Tuesday, 8 November 2011

AP Hernandez: Confronting poverty in Papua New Guinea

   Santa Fredo distributes Christmas goodies to 114 Tembari children last Christmas (2010). This Christmas, he will be distributing goodies to 200. At least two sponsors have already pledged to help make the kids’ Xmas holidays a little brighter.

PORT MORESBY: Expatriate journalist Alfredo P Hernandez, has been involved with a day care center facility based at a village settlement outside the city.

Freddie (or Fredo) as the beneficiary children would call him, is actively helping the Tembari Children Care (TCC) facility by looking for potential donors to help in its daily feeding activities involving about 200 unfortunate, abandoned, neglected and orphan children.

He’s been with the group for almost two years now and is happy that he found the opportunity to help the children get education (preschools and elementary), have meals twice a day and introduce them to new knowledge through educational DVD shows.

This year’s tuition fees of the 79 elementary pupils had been paid for by donors, while the preschool children are receiving donated school materials.

Freddie said there are many people in Port Moresby – most of them Asian and white expatriates -- who have the heart for the Tembari children and would like to help them in anyway they could.

He’s the only Filipino (and a proudly a Mambulaoan) actively and directly involved in this charity although there are many Pinoys who support the children through their association the Filipino Association of PNG (FAPNG) headed by president Tony Valdez, who works as a financial officer of cable TV provider HiTRON.

This year, FAPNG donated to Tembari children a total of K15,000  (US$6,530) for its daily feeding program.

And in July, the Malaysian Association of PNG (MAPNG) donated K40,000 (US$17,400) to help Tembari fund is various programs for the children.

This has been the second year that FAPNG and MAPNG supported Tembari with generous funding.

And a few days ago, an Irish expat called him to say he was making a fund transfer to the bank account of Tembari as his personal assistance.

Freddie said that seeing the children who were former street children in the village gradually improve their lives is “very fulfilling”.

“I wish to work for them for as long as my time and resources would permit,” he said.

Anticipating money inflows from his network of contacts, Freddie set up two bank accounts for Tembari Children – one with Westpac Bank PNG and the other is with Band South Pacific (BSP).

Westpac handles funds for Tembari projects while BSP takes care of money for feeding and operating expenses – particularly money paid to Tembari staff that included three preschool teachers, three cooks and one administrator.

He has seen to it that the withdrawals of funds are scrutinized – being one of the three cheque signatories – and that spending are done in transparent manner.

During his 18 years of living in Port Moresby, he has become aware of donors demanding transparency in the manner their funding assistance was spent.

Freddie discovered the Tembari children at the end of 2009 when their number was only 78 and they were eating just three times a week, with no funding to speak of.

And the food they ate was sweet potato, taro, cassava and veggies and slice bread.

Learning of their difficulties attracting supporters, he promised the kids he would help them find people “who would give them food, money, services and materials”.

And that’s what’s he’s been doing until these days.

“The Tembari children are a lot better now,” Freddie said, adding that they are now getting decent funding and enough supply of food from generous donors.

And of course, the day care center has also progressed in terms of facilities.

This year, donors delivered two 5,000-gallon water tanks, with monthly funding for the commercial bulk water to fill them (there’s no water available at the village); the Australian Embassy donated two refrigerators, two freezers and computer sets and a lot more.

Rice, flour canned fish supplies come in every month, as well as fresh milk. The 10 cartons of canned fish are a monthly donation from a Filipino cannery here – the RD Tuna Canners, whose mother company is based in General Santos City, Philippines.

The cannery is run by vice-president and managing director Pete C Celso, Freddie’s schoolmate at the University of the East- Manila.

Foodstuff would be sent to the facility by donors who happened to read Freddie’s stories about the Tembari children on his website www.tembari.blogspot.com. The site is being updated every week to inform donors and supporters on the goings-on at Tembari.

With two of his major projects for the children accomplished – the delivery of electricity to the center last March, which had not benefited the center since 2003, and the monthly supply of potable water, including a weekly donation of 20 containers (19 liters) of purified water -- Freddie is gearing up for his biggest project yet: a four-classroom school building for their 100 preschool children.

The cost of the project is K100,000 (PHP1.85 million/US$44,000).

The Australian embassy has committed to build the building on the condition that the land on which the structure would rise is titled.

Since Tembari is occupying a 3,000sqm State land – meaning land owned by the government – it has applied for the title.

This is another hurdle that Freddie is now facing, and clearing it would be tough.

In a letter to the head of the Lands Department (of PNG), he appealed for the Tembari children, explaining that the facility has been their home since 2003, and that the urgently-needed school building would not be realized unless a title to the property would be issued.

But Freddie has been hit by bad news that just came last week – he was told formally that the property Tembari now occupies has been allotted by the government for the expansion of the nearby Jackson International Airport.

The property is part of the land that would undergo a major government development program and Tembari has to vacate it despite a 99-year lease it holds over the land.

So, the prospect for the school becoming a reality is bleak.

And of course, the entire facility is facing the danger of losing a home once the airport expansion program is carried out and no relocation site has been set aside to Tembari children.

Anyway, God will always find a way, and Freddie has always believed this.

Meanwhile, he is chasing donors for Christmas bags of presents he would be distributing to the children on December 17, just a week before Christmas Day.

So far, two business houses have committed their support.

But Freddie is still looking for some more stuff to fill up the kids’ Christmas bags. Like last year, he wants to give them fresh apples and oranges, chocolates bars, candies, clothes and toys.

Last Christmas, he distributed bags loaded with goodies to 114 Tembari beneficiary children. Since then, the number of kinds has grown to 200.

He knew the children are looking forward to this.

Merry Christmas!

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