Thirty minutes to the southeast of the heart of Manila lies Taguig City, near the Philippines’ largest freshwater lake, Laguna de Bay. Once home to small fishing villages that dotted the lake’s shoreline, the area’s population has grown sixfold since 1980—and despite having a booming downtown business district, smaller enclaves on the outskirts, such as Sitio Pusawan, still struggle with poverty and lack of services.
Part of the Ususan Barangay, Pusawan had long faced a critical shortage of daycare for its children, that is until non-profit Hands on Manila partnered with the local government, the Bases Conversion Development Authority, and Zendesk, to build a new daycare center to accommodate the community’s 150 preschool age children. Completed in early 2017, the Sitio Pusawan Daycare Center now holds four classes a day, providing crucial early education to the community’s children.
“There used to be two tiny daycare centers inside the community, but the new center provides a more conducive learning atmosphere for the kids,” says Dondon Marquez, executive director for Hands on Manila. “The center has two rooms and is also used as multipurpose hall where teacher and parent meetings are held, as well as other activities.”
As Marquez sees it, those four classes per day and the role the center plays in supporting the community at large has convinced local officials of the power of public-private partnerships, paving the way for additional donations and serving as an example for other communities in need. “The partnership opened doors for more opportunities for the community,” Marquez says. “Some individuals and corporate donors were inspired to provide some of the center's other needs, like educational materials and equipment, when they saw that the kids were attending classes in the new center.”
Established 17 years ago, Hands on Manila has over 30,000 registered volunteers who have contributed more than 300,000 hours toward projects such as the Sitio Pusuwan Daycare Center. Those efforts have benefited an estimated 58,000 children, 2,000 seniors, 14 public schools/centers, 62 orphanages, and 120 non-governmental organizations—and when the nonprofit sees a community in need, it stays committed to it for the long haul.
For example, since the daycare center opened, its offerings have expanded beyond the original mission of caring for and educating the neighborhood’s children. With food security being a persistent issue for some members of the community, Hands on Manila, in partnership with Zendesk, designed an urban gardening program that recruited the heads of 30 families—along with their children and the center’s staff—to grow organic fruit and vegetables on the center’s land.
“Extra harvests can be sold to neighbors fresh, or they can be processed further for additional income, thus becoming an income-generating project for the community,” Marquez says. “The urban gardening also contributes to community programs for waste management because it uses non-biodegradable plastic bottles as growing containers, reducing waste sent to urban landfills.”
While Hands on Manila’s efforts to improve child care options and food security for Pusawan’s citizens have gained traction in the past year-and-a-half, the nonprofit’s commitment to uplifting the neighborhood isn’t new. At the heart of these efforts to empower communities is Hands on Manila’s focus on making volunteering an integral part of citizens’ lives. Those volunteers—like the ones who helped make the Sitio Pusawan Daycare Center a reality—play an important role in furthering Hands on Manila’s ultimate goal: to transform the Philippines one community at a time.