With an empty stomach and a dearth of hope, a child walks along the narrow streets of the slums, a part of the world that is the total opposite of the lives enjoyed by the privileged. The lack of opportunities and resources robs the child of a straight path towards success. Poverty is prevalent in many places around the world, and that includes an area of the Philippines where Philippe Blanchard, a 26-year veteran officer of the Royal Canadian Air Forces (RCAF), found himself traveling as a tourist in late 2014. Located in the capital city of Manila, Philippines, the poverty-stricken area of Tondo opened his eyes to the unfortunate reality of life in the slums, one that is very different from the life he lived in Canada. In January 2016, he returned to the Philippines, but this time to volunteer for five weeks with a local Non-Governmental Organization (NGO). With his newly discovered passion for volunteering and experience in the RCAF, Philippe created a way to support the impoverished children and families in the area by founding Progressive Assistance Canada Charity (PAC). He took a bold step towards changing the lives of Filipinos by taking action.
Philippe envisioned the two countries, Canada and the Philippines, working together towards a more promising future, with the mission of supporting local Filipino Barangays (communities) by empowering them through sustainable development, and assisting their residents with basic needs and providing opportunities to sustain a living, thus breaking the cycle of poverty. What led Philippe to take action created opportunities for many people, benefiting those who are being assisted and those who are assisting in changing the lives of the residents in Tondo.
Since the start of its operations in the Philippines in August 2016, PAC has been regularly implementing new collaborative programs to address the ever changing needs of its Barangays. As such, a number of children have been receiving assistance from the Watch Baby Grow and Watch Toddler Blossom sponsorship programs, which provide nutritional supplements to babies and toddlers experiencing growth deficiencies, thus giving them additional essential nourishment. Starting with Christmas 2016, and now taking place twice per year, the Bundles for Hope donation program aims to provide food sustenance to the beneficiaries, which could not happen without the help of the kind-hearted donors. Since May 2017, every Sunday morning, volunteers gather in Barangay 128, Tondo, to participate in the Play and Catch-Up afterschool program to teach numeracy and literacy (Tagalog and English) to students with learning difficulties. Lots of volunteers sign up for the weekly sessions that are led by a PAC Director (a teacher by profession) and assisted by different Core Teams of volunteers, Filipinos and foreigners alike, some of whom have been volunteering since PAC was established. With the beginning of the School Year 2019-20, PAC launched its Knowledge is Wealth scholarship sponsorship program, which focuses on providing school supplies, such as uniforms, shoes, etc., to students from kindergarten to grade 12; however, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the program was refocused in October 2020 to provide tablets and internet access to scholars attending school virtually.
Like the entire world, PAC was also taken by surprise and had to pause its operations in mid-March 2020. Even amidst the pandemic, at the end of June 2020, the PAC Core Team of volunteers came together and found ways to resume its programs. As the world was making a huge adjustment to the pandemic, a pure heart of dedication led the volunteers to sustain the needs of the Barangays. Resuming the Play and Catch-Up would not have been possible without the dedication of some volunteers, from raising funds to providing scholarships to students, to visiting the slums to distribute schooling resources. “I volunteer to give back to the community by sharing my knowledge and time. I enjoy interacting with the volunteers and students, and stayed with PAC because of the relationships I have formed with them,” says Vina Montinola, who has been volunteering with PAC for over three years and assumed the position of Education Financial Manager.
When the afterschool program resumed virtually in November 2020, through the combined efforts of the volunteers, it gave the students a chance to interact again with the volunteers who had previously been supporting them with their studies. “My children, who are part of the Play and Catch-Up, learn a lot from the online tutorials,” says Kitty Pascual. The virtual setup of the afterschool program afforded a chance for volunteers to reach out to the students without stepping out of their homes, plus some volunteers even participate from other countries.
The beneficiaries themselves can also become volunteers in the future. “I once became a beneficiary of a Saturday after school program in our barangay. Thinking about my transition from being a beneficiary to a volunteer, I realized that someday our beneficiaries could be the ones giving back to their own community,” says Hope Alarcos, who has been a Director with PAC for almost 4 years. As the assistance helps them, they may also be encouraged to do the same for others in the future.
The PAC programs that have been providing basic necessities to the Barangays since August 2016 have been a great help to many residents. “We have been part of a PAC program (Watch Baby Grow and Watch Toddler Blossom) since my son was only a month old, and he is now four years old. It made a huge impact in our lives. It has helped me as a mother who didn’t receive support from my husband. I was worrying about how to feed my child, and these programs have helped provide for our needs,” says Janice Sarad. “The vitamins and nutritional supplements that my son receives monthly has helped him become healthy,” says Jayron Villanueva. A lot of the beneficiaries have claimed that it has made a great impact in their lives, providing something they lacked, giving them hope, and showing them someone else cares about them. “Especially with the current situation, the covid-19 pandemic, it has made it even harder for parents to earn a living. They remain grateful for the assistance they receive from PAC through the efforts and support of our donors, sponsors, partners and volunteers alike” says Philippe, the PAC founder and Executive Director. It is great news to these families that PAC has resumed its operations despite the challenges that were faced in the process. The assistance provided by everyone has opened up opportunities for the beneficiaries, giving support that is enough to elicit gratitude from the faces of mothers, fathers and children alike.
“The lives of both volunteers and beneficiaries have been changed forever,” says Philippe. It is the things that make an impact in our lives that inspires us to be part of something bigger than ourselves and do something for the welfare of others. But also, in that process, by reaching out and standing with those who need assistance, we make an impact in each other’s lives. Taking action by making bold steps and doing something about the things we care about is really what life is all about.
Five Years and Counting
In November 2019, PAC launched its new Planting the Seed donation program, which focuses on collaborative Barangay community garden developments, providing food security to its residents. “Unfortunately, it was quickly and abruptly halted by the pandemic, highlighting even more the daily food struggles experienced by our Barangays and even greater importance of such a program as a potential way to alleviate some of that suffering and insecurity,” says Philippe. As such, once it is safe to do so and PAC receives permission from the local government, it will quickly resume the development of the first community garden at Barangay 128, which will be used as the model for an additional 30 gardens within the Barangay. From that experience, and collaboration with the Bureau of Plant Industry (under the Philippine Department of Agriculture), PAC plans to expand this initiative outside of the boundaries of Manila, thus assisting even more Filipino children and families. “For the past 5 years, PAC has become a conduit by which donors, sponsors, partners and volunteers pay forward their generosity. I truly feel humbled by the fact that so many people are wholeheartedly supporting the PAC mission by expressing their love and care through their service to others,” says Philippe. Along with everyone that makes up the PAC charitable organization that it is, philanthropy will continue to emit light even in the darkest of places. It is a call to the rest of us, to take a bold step, take action, assist one another, and change lives…for many years to come. Happy 5th Anniversary PAC!