A small effort + 100 percent
- Ghio Ong, Helen Flores () - May 20, 2012 - 12:00am

Manila, Philippines - Good schools aren’t only for rich kids, according to Eleanor “Lynn” Pinugu, 23, co-founder of the Mano Amiga Academy in Taguig City.

“The mission behind Mano Amiga Academy is simple: create a school that would give underprivileged children access to education at par with the best schools in the world, and all the necessary support in order for them to succeed in life,” Lynn tells STARweek.

Impressed by the education in Mexico’s international school Mano Amiga Academy for poor children, Lynn helped put up the Mano Amiga Academy in Taguig in 2008, aimed at providing education and wholistic development to poor Filipino children and their families.

“Mano Amiga is a school model that started in Zomeyucan, Mexico in 1963 and has now grown to over 30 schools in 10 countries. What sets it apart from other programs are the following factors: it implements the K-12th grade program, it uses an international curriculum and pedagogical method called Integral Formation – a personalized approach that develops the whole person, from intellect and character to spiritual life and leadership ability,” she explains.

The school also serves as a community center offering different development programs: health and nutrition, culture and sports, values formation, parenting seminars, after-school programs for other at-risk youth in the area, to improve the lives of the families in the surrounding community.

“I first encountered Mano Amiga in early 2007 when I was living in Mexico as a youth missionary. It was part of my duty to promote volunteerism in different schools,” says Lynn.

“One day, I came across Mano Amiga Guanajuato. I was so impressed with the students because the children did not seem like they came from poor families. Every child was dressed well, brimming with self-confidence, and spoke with eagerness about the future. I saw that the personal attention given to the students by the teachers made a big difference in their formation,” she says.

“Before leaving the school, I jokingly told the principal that if they ever decide to put up a Mano Amiga school in the Philippines, they should give me a call,” Lynn says, adding with obvious delight, “And they did!”

According to Lynn, the foundation used to rely on donations and grants – until tropical storm “Ondoy” battered Metro Manila and nearby areas in 2009 when “there was major donor fatigue in the country.”

A TRUE AMIGA: Lynn with the kids of Mano Amiga Academy.

“Since our community wasn’t hit, Mano Amiga was not a priority for the people to donate to. This was a very difficult period for us. I went to bed at night worrying where I could get money to pay for the salaries of the teachers,” she says.

“After Ondoy we set up a social enterprise called Bistro 3846, a cafeteria business that serves healthy age-appropriate meals for the children and families of Everest Academy International School,” Lynn says.

Lynn says 100 percent of the profit of Bistro 3846 goes to the Mano Amiga Academy Scholarship fund.

“Cordon Bleu graduate chef Amelia Alba developed age-appropriate recipes, and trained the Mano Amiga mothers to run the cafeteria in order to provide them with employment opportunities,” she says.

The Mano Amiga Academy in Taguig started with 35 students in preschool and it grew one level each year. This coming June, the school is going to have 105 students from preschool to third grade.

“It has been an amazing journey so far. Every year we see more and more how the school is helping transform the lives of these families. What I am very proud about is that the school boasts of the best principal and teachers in the country. They are the real heroes of the school and the main reason why Mano Amiga is doing so well,” says Lynn, who is a journalism scholar from Ateneo de Manila University.

“I believe that my work in Mano Amiga is more than a job, it’s my vocation. I was a scholar in college. I believe that all the opportunities I’ve had access to so far was because somebody decided to invest in my potential. Because of this, I feel that it is my personal mission to also provide educational opportunities to children from impoverished communities,” she adds.

Lynn – along with eight other young Filipino leaders – was recently named as as one of the 2012 Young Global Shapers by the Geneva-based World Economic Forum.

Lynn serves as president of the Global Shapers Manila hub.

The other Young Global Shapers are Philippine Funds for Little Kids founder Jay Michael Jaboneta; marine-life advocate Anna Rosario Oposa; San Vicente, Palawan Mayor Carmela Alvarez; social entrepreneur Ponce Ernest Samaniego; Asian Institute of Management consultant Bryan Albert Lim; youth leadership advocate Mildred Ople; ABS-CBN TV host Bianca Gonzalez; and Habitat for Humanity Youth Council founder and chair Alexandra Amanda Eduque.

“It was humbling, nerve-wracking, and exciting all at the same time: humbling to be recognized as an extraordinary youth leader; nerve-wracking because as the current head of the Manila hub, people have higher expectations of me and I’d like to prove myself worthy of the title; exciting because I have a stronger voice in society which would enable me to accomplish more,” Lynn says.

“For our inaugural project, we partnered with the Library Renewal Partnership program in building 200 libraries and learning centers across the Philippines by 2012,” she says.

“This is another project that I’m very passionate about. Books have the power to transport you to different worlds and to educate you about circumstances you wouldn’t have known about otherwise,” says Lynn, who developed a passion for reading at an early age.

“I still remember the first time I truly fell in love with reading. When I was 10, I discovered an old tattered copy of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird.’ That was when I decided that when I grow up, I’m going to do my part to help end social injustice,” Lynn says.

Lynn, Anna Rosario and Carmela were invited to go to the WEF event in Davos, Switzerland early this year.

“During the WEF annual forum in Davos, I was chosen to present in a session called Ideaslab along with three other Global Shapers. This gave me the opportunity to share the Mano Amiga story with about 200 world leaders from different sectors. During my presentation, some of the women in the audience started crying because they were so moved by the different stories,” Lynn shares.

“Some of them committed to help me shape my project and move it forward. I also received $10,000 from Good Planet Foundation to further develop the sustainability aspect of the school,” she says.

Asked for her advice to her fellow youth, Lynn says: “If you have a good idea, pursue it, especially if you think your idea could possibly address one of the many pressing issues faced by the world. Don’t let your fear of failure stop you from doing something. So many amazing things have come out of failures.”

“Every small effort counts. You don’t need to come up with something grand to make a difference. All it requires is that you commit to it and that you always give it your hundred percent,” Lynn says.

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