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Happy Fish Kids: Helping Filipino children make their dreams come true

'Our success is a peoduct of collaborative work between the children, their parents, our graduates, volunteers and our long term supporters.' Dr Roy Ponce Source: R Ponce / HFK Facebook page

Fifteen years ago, for a small fishing village in Mati, Davao Oriental children completing their primary school education was totally unheard of. It wasn’t because they didn’t have the desire or interest to learn but because their parents had to focus on their fishing to survive.

The children didn’t have the support to guide and motivate them. As soon as they are able, most children end up helping their parents out in the sea.

Idea and inspiration from before and after school care

It all began in Queensberry Street in Melbourne, inspired by the before and after school program near the University of Melbourne where he was pursuing his Masters in Education.

“We can do something like this in our local area’ says Dr Roy Ponce, founder of Happy Fish Kids (HFK). Through his Re-Entry Action Program  (REAP) he was able to design a program based on his experience and learning from his years of stay in Melbourne.  

The initial goal was to set up a program that will assist in the children in completing their primary and secondary education.


Highlights

  • Happy Fish Kids has grown into Happy Forest Kids, Happy Farmers Kids supporting around 500 children with their studies
  • HFK graduates continue to support the centre and most find employment in the local community or within Davao
  • 2021 marks the 75th year of Philippine-Australian diplomatic relations

After 15 years, it has produced five batches of college graduates.

“When we had our first graduates nagiyakan lahat (we all cried), not just the mothers, it was the whole community’ for the Melbourne University alumni the program's success is a product of years of collaborative work with parents who greatly helped in supervising the before and after care program and long term supporters."

The program was initially formed as part of his post scholarship requirements from Australia Aid in 2007.  Today, it has grown into a larger community extending to nearby areas forming the Happy Forest Kids and Happy Farmers Kids helping more than 500 children.

From little things, big things grow

John Paul Alegre is the first member of his family to complete a university degree. The 23-year-old civil engineering graduate remembers the joy in his mother’s eyes as he received his diploma on graduation day.

“She was so happy, there were so many of us who graduated that day, she patiently waited for my turn” says the HFK alumni.

 At present he is busy reviewing for the Civil Engineering Board Exam while taking on odd jobs on the side to help with their daily expenses. “I help with the HFK family too, when we have activities I assist in guiding the children’ says the John Paul Alegre.

75 years Philippine Australia Relations, Diplomatic Ties, Australian in the Philippines, Filipinos in Australia, mateship and bayanihan. Australian Embassy, Australian scholars, Australian scholarhsips
John Paul Alegre (L), Russell Tamayo continue to support Happy Fish Kids as volunteers. 'HFK success is a collaborative effort' says HFK founder Dr Roy Ponce.
R Ponce

While the pandemic has put a stop to many activities , like the HFK camps and weekend get togethers, there are small scale activities that continue to support the children’s learning.

"There are now eight computers set up in the HFK Centre that assist the children in their on-line learning," says Dr Ponce.

"I feel a bit sad that we are unable to do activities like our sports clinic, camp, we feel sorry for the kids that they are unable to experience that level of fun like John Paul and Russel experienced. It has been two years."

It takes a village

Russell Tamayo recently completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education and is a licensed Professional Teacher.

“My mother dreamed of being a teacher, she was my inspiration.”

Due to limited opportunities her mother was unable finish her studies and  was only able to complete her second year in college. Russel promised to fulfil her mother’s dream of becoming a teacher.  

Her mother is overjoyed as her children are able to complete their university degrees with the help of HFK, Russel’s older brother is also a product of the program while their youngest is currently in university.

"Even my cousins are able to continue their studies because of HFK" says Russell adding “they supported us financially, we are able to study here at Davao Oriental State College they helped us find scholarships and most of all the encouragement we received. Sir Roy would always say finish your studies for a better future for you, your family most especially your parents. We are grateful for the support that helped us achieve our dreams."

Like most HFK graduates Russell helps out with HFK activities. She is currently waiting for her accreditation and plans to apply for a teaching position at the local primary school.

"Most graduates have been paying it forward by not only helping our HFK community but also by pursuing work within the locality, we don’t experience brain drain’" says HFK founder Roy Ponce.

While the program has generally been successful, there are children who still miss out on education opportunities. "There are kids that come and go, we have observed the mobility of families, many families are displaced because of poverty," says Roy Ponce.

Australian Education in Philippine setting   

His 15 years in the HFK community was made possible by his Australian experience. Dr Roy Ponce is a product of an Australian Education through the Australian Aid Scholarship for his Masters Degree in Education and the Australia Award Scholarship for his PhD in Education and Program Evaluation.

"My Australian education was the game changer; it gave me a different perspective in program delivery and engaging with the communities. I see many good things in the Australian system that we can apply in the Philippines. Bringing in the education while contextualising it to our setting," he says.

On a bigger scale he is also injecting was he has learned from his Australian education experience as current President of Davao Oriental State University ‘we are injecting fresh ideas, prioritizing research and international linkages starting in the Asia Pacific’       

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