a scholarship. Wasting no time, she submitted her piece and won, making her a scholar until she finished her college degree. But that turning point in her life proved to be more than just an awakening; the experience led her to make a personal vow – that is to be involved in education projects that would help less fortunate people gain access to quality education.

Years after graduation, Pinugu found herself in Mexico working as a missionary and promoting volunteerism in schools. During that time, she encountered bright and confident students from the Mano Amiga Academy who didn’t let poverty hinder their development in school. She was so impressed with the students that she made a joke to the principal, telling her to give her a call in case she wants to bring the school and its system to the Philippines. Little did she know that the call would actually come in 2008 and the joke would become a reality.

Going against the wishes of her parents, Pinugu decided to leave her well-paying job in the corporate world to serve as one of the co-founders of the Mano Amiga Academy in FTI, Taguig. As early as 2008, the school has been providing underprivileged Filipino children an advanced and globally competitive K to 12 curriculum as well as other opportunities to uplift the lives of their families.

Students fondly call her “Teacher Lynn,” as she personally handles their Saturday enrichment activities, giving them lessons on leadership, teamwork, and helping them develop their communication skills.

“We don’t baby them in the school. If you didn’t do your assignment, you suffer the consequences,” says the 29-year-old Pinugu.

But unlike other schools for the less fortunate, Mano Amiga Academy is helping parents to stand on their own and become more involved in the lives of their children by providing them livelihood and enlisting them as teacher assistants in the school.

“The parents volunteering for the school, for us, are the best way to get to know them. Whenever the parents volunteer as teacher assistants, they see how you run the school. You also form a personal relationship because you work with them,” she relates.

Six years into her chosen mission, Pinugu’s sacrifices are already starting to bear fruit. Slowly, she is gaining recognition for her work. Last year, she was one of the recipients of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service (TOWNS) for social enterprise and education. In 2012, she was hailed as a Global Shaper by the World Economic Forum (WEF) and was handpicked to represent the country in the WEF 2012 Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland along with fellow Global Shapers Anna Oposa and San Vicente, Palawan Mayor Pie Alvarez. Pinugu also received the Social Entrepreneurship Star Award at the 2012 Asian Social Enterprise Summit in Korea, and represented the Philippines in the first Microsoft Asia Pacific Conference on Youth Innovation in Singapore.

Taking things one step at a time, Pinugu is working on her dream of building a country where every child has access to quality education by expanding the Mano Amiga Academy system to 15 schools in Metro Manila and rural areas by 2025. She’s also starting to create a model curriculum which includes meetings with the parents and house visits to establish connection with the families.

In this 60 Minutes interview, the education advocate shares how one experience led her to change the way she sees education, and how easily a privileged person like her can give up everything for a life of selfless service and devotion to poor Filipino children. (Sara Grace C. Fojas)

View full article here:

Mission Possible: The Mano Amiga Story


 “I want to be a doctor” Grade 5 student Princess Villacorta shared when asked what she wants to be when she grows up. “I see our neighbors suffer because of their health illnesses and I want to help by curing their sickness. I know one day I will.” Princess is one of over 100 students studying in Mano Amiga Academy. When her dream finally comes true, she will be the first heart surgeon in the entire PNR Community - West Bicutan, Taguig City, one of the most depressed communities in Taguig City with more than 5,000 informal settlers who live in shanties, the same community that has been served by Mano Amiga since 2008.

Mano Amiga is a non-profit network of schools, with a mission to provide quality education and holistic formation to children from impoverished communities in the hopes of transforming their lives, ending the cycle of poverty in their families and creating a lasting change in their communities. Mano Amiga was founded in Mexico almost five (5) decades ago when a group of youth who went into an immersion visit; worked together to help address the poverty they had witnessed in the community. They raised funds to provide the poor children they met an equal opportunity to have a brighter future through quality education. The model became successful that it eventually grew into a network of thirty-eight (38) Mano Amiga schools around the world. It is known for producing alumni who are outstanding academic achievers with national scores at par with the best schools in their countries. Mano Amiga alumni include doctors, lawyers, businessmen, bankers, engineers, and educators. 

