Binhi: Sowing the Seeds of Literacy

Literacy is the key to a better future for Filipino children—and a local group is trying to ensure that, ISABEL L. TEMPLO writes. Photos by DAN CERCAD


This class in Kaingin 1, Barangay Pansol, in Quezon City is run by the Binhi English Literacy Foundation, Inc. (binhi means “seed” in Tagalog), which provides English learning support for underprivileged children. English Learning Kit 1 is designed for beginning readers from six to eight years old, while Kit 2 supports and encourages independent reading in nine- to 11-year-oldswho have undergone the Kit 1 classes, like the students in Kaingin 1.

Held daily for six months, the hour-long classes make use of materials provided byBinhi. Every week, the children learn a new poem with new words, do writing exercises, read on their own, and then listen as the teachers read them a story—all with bright-eyed, if not loud, enthusiasm. “It’s fun herein our Binhi class,” says Daisy Castro, 10years old.

What makes it fun is that each student has a better chance to participate. With less children in a Binhi class than in a regular class—a maximum of 20-25, as compared to an average of 50 per section, with 10 or even more sections in the public school system—each student gets the attention he deserves.

This is one way Binhi helps children like Daisy and Jonathan get out of the vicious cycle of under-education and poverty they were born into. They seek to address illiteracy and improve a child’s chance sof staying in school, part of their vision of “every Filipino child in school and learning well.” Founder Lisa Tinio Bayot—a descendant of Teodora Alonso, mother and first teacher of national hero Jose Rizal—recognized the importance of literacy as the key to a better future for Filipino children.

The idea for Binhi came after a trip to India, where she was impressed by the Indian NGO Pratham. “Binhi was greatly inspired by Pratham’s unique grassroots literacy program—reaching out to children in marginalized areas by developing learning kits and training community based volunteers as teachers,” says Binhi member Miles Po.

HOW YOU CAN HELP it costs roughly Php500a month to support a Binhi scholar, but there are other ways to help. You may volunteer to do storytelling sessions, hold a book drive, or help in kit production or fund raising. If you know of a location or community where Binhi is needed, or simply want to volunteer, contact the Binhi English Literacy Foundation, Inc. through www.binhi.org.

TEACHING KIDS WELL From a mere 40 students in the Baseco, Tondo pilot class in 2008, Binhi classes have benefited over 1,000children in 19 sites, in Quezon City, Pasig, Makati, Laguna, Batangas, Zambales, and even Leyte in the Visayas and 2 classes, for example, are conducted jointly by volunteers Cecilia de Guia and Arvie Navalta, community mothers who are familiar to the children.

Jonathan shyly says that his grade in English class has gone up from 79 to 82; his reading comprehension level is also up from A (the lowest is AA) to D, Navalta reports. Daisy—whose reading has improved from level C to F—thinks all children should attend a Binhi class “to add to what they learn in school,” she says.

For other children, the results may not be as dramatic. Still, Navalta says, there is an improvement in their class participation.“The children develop self-confidence, too,” she adds.

But what Binhi does goes beyond helping the children read and write. “The reality in a place like this is, sometimes, when you’re just surviving, education isn’t a priority—you think about how you’re going to eat three times a day,” De Guia points out. With the Binhi classes and the efforts of community volunteers, communities like Kaingin 1 will surely reap the fruits of their harvest.