Friday, January 20, 2006

One Candle Schoolhouse

Rational Technology for January 22, 2006

Oriental Negros plays host to many visitors but none may be so unique as those who come to the province by yacht. Cruisers, as they have come to be known, are an enviable class of international travellers. They can risk all to travel around the world by sea on a small boat on a journey that can take as much as ten years.

Cruisers are drawn to the province by the charms of Port Bonbonon, a popular anchorage that has made its way into the charts of many sailors. Bonbonon is a serene harbor bounded on both sides by lush mountain greenery, seemingly untouched by the hand of modernity. Some cruisers like it so much they decide to extend their visit.

Bill and Diane Pool are two such sailors. The American couple sailed from California in 1991 on their yacht Pilar. They came to the Philippines by way of the Pacific, dropping anchor in Bonbonon in 2000. Charmed by the place, they decided to stay.

However, instead of living a life of leisure in easy retirement, the couple is making a significant difference in the lives of the children of Tambobo, the fishing village in Bonbonon. Bill and Diane did this -- and continue to do so -- with their project, One Candle Schoolhouse.

The school started by accident in April 2002. Having befriended the townsfolk of the area, Bill and Diane would occasionally find young visitors in their house. One time, to entertain a young guest, they read with him a children's book entitled The Little Penguin's Adventure. Since the young fellow had some difficulty understanding English, they decided to translate the story into Bisaya. That sparked in the couple the idea of helping other kids with their communication skills.

One Candle Schoolhouse is not a school with the formal structure as we ordinarily understand it. It runs out of Bill and Diane's home, a small two-story house with a spacious attelier. Due to space and funding considerations, they currently only have 17 students, boys and girls aged 5 to 17. The students go to public schools during the week but drop into One Candle Schoolhouse during the weekends to augment their education.

The school's main draw is the computer training that Bill, Diane, and a handful of volunteers provide. They teach basic skills in word processing, computer art, and presentations; but for the children of this small fishing village, it is all very new and very exciting. What's more, it greatly enhances their self-esteem as something they once thought was out of their reach turns out to be easy and accessible.

But One Candle Schoolhouse's main value is in the other informal training that it provides. Here, students learn to express themselves better in oral and written communications by means of stories, essays, and artwork. They also learn the basics of entrepreneurship by means of craftwork and cooking. On occasion, they go on field trips to Dumaguete and other nearby areas to expand their horizons.

I had occasion to visit One Candle Schoolhouse last December at a Christmas party for them organized by the local DTI office. I could see for myself the tremendous impact that Bill, Diane, and the other volunteers have made. It was clearly evident in the children themselves, who comported themselves with much grace and confidence, and were very happy and cheerful. They look at you straight in the eye when you talk to them, and they smile a lot.

Quite exciting was the development of their communication skills. I flipped through their works in the annual scrapbooks that Diane meticulously kept. Over three years, I could see the progress they were making through their poems, essays, puzzles, artwork, and stories. Short, tentative sentences gradually grow into more descriptive and more heartfelt narrative.

These kids still have a long way to go, but they're certainly better equipped to handle the future. All this thanks to the selfless efforts of a cruiser couple.

Notes: While Diane would like to expand One Candle Schoolhouse to accommodate more students, resources are the limiting factor. If you would like to help, please send an email to Danah Fortunato (danah dot fortunato at gmail dot com) of the TVB Group.

Additional information on One Candle Schoolhouse can be found at http://www.gotouring.com/razzledazzle/articles/school.html.

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