The contrast between the hotel lobby and the outside world is immense. The lobby is cool, quiet and peaceful. As soon as the porter opens the glass hotel door a wall of humid heat and the sounds of cars sounding their horns greet us. Welcome to Metro Manila. The city where donated euros from our Soft Toys for Education campaign are being converted into tears of happiness and gratitude.
Driver Tony is already waiting for us in his Save the Children van. The air-conditioning in his van is doing overtime, but still manages to release us from some heat. Facilitator Lory from Save the Children briefs us about the day’s programme. We will head to Aguho Elementary School in the municipality of Pateros, just outside the city of Manila. After an hour’s drive through very hectic Manila traffic we arrived at our destination.
The previous day, we had had a briefing at the office of Save the Children in Makati. We had acquainted ourselves with the Save the Children staff and with the mission of the KASALI project, which is funded by the IKEA Foundation. KASALI is Filipino for being included. As Save the Children state on their website in the Philippines:
“The project (KASALI) aims to develop a model of inclusive community preschools and elementary schools where the focus is on improving the quality learning environment in order to ensure equal opportunities are given to girls and boys, with and without disabilities. The project will also ensure that there is a child protection mechanism in place at the community level which understand concerns of children with disabilities.”
Anyway, let’s go back to our arrival at the elementary school. As soon as the slide doors of our van opened, we were greeted once more. Fortunately it wasn’t just the heat that greeted us this time. We heard live music and saw welcoming and smiling faces. On the school’s outdoor stage, girls were waving Filipino flags around. Straightaway I could feel a lot of emotions from children, parents, teachers and city counsellors. They were emotions of extreme happiness mixed with extreme gratitude. The parents and teachers were well aware of the fact that the KASALI project was made possible by IKEA.
To these people, it seemed like we were the persons who decided to set up this wonderful project. To them it is not some distant company that made this possible but these six people here. Perhaps you can imagine that it feels a little awkward to be seen in such a way. At the same time, their gratitude made me realize how important the KASALI project is to them.
A father told me he expected his daughter never to go to school. Due to the intensive co-operation of the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children, local government and some local non-governmental organisations, his daughter now has prosthetic legs and a wheelchair. She has a school where she is welcome. She has friends to play with. She is being included. She has hope!
Other than the endless efforts of Save the Children staff, we must also not forget the special efforts made by those parents who do not have a child with a disability. They are the ones who welcome children with a disability at the same school as their children. They are the ones who attend meetings organised by Save the Children every month to be educated about disabilities. They are the ones who help raise their own children not to exclude, but to include other children. I had the fortune to meet two of those children. Six-year-old Jessa and her one year younger sister, Jeselle. Both kids were playing a lot with Cita, who was running a little bit behind in her mental development. Especially Jessa was making endless efforts to help Cita join and enjoy various games.
I left the Philippines feeling proud and a little sad. I did not want to leave just yet. I felt so proud of the KASALI project, the IKEA Foundation, Save the Children and its staff. I felt proud that I work at IKEA and that I, like all co-workers, contribute to this project. I felt proud and happy to see that we are making a difference in this part of the world. Our impact there is bigger than I can explain in a few words.
I do know that I will never have doubts again about the impact of the donations from our Soft Toys for Education campaign. Is our money really making a difference? Does it reach those people who need it most? Will this have any long term sustainable benefits? For the KASALI project in the Philippines I can most certainly say “YES”! If you ever have the chance to apply for an IWitness trip, I would strongly recommend. Fewer things are more beautiful than seeing other people’s lives strongly improve with your help.