(PNA file photo by Gil Calinga)

MANILA – A private firm has rolled out a youth development program focusing on children of disadvantaged families near its planned development sites nationwide as part of its advocacy to help improve learning outcomes and increase their life chances.

San Miguel Corporation (SMC) president Ramon S. Ang said the SMC Educational Assistance Program will benefit some 292 elementary, junior high, senior high and college students around the communities it serves in Bulacan, Quezon province, Batangas, and General Santos City.

“Sustainability is a big part of not just our new projects, but all of San Miguel’s operations. For our communities, it is even more critical, that is why in the last couple of years, we have been very proactive in instituting social and environmental initiatives in our future project sites, long before any construction is done. These programs are part of our holistic approach to improving the lives of those who will be our future host communities and partners,” Ang said in a statement released on Sunday.

He said the program was piloted in Sariaya, Quezon, where SMC built a model sustainable housing relocation village, complete with disaster-resilient homes, recreation and learning facilities, a complementary fishermen’s dock and multi-purpose center, and a public market managed and operated by fisherfolk and farmer-beneficiaries of the village.

The program is currently benefiting some 43 students in Sariaya, whose parents have also been provided by SMC with training on entrepreneurship and various skills, through a partnership with the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA).

Buoyed by the success of the pilot program, the firm has also launched the SMC Education Assistance Program for 81 beneficiaries in Bulakan, Bulacan, where it is set to build the New Manila International Airport (NMIA).

Meanwhile, a total of 129 students from elementary, junior high, senior high, and college levels are also benefiting from the program in Calatagan, Batangas.

In General Santos, a total of 39 junior, senior high, and college students were included in the program.

“We are well aware of how difficult it is to pursue online learning during the pandemic. Experts point out to learning challenges like the lack of reliable internet connection, inadequate computer knowledge or equipment, loss of interest or motivation, stress, depression, distractions at home, and the lack of support system that is usually present in traditional school environment,” Ang said.

However, with the same determination in providing better and safe homes, livelihood and skills training, and additional sources of income to the beneficiaries, he said their social development teams are using their experience of working with people from the communities nationwide, to help parents and their children cope with the challenges they face.

"Hopefully, we can prepare them for a better future, and to take advantage of future opportunities at our developments,” Ang added.

SMC’s planned agro-industrial complex in Sariaya includes a brewery, grains terminal, feed mill, a ready-to-eat food manufacturing plant, high-tech poultry facility, a fuel tank farm, and port facilities.


Future leaders

SMC’s educational assistance includes monthly allowance for internet access and values formation seminars geared at shaping beneficiaries into future leaders of the community.

The responsibilities of educational assistance beneficiaries include regular submission of academic performance, participation in various SMC programs in greening, and tutoring duties to fellow residents under the ALS or alternative learning system.

Out of the 43 student beneficiaries in Sariaya, 12 are currently in college, taking up various courses including criminology, electrical engineering, information technology, business administration, education, accountancy, hospitality management and civil engineering at various local colleges and universities in Quezon province.

According to Ang, despite challenges to online learning, as well as difficulties in life they face every day, all the beneficiaries have managed to keep their grades high.

“Noong una ay nahihirapan kami dahil hindi pa sanay sa sistema dahil hindi stable ang internet connection pero kalaunan ay nasanay din at patuloy na kinakaya. Ang challenge na kinakaharap ko ay sometimes ay internet connection kasi humihina at stress sa mga gawain sa school at sa thesis (We had difficulties in the beginning because we were not yet used to the system and internet connection was not yet stable but later on, we got used to it and we continue to keep up. The challenge I am facing is slow internet connection at times and the stress over all the school projects and the thesis),” said Michelle Morong, who is in her third year as BS Education student at Southern Luzon State University (SLSU).

“Kinakaya at kakayanin pa. Nung una talagang mahirap ang online class since wala akong sariling cellphone kaya nanghihiram lang ako sa kapatid ko o di kaya sa pinsan ko. Pangalawa, hindi stable yung signal kasi wala akong sariling wifi kaya medyo magastos rin sa load ang online class (I am able and will continue to be able to do it. At first, online class was really hard because I don't have my own cellphone and I only borrow from my sibling or cousin. Secondly, signal was unstable because I do not have my own wifi so I have to spend a lot on load for the online class),” said Criselda Contreras, a BS Entrepreneurship student of Dalubhasaan ng Lungsod ng Lucena (DLL).

The students expressed gratitude for SMC’s efforts to help their families, and expressed hope that someday they could gain employment when SMC’s facilities are finally built, or start their own business, or work for the government to serve others.

“Nagpapasalamat po ako sa assistance ng San Miguel. Dahil dito mas maaabot ko yung opportunities na available at kung ano man, ay pangarap ko rin magkaroon ng sariling business (I am thankful for the assistance of San Miguel. Because of it, I can take hold of opportunities that are available, and also, it is my dream to have my own business)” Arabella Manalo, a second-year business administration student at SLSU, said.

Ang said access to education is a basic right for the youth even with all the limitations brought on by the pandemic.

"And with an educated and equipped workforce as SMC’s partners in development in these areas, we are well on the way to achieving sustainable development and economic recovery post-pandemic,” he added. (PR)