Earlier this year, cement maker Holcim Philippines’s employees took time off from work for outreach activities, as part of the Holcim Group’s centennial celebration pledge to have its global workforce volunteer in their communities’ in recognition of its hosts’ role in the group’s success.
In line with this, Holcim Philippines employees joined tree planting activities, school fix-ups, and coastal garbage collections in their communities. But a number of them continue to participate in a company-initiated volunteer program that calls for a more lasting commitment: helping shoulder the schooling of students whose chance for education is hindered by of poverty.
Called Project Fostering a Child’s Education (FACE), the program was tested in Bulacan in 2010 with 33 initial beneficiaries but has now grown to support 377 primary and secondary students in communities near Holcim Philippines’s and three other plants. To administer the program, the company formed the FACE Foundation, which was launched in time for the group’s centennial celebration in March.
This was inspired by the program of the company’s former Chief Operating Officer Ian Thackwray, a British national who started supporting the education of 40 Grade 1 students in 2007 using his own money.Although he has moved to Switzerland to be part of the Holcim Group’s executive committee, Thackwray continues to fund the program, whose beneficiaries now number 217.
Under Project FACE, volunteers agree to contribute P600 monthly, which is used to cover the uniforms, school shoes, supplies and daily meals of beneficiaries for the entire school year. The partner schools’ canteens prepare for the daily lunches of the beneficiaries. Participants are encouraged to continue their support until their wards finish primary or secondary school. In case they would like to withdraw, they are to advise the Foundation a school year before and are expected to finish the current year. This will enable the Foundation to have time to look for alternate sponsors.
The program, however, is not simply Holcim Philippines employees giving out a dole. Selected students are required to maintain a general average of at least 80% to continuously qualify for the scholarship. Volunteers are also encouraged to regularly meet with their wards so they can know them and provide guidance and not just financial assistance.
Teri Cruz, FACE Executive Director and Bulacan Plant CSR manager, says Holcim Philippines believes providing the daily meals is also an important factor in improving the academic performance of these children.
“Education is one of our focus programs in CSR and we recognize the fact that despite government's subsidy for primary and secondary education in public schools, there are still a big number of students who do not finish basic education because of extreme poverty. They come to school with an empty stomach, or skip classes most of the time to help their parents earn a living," she added.
Holcim Philippines knows that a longer-term intervention is necessary and the benefits of including a feeding program will help keep these kids in school. And since Holcim's centennial celebration calls on workers to give back to communities, Holcim Philippines decided to launch the program in its major areas of operation.
“Filipinos are always ready to help out during times of disasters and we’ve also seen that in our office. We conduct donation drives and people readily pitch in. This means that there is a civic spirit to harness, and we just need to provide a proper venue to channel this for the benefit of our communities,” Cruz said.
Vic Maranan, a shift operations manager in the company’s Bulacan plant, is among the Holcim employees who readily jumped in the opportunity to help.
“I think it’s a good program because those kids are determined to study so it’s worthwhile to support them,” Maranan said. “I used to work for my aunt in her bakery to earn money for school so I know the importance of getting financial assistance for schooling.”
So far, nearly a fifth of the company’s 1,800 employees have participated in the program, and Cruz is optimistic that more will join in the coming years as others see its success and how current volunteers enjoy sharing their blessings to the less privileged.
“The last two years showed that 38% of the beneficiaries had outstanding academic performance. Who wouldn't extend help if you see these kids can be productive citizens? Nakakataba daw ng puso to know how much they appreciate, in their own little ways like writing letters to their sponsors. Hopefully, more will express interest to join so we can help out more children,” she said.