It was a sizzling 34-degree Saturday morning, with little to no movement in traffic. Aboard three vans were 27 volunteers mostly running on caffeine and a few hours of sleep.
They’ve been in the Philippines for less than 24 hours and yet they were on their way to the northern part of Metro Manila. Their destination is Barangay 174 in Caloocan, the country’s 3rd most populous city.
Armed with nothing but big smiles, the volunteers were all excited to spend a day with children. Though all of them are Western Union employees, they each hail from different countries. The activity is part of Western Union’s Global Leaders Employee Engagement, in partnership with Save the Children.
Annually, Western Union invests in more than a thousand employees globally, sending them to various countries to volunteer in non-profit organizations. Western Union and Save the Children have been partners since 2010.
Back in 2013, Western Union supported its relief programs for children and families devastated by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan).
In 2016, Western Union chose Save the Children as a partner for its vocational and entrepreneurship programs for over 3,500 at-risk women and youth across the Philippines, China, and India for the next 5 years. In Asia, Save the Children is also Western Union’s official partner for its education initiatives.
After two hours on the road, the volunteers finally arrived at the barangay’s basketball court where children and parents gave them a warm welcome. Barangay 174 is among the sites of Save the Children’s First Read project, which aims to improve the literacy and numeracy of children ages 0 to 4.
The project reaches over 60,000 children across Metro Manila and Southern Mindanao. Through your generous support, the project can further expand in the future.
“I can see that the kids are very happy and communicative,” said Evgenia Zycebanova, a Western Union employee from Moscow.
The volunteers spent the morning playing, singing, and making art with children. Despite some language barrier, the two groups are able to connect.
“I think they got a good project here, combining education and play. Children develop social skills, creativity, curiosity, and values better this way,” said Grace Saron of New Zealand. “That’s how I raise my children as well.”
The kids then huddled. It’s time for a story.
Today’s story is written in Filipino, which is among the 21 children’s books produced by the First Read project with support from the Prudence Foundation and Adarna House.
The books are written in various Philippine languages to enable more children to experience the joy of reading. The books also teach children about respect and diversity through stories about culture, art, and indigenous communities.
Providing children the opportunity to read at an early age prepares them for a lifetime of learning.
Aside from storytelling and playing, volunteers also made toys for the children.
Together with Save the Children staff, they carefully sewed and dyed dozens of pillow dolls that are to be donated to the barangay’s Bulilit Corner -- a play and art space for children. Bulilit means “small child” in Filipino.
Meanwhile, another group of volunteers were busy repairing and cleaning the Bulilit Corner. They built a book shelf from scratch, fixed the roof, and filled the walls with color.
To most, the Bulilit Corner seems quite small but for these kids, it’s a big deal. It provides a safe space for children to interact and explore through age-appropriate learning materials. It’s a space where kids can be kids.
“It’s nice to share your time with children no matter how busy you are,” said Catherine Dorado, a Western Union employee in Manila.
By the end of the day, heavy rain started to pour. But this did not stop volunteers from carrying on with their mission to bond with children.
“I’ll absolutely volunteer again, in a heartbeat,” said Grace. “It’s so easy to give up your time for children, even for just one day.”
Just like Western Union, you can further support our education programs by encouraging employers and companies to be part of Save the Children’s corporate partners.
You can also help raise funds and awareness by creating your own fundraising events online or offline.