The COVID-19 pandemic continues to strain nations across the world. Economies, jobs, education and health system remain disrupted. Vulnerable sectors, especially those in developing countries like the Philippines, are entrenched deeper in poverty. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Philippines has suffered its worst economic contraction since World War II with a Gross Domestic Product growth of negative 9.5% by end of 2020. The nation’s total outstanding debt also climbed 3.5% month-on-month to P10.77 trillion.
The dire situation has enabled strengthened alliances, as nations on the mend from the pandemic extend support to struggling nations. One friend that came to the immediate aid of the Philippines is its Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific neighbor, Australia.
Australia and the Philippines celebrate 75 years of diplomatic ties this year since the establishment of the Australian Consulate General in Manila. Through the decades, Australia has been a long-standing partner of the Philippines to address its development challenges in the areas of basic education, training and human resource development, public financial management, health, rural and community development, governance, assistance to vulnerable groups, infrastructure, and support to the Mindanao peace and development process.
Commitment to Development, Commitment to Mindanao
Based on latest data, the Bangsamoro is home to some of the country’s poorest and most vulnerable communities due to a confluence of man-made and natural disasters. The region continues to lag behind compared to others in the country despite the gains made under the new autonomous government. Poverty incidence among families, for instance, remain at 53.6%. Basic or simple literacy, meanwhile, stands at 86.1%, way below the country’s average of 96.5%.
Australia’s development cooperation program in the Philippines thus puts premium in Mindanao, particularly in the Bangsamoro: supporting basic education reform, peace and stability, and inclusive economic growth.
Some of the past initiatives include the Basic Education Assistance to Mindanao program from 2002-2009; the Philippines Response to Indigenous Peoples’ and Muslim Education program (PRIME) in 2011-2014; and the Basic Education Assistance to Muslim Mindanao program (BEAM-ARMM) in 2012-2017.
Partnering with Save the Children against COVID-19
With support from Australia, Save the Children Philippines has been implementing the project Children’s Access to Quality Alternative Learning Modalities in Safe Spaces in the BARMM as part of the Education Pathways to Peace in Mindanao program.
The project is a direct response to the Bangsamoro Ministry of Basic, Higher, and Technical Education’s call for a more consolidated and coordinated effort in responding to the emerging needs of children on quality education. It aims to protect every child’s right to learn amid the COVID-19 pandemic through alternative education and distance learning opportunities.
The COVID-19-adaptive project aims to reach 90 schools across BARMM’s nine school divisions using age-appropriate, gender-sensitive, inclusive, COVID-safe, and culturally-sensitive learning modalities. Direct beneficiaries include at least 14,400 children, 4,000 adults, 450 school personnel, and 100 partner institutions. The estimated indirect beneficiaries, through offline and online information, education, and communications materials, are around 362,000 children and adults.
Operationally, the project is focusing on developing and distributing learning materials for students and teaching packages for teachers and parents, as well as improving the capacity of teachers, parents, and other caregivers on alternative learning delivery during the pandemic. To keep learners and education personnel safe from COVID-19, the project also distributed Hygiene Sustainability Kits in schools.
The project undertakes advocacy campaigns related to children’s rights and protection, mental health and psychosocial support, and psychological first aid. This is in response to ground realities that the COVID-19 pandemic does not only cause health hazard to learners, but also takes a toll on their physical and mental wellbeing.
“We cannot afford to lose children in this pandemic. Aside from ensuring that they remain healthy and free from COVID-19, we must also do our best to guarantee that they remain learning in a place that is safe – physically, mentally, and psychosocially,” Muyot added.
“Our work does not end when the pandemic ends. We will not stop until all children, regardless of race, religion, sex, and status in life, are educated, safe, protected, and have recovered from the blow of this pandemic. We look forward to our continued and fruitful partnership with Australia in transforming this aspiration into a reality.”