Truly, a man for others
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - September 28, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - These words appropriately describe Fr. Pierre Tritz, SJ, who turned 100 years old last Sept. 19. His empathy for the out-of-school youth and street children of Manila led him to establish the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Inc. four decades ago.

Back in 1965, Fr. Tritz was alarmed by a study on the dropout problem in the Philippines released by the now defunct Bureau of Public Schools, and made it his advocacy to help Filipino children who had no means of pursuing their studies.

The Jesuit priest encouraged a handful of individuals to help him, eventually starting ERDA with six beneficiaries under the Operation: Balik Paaralan (back-to-school) program. To date ERDA has helped over 800,000 children and young individuals continue their education.

The French-born priest became a naturalized Filipino in 1974.

Fr. Tritz has been described as a selfless warrior, a tireless leader, visionary, ambassador of international goodwill and educator. They call him the good Samaritan, and an inspiration to others.

Although old age has been affecting his memory, Fr. Tritz still knows his purpose for living. He may forget the names of his staff members sometimes, but not his compassion for the young school children. Forty years since he started the ERDA Foundation upon his retirement at 60, Fr. Tritz still knows by heart his lifelong advocacy to help the less fortunate children who are unable to pursue school because of poverty.

“You know our work now. We care for the children. We need to educate them so that they can go to work and we can get them out of poverty. Who else will help them? Who will take care of them?” Fr. Tritz tells STARweek.

Education can give the young children a means to a better future, he adds. “This gives them hope,” says Fr. Tritz, who was born in Bouzonvill, France on Sept. 19, 1914.

Fr. Tritz, who wanted to become a priest since he was nine years old, was sent to China as a missionary, serving from 1936 to 1948. Due to the rise of communism in China, Fr. Tritz came to Manila in 1950 and has lived here ever since.

He scoured the streets of Manila, particularly Binondo, San Andres Bukid and Tondo, at the height of martial law in the 1970s where he developed a community-based pre-school program to prepare children to enter Grade 1.

He immersed himself in the communities where he experienced first hand the hardships of being poor. Fr. Tritz launched the Educational Assistance Program, skills training and livelihood trainings for the parents of the poor children. These expanded from Manila to Malabon and Cebu in 1977.

Fr. Tritz also taught at the University of the East, Far Eastern University and the former Araneta University. He was a psychologist by profession, a priest by vocation.

Upon his retirement as a priest in the 1970s, Fr. Tritz sought permission from higher-ups not to retire at the Loyola House or the Jesuit Residence at the Ateneo de Manila University campus in Quezon City so that he can continue his work with the poor. From Manila, Fr. Tritz reached out to his friends in France and in Central Europe and began raising funds for the foundation.

Fr. Tritz also founded The Foundation for the Assistance to Hansenities (FAHAN) in 1978 to help fight leprosy in the country; ERDA TECH Foundation in 1993; and the Albert Schweitzer Association Philippines (ASAP) in 1995 to assist children in conflict with the law.

 

Two of the foundation’s scholars – Arthur Tejada and Flordeluna Nepomuceno who are now professionals and experts on their respective fields – can attest to Fr. Tritz’s kindness.

“More than opening opportunities to me through the scholarship assistance, I had the privilege of talking and walking personally with Fr.Tritz,” Tejada recalls. “I have always felt that he is a father to me, and I, a favorite son. I had him as my ninong when I got married in 2002.”

Because of Fr. Tritz and the ERDA Foundation, “a son of a fisherman, is now an architect who has established a company that manages international projects,” Tejada says. “A kid who had no space to sleep now has a home and a family of his own. A child with no shoes is now traveling the world. I am forever grateful to have encountered a living saint.”

 

Flordeluna Nepomuceno, who now works at St. Luke’s Hospital, also recalls how ERDA touched her life as a young girl. She describes Fr. Tritz as an epitome of a good Samaritan.

“Though he is not a true blooded Filipino, he has selfless thoughts and a big heart that loves and touches the lives of thousands of Filipino youths through access to proper education,” Nepomuceno says.

Nepomuceno started as one of the scholars of ERDA when she was in Grade 2 in Romblon. When ERDA spearheaded various projects and seminars in Romblon, Nepomuceno was chosen as president of the Child Organization that was given the chance to represent the province at the national level. She was actively involved in Expanding Children’s Participation in Social Reform (ECPSR) programs and activities which reinforced her self-confidence and leadership potential.

Nepomuceno graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering (BSIE) in Mapua Institute of Technology (MIT) in Manila.

 

Dolor Cardeno, now executive director of ERDA, recalls how she became part of the foundation in 1970s. Fr. Tritz sent a representative to her home in Tondo, to tell her that she had been accepted as a social worker.

Cardeno has embraced the vocation since then, organizing community-oriented programs and helping Fr. Tritz in the crafting of projects and seeking funding for their implementation.

When times were tough and they didn’t know how to make ends meet to ensure that their wards would be able to continue going to school, Fr. Tritz would inspire them, never losing faith as they pursued their mission in the Philippines.

“You have to believe, Dolor, do your work good and believe in God. Have faith,” Fr. Tritz would say.

 

ERDA today has 56 staff members, composed of 31 regular employees, seven contractual and 18 project-based staff. It has expanded to having 74 tie-up partners with 22,000 children beneficiaries for school year 2013-2014.

They also support some 175 pre-school classes with 25 children each, or a total of 4,375 beneficiaries.

Fr. Tritz’s work has expanded to helping in the reintegration of children in conflict with the law, providing comprehensive juvenile intervention and diversion programs.

He also has the SaBaNa also known as the Sanayan ng mga Batang Nanambakan, which is a development center for the child scavengers at the former Smokey Mountain. ERDA also supports the TuKLASan project (Tuklas, Kalinga, Laruan, Aralan and Sanayan) that provides temporary shelter, counseling and training to street children up to 15 years old.

The foundation has now helped hundreds of thousands who were given better chances at life through a good education – all because of the passion and commitment of a man for others.

ALBERT SCHWEITZER ASSOCIATION PHILIPPINES ARALAN AND SANAYAN ARANETA UNIVERSITY CHILDREN ERDA FOUNDATION NEPOMUCENO NOW SCHOOL TRITZ
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