Lions’ work with Philippines school

Children at staff at the school with donated plastic drawers.

Children at staff at the school with donated plastic drawers.

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Morpeth Lions Club

FOR over ten years Morpeth Lions Club has been supporting a school in the Philippines. This was briefly mentioned in one of the Morpeth Lions articles for the Herald which looked at the history of 40 years of The Lions in Morpeth.

The involvement with a school in the Philippines came about through the connection of Jenny Wallum, the wife of Morpeth Lion Peter, who has worked in many different countries, and the two of them live a major part of each year in the Philippines.

The basis behind the Lions’ support for the school goes back to 1991. In June of that year the second largest volcanic terrestrial eruption of the 20th century took place on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. This was Mount Pinatubo, which is only some 90 kilometres north west of the capital, Manila.

The events leading up to the eruption of Mount Pinatubo began with a major earthquake in the region in March 1990 followed by a series of smaller earthquakes in March 1991. The Government started the evacuation of the area and as signs of volcanic activity strengthened, some 25,000 people were evacuated in a 20 kilometre radius from the volcano.

Mount Pinatubo finally erupted on 15th June and lasted nine hours. The gas and ash reached an altitude of 34 kilometres into the sky. Unfortunately, it coincided with a tropical storm, which caused a rainfall with ash and fell across the entire island of Luzon. This led to far more deaths as the weight of the ash collapsed roofs of homes, killing the occupants.

The eruption had an impact on global temperatures and caused climate changes during the subsequent 12 months throughout the world. The eruption destroyed homes, livelihoods and a way of life to thousands of the Aeta tribe in Luzon. The land they once farmed and hunted was covered in larva and ash. Many of the tribe were unable to support themselves and ended up on the streets of Manila and other urban areas.

Almost immediately after the eruption Jenny Wallum founded a Special Projects organisation, which later became Entrepreneur Volunteer Assistance (EVA). This was a small, self-funded, volunteer offshoot of a Philippine Non-Governmental Organisation funded by France’s Enfants et Development. EVA was formed to help the Aetas build a new foundation for their communities.

At first, it organised livelihood projects as mental health activities for displaced persons living in the devastated areas. Later it began to offer equipment, loans, training and educational scholarships. In 2000 a project began to conserve traditional ethnic origins in schools.

The charity is run entirely by volunteers, with no paid staff. Jenny’s special favourite is the funding and construction of the Traditional Origins Ethnic Education Schools. It is with these projects which Jenny has sought the assistance of Morpeth Lions.

The Morpeth Kinaragan Aeta School was funded with the help of Morpeth schoolchildren, organised by the Lions Club. It was opened in June 2001 and was the first of three Morpeth-named schools in the province of Bataan.

It has won a Department of Education Award and has now expanded to become a full elementary school. It has seven teachers and 90 students attending up to Grade 6. The school is also used for a wide range of community activities and by visiting medical missions.

Building the school was based on traditional building techniques. Local materials, which are easy to obtain, are used wherever possible.

All timber has to be carefully treated to prevent damage by termites.

The base and lower walls are built with hollow bricks made of lahar, which is a combination of pumice, ash and sand. These materials are readily available since the eruption. Cement is added for additional strength.

The upper walls of coconut leaves or cogan grass are woven by the women of the village. The roof is often also made of the grass and this has around a five-year life.

Shutters are used for windows instead of glass. Toilets are provided, but there are no sewers or running water or electricity.

In recognition of her voluntary work Jenny has been awarded an MBE.

Report by CHRIS OFFORD.