Special feature: Update on Zero Dropout Program in Albay

Because of his deep concern to improve basic public education in the Philippines, SGV Founder Wash SyCip worked with the Center for Agriculture and Rural Development – Mutually Reinforcing Institutions (CARD MRI) to initiate the Zero Dropout Education Scheme (ZeDrES), a program aimed at reducing the dropout rate among public elementary schools to 0%. To help implement the program, the Kazarian-SyCip Fund was established to serve as an educational loan fund for its beneficiaries. CARD MRI members, who are mostly from poverty-stricken communities, can borrow up to 5,000 pesos for their children’s school supplies, projects and activities. These loans are payable weekly over three to twelve months.

For the past three years, SGV has been engaged to audit ZeDrES, a mission the engagement team has dubbed “Operation Zero.” In 2014, the ZeDrES team focused on fostering employment and entrepreneurship through identification of possible ventures in the areas’ agri-value chain.

One of the areas visited by Operation Zero was Oas and Polangu in Albay. We asked Mark Dionisio-See and Alec Machacon from the FSRM group about their experiences with the program.

What was the SGV CARD engagement team’s role in the Zero Dropout Program?
To assess the present educational and economic structure in the community, we interviewed teachers, local officials, and beneficiaries of the program. In particular, we inquired about the causes of student dropouts and the program’s role in reducing the number. We gathered information to better understand the economic system of the area. We also reviewed the end-to-end process of the loan application and how it was carried out.

What were the general issues that needed to be addressed?
The main issues include access to education, lack of resources, and the seemingly popular choice to immediately work instead of going to school.

What are the on-ground observations on how the Zero Dropout Program can improve?
The Zero Dropout Program has made a significant impact on the lives of the beneficiaries. It served as another resource in addition to the income from their livelihood. It helped them achieve their dream of giving their children the gift of education even in the direst of situations.

The program can be improved by creating platforms that reach the poor in the most remote areas. In this way, they are also given access to education and consequently given the opportunity to lead more meaningful lives.

What made this engagement different from other engagements you were involved in?
In this engagement, we strongly felt that we were advocates of education. Throughout the immersion, we both admired how people recognized the importance of education and instilled this in others who did not. We developed a keen appreciation of organizations whose missions are for the improvement of humanity.

We also had the opportunity to talk with Governor Salceda about abaca as a primary commodity and as a major source of income in the province of Bicol. The demand for abaca has been high both here and abroad due to its flexibility as a raw material for handbags, baskets, and storage containers. We also discussed the use of value chain analysis as a tool in creating the greatest possible value for its customers.

How has SGV made a difference in the community and in you as an individual?
Poverty is a persisting problem in the country. CARD and SGV believe that education is one of the most effective platforms to alleviate poverty. Therefore, they continue to engage in activities that give education the utmost importance (e.g., Zero Dropout Education Scheme). The participation of SGV in this venture inculcated in us both the appreciation of what we have and the motivation to share them with others. As Benjamin Franklin put it, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

How can others contribute to the Zero Dropout Program?
To contribute to the program, people can make direct cash donations to CARD MRI. Promoting awareness makes a big difference as well.