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After embarking on a trip to his home country of the Philippines and seeing the lack of educational resources the students had in the village of Togoron, student Joseph Duano decided to raise money to send school supplies there.
A junior marketing major from Virginia, Duano created a Facebook and GoFundMe page to jump-start his outreach program. Within 10 days, the fundraiser accumulated $1,274 out of its $2,000 goal.
“It was surprising,” said Duano in regards to the reactions he received. “I was hoping for this kind of turnout, but it was more surprising. I set the goal for $2,000 to help cover the estimated cost of about $1,500 for school supplies, backpacks, and a few computers to donate to the school, but the turnout has been amazing.” He has a goal to eventually be able to bring scholarship opportunities to the children of Togoron.
Charina Duano-Rebancos, Duano’s aunt, explained the situation in Togoron, “Unfortunately, educational materials are hardly acquired by the students. First, they don't have enough money to spend for additional expenses. Secondly, local stores sell supplies at a higher price due to additional capital in transporting these goods from the city. Thirdly, these kids are already engaged in working to earn income for the family. They scape going to school in order to work.”
Since the students don’t have papers, pens, or books, Charina said they are ashamed. Some teachers reprimand them for not having school materials, so the children often prefer to not go to school. She said she believes there are lots of good kids in the village who can be trained and educated to be a good asset to their village.
He said some of the people who reached out to him were people he never would have thought would know about what was going on. Some reached out to him by sending messages and their money. He said the support has been coming from Hawaii, the east coast of the United States, Canada, and even France, and he hopes it gets even more attention.
Michael Tan, a friend and coworker of Duano’s from Utah, said he heard about the Togoron Educational Outreach program earlier this semester when Duano shared his experiences about visiting the Philippines. Tan said he could help change their lives with little to no money out of his pocket as he gains experience and knowledge.
Tan said he was initially shocked to know there were areas of the Philippines in need of “small things I take for granted.” He said he was also shocked to know he could help with little effort. “I have scheduled a date to depart to the Philippines to help teach and provide for the children there,” he said.
In addition to planning to teach to physically help, Tan said he has shared the GoFundMe page with his friends and family in an effort to take the project to the next level. He said, “I was mostly inspired by how much dedication Joseph had towards helping these kids and his vision of greatness within all of them. He sees what they are capable of, even when they have less money for a month’s worth of food than what it costs to feed myself for a day.
“As for traveling to the Philippines, I hope to accomplish changing the lives of the young children to show them that no matter how different their lives are from mine, we are still the same.”
For Duano, his month-long trip was his first time returning in 13 years since he moved to America with his family. The purpose of his trip, he said, was primarily to attend his aunt’s wedding and a semi-family reunion for both his mom and dad’s relatives. He said he was excited to see his dad again for the first time in 13 years and to meet his new family, wife, and their two kids.
He said, “At one point of the trip, he took me to this island that he’s been running as a community leader for the last couple years. I had no idea he was doing that.” That island is Togoron, and he said it was a two-hour boat ride from the mainland. “When I got there, it was one of the most beautiful places I’d ever seen. The first thing that welcomed me was a bunch of the kids playing and jumping off of the boats. I had no idea my dad had been doing a lot of things to help the community there.”
His father’s efforts included building dams, flood canals, and helping build the now-running local elementary school. Duano said his father also brought in the army to protect the village because the New People’s Army, a communist group, had harassed them for a very long time. He said his experience and time in Togoron were the most memorable part of his trip.
“My association with my dad is what really influenced me and what really brought it home. I see myself in him…almost like my future. First of all, we look almost exactly alike. And my little brother, he’s like my little me. So I can see my future from my dad, my past from my little brother, and then me in the present. I thought ‘Wow he’s doing great things for this community. What can I do?’” said Duano.
Charina said, “When Joric (Duano’s family nickname) proposed the project to the Duano, I was not surprised. Actually, my reaction was, ‘Like father, like son.’” She said Duano is happy, playful, protective, and responsible.
Tan elaborated on those traits, saying, “My favorite thing about [Duano] is he is a very determined people person. If something needs to get done, he can get it done and doesn't worry about how hard the steps to get there might be. I admire his outstanding charisma and how he is very good with the way he treats others.”
Charina said Duano is the brains of the outreach program. She said she knew about the situation in Togoron but didn’t have time to deal with it. When Duano suggested the program, she volunteered to help him as the bridge of every transaction, communication, and financial support to the project.
Duano said, “My vision for this whole project is for these kids to be able to not just make it to college, but also to make it in life with the skills, confidence and passions they have. We empower those kids so they'll be able to go back and empower their community and empower the world. I want them to be able to…go back to their village after taking all those opportunities to be able to raise the community that raised them.”
Joy Dolendo Duano, Duano’s stepmother, is his contact to suppliers in the Philippines. She said, “By means of this program, parents won't find it hard to provide school supplies for their children. Also, their children can now focus on their studies. Sometimes it's so hard that parents send their children to school without anything to bring. This program is a big help. All I can say is that I’m praying and hoping that this program can change the lives of the people of Togoron. The children there can have their own perspective in life and make changes in their everyday living.”
She said Duano is a kind-hearted man and he always helps without expecting anything in return. Because of this, they believe in him and are doing anything they can to help him on their end.
Duano said one of his inspirations was Rice Up, an organization started by Filipino student Elvin J. A. Laceda. “I’ve had the privilege of being able to be a part of it and help with marketing and strategies. When I saw these are the things you can do for your country, it came to me that I could do something. Elvin’s example really helped me to make a decision to just do it; to just start it, and basically it all just came together.”
He added, “My dream is to build an empire, an empire of a community of people who are working together for good, and I'm thinking about that future in building the kingdom of God. I care about the kids, but this is bigger than them. This is bigger than me and this isn't just for them.
“What gets me most excited is seeing those kids and that community one day rise above their poverty and become the ones to help the community next door.”
By helping the students, Tan said he’ll be helping himself by exposing himself to another way of life. He said the service will “broaden my horizons, put my life into perspective, and let myself acknowledge the gratitude I should have for what I have been blessed with.”
Duano said he wants everybody to know every dollar can open plenty of opportunities. He said he invites everyone to help through donations or to help by offering their expertise, advice, or connections. He said, “Feel free to contact us on Facebook and send us a message. You can contact me directly or through someone else who might be helping run it, but I just want to invite you to help us empower those kids… Just let us know you want to [help] and we can let you know how.”
The GoFundMe page is still available at www.gofundme.com/togoron.