In 2008, Mano Amiga model opened its first campus in Asia, particularly in Taguig City, Philippines. It had 30 students for SY 2008-2009. “When I first heard of Mano Amiga, I could not believe that there is truly an International School for the poor. I can still remember when I was interviewed by the former principal. He mentioned that the school will be using an international curriculum. Also books and other school supplies would also be provided and that only a limited slot (20-25 students in class) would be offered to ensure the quality of teaching. Right then, I know I should do good so my son Angelo would be considered.” Mommy Melody recalled. “Then the principal explained that part of the scholarship condition is to diligently pay a small tuition fee amount and volunteer two (2) hours every week as teacher assistants, as part of our family’s contribution to the school. Hearing this, I honestly had to think twice but still said yes in the end. I know this would be a better scenario than sending my son to the nearby public school that will surely be for free but quality of learning is also not assured.” Mommy Melody proudly shared. “Then I saw how the teachers handled the students during the first day of class. I could not explain it then but I know there is a big difference on the approach. I cannot remember I was taught the same way when I was a student myself. The first school year ended at a breeze and my son Angelo could not believe he passed the first year in Mano Amiga. He did not even want the school year to end. He wanted to go back to school right after the first weekend of the school break. After that, I realized the difference I observed during the first day. Mano Amiga did not only teach my son new things, they made him love learning.”

Throughout the years the main focus of the Mano Amiga model is holistic education and skills development. To help us translate this mission in class, we invest on our teachers. The teachers are offered competitive salaries, and the school invests in creating tailored training opportunities and personal formation. We ensure that they are not only equipped with up to date teaching methods and techniques but also grounded on the social mission of Mano Amiga. More than searching for the top-notchers, we look for teachers who have the heart for service and are highly trainable.

 “Working in Mano Amiga brings so much joy but a lot of challenges. I have been teaching in other private schools and handled various levels of students. But the realities in Mano Amiga are far different. Academic performance alone does not dictate the intelligence of the students. My co-teachers and I observed a lot of our students have the potential to perform better in class but they fail their subjects because they do not believe in themselves and their references are very limited. They want to work on their assignments but their parents can no longer teach them because they themselves do not know the topic. The challenge to learning is not the students’ low comprehension but on their insecurities and self-esteem issues. We need to be extra creative in localizing our lessons so as to meet the learning needs of our students and take into consideration their background.” Homeroom Adviser, Teacher Mary Anne said.

“During my first year of teaching, one of my Grade 3 students Cyruz was very shy and quite in class. It was extremely difficult to motivate him to participate in class activities. Even if he knew the answer, Cyruz preferred to keep it to himself and only express his thoughts through writing.  After years of consistent encouragements from his teachers, various after-school interventions and guidance of his parents, Cyruz finally blossom. When he was in Grade 1, one of his teachers made him a group leader for the reporting tasks in Social Science class. Cyruz struggled at first but effectively worked with his team. When he found out that his group ranked the highest, Cyruz started believing in himself. He thanked his teacher for trusting him. Today, Cyruz is one of the best performing students in his class. He continuously leads during group activities and confidently shares his thoughts.” Homeroom Adviser, Teacher Mary Anne proudly shared.
 “In Mano Amiga, students gain mastery of subjects and develop their skills in Communication, Leadership & Critical Thinking. These are the skills they will need to succeed in life. More importantly, we strive to continuously form our students to be future leaders, confident, socially responsible and capable of seeing and responding to the needs of others. We cannot change the current realities of our students but we can certainly help them have a better future. It is with love and utmost respect for their unique gifts and capabilities that drives us to constantly find effective and innovative ways in fostering the development of the overall well-being of our students.” Institutional Development Manager Kris Jovet Garcia