Razel and Lauren started their NGO in the Philippines when they were 15 years old. They wanted students in the areas affected by natural disasters, so prevalent in the Philippines to continue learning. Designing study kits which they called “Knowledge in a box” they helped over 1,500 students for the past two years. In this interview they share their personal journey.
How did the idea come to you?
Both Razel and I had an idea for a classroom in a box. We thought of it as something really unique, almost like a first aid kit, but with learning materials. And then we came up with the name, which actually means “Knowledge in a Box”.
Also, something very typical of the Philippines is the amount of natural disasters that we have. We are located in the Pacific Ring of Fire and we are also very prone to Typhoons. But, in contrast to Japan, we don’t have the same infrastructure to combat these natural disasters. So putting it all together, we first want to combat educational inequalities, and then we proceeded to focus on the most vulnerable people, so the ones which are hit by natural disasters.
And what made you choose this cause specifically as your mission?
Before going to an International School, one of the top schools in the country, I came from a Philippine local school. I also have cousins studying in Filipino public schools. What I’ve seen from that is that my love for learning was really contrasting with theirs, so I wanted to investigate first why that happened.
I think there’s a stark imagery that when you go up to our school’s tennis courts, you see this beautiful field and the best resources in the country that we have. But just beyond the wall you see shanties and squatters and you’re just imagining how you’re in this bubble.
You can’t help but wonder, what can you do to actually bridge that gap? How to make sure that your peers love education? I saw this as one of the most prominent problems in our country from my research, alongside the drug wars and religious conflicts. So, I believe that’s reforming the education system and making sure that students love learning will help to make our country better.
How do you sponsor the learning kits?
Razel and I, we actually self-published a collection of short stories and that’s how we started our first fund-raising. There are three stories and information on our advocacy and we sold almost 100 copies of those. After that we started putting up donation boxes in different locations in Manila. We had some at our school and then we put some up at a testing center, at a Development Bank, and then we started collecting the resources that we started obtaining from those donation boxes.
Do you prepare the “Knowledge Boxes” in advance?
So, our main objective was to help schools affected by natural disasters. The way we’d would go about that is we would contact the local government units in that area. First, there was a typhoon in area of Kalinga, and then volcanic eruption in area of Batangas, so we’d contact mostly the congressmen in the area because they know exactly the schools that were hit the hardest. From there we would directly go in contact with the principles which would help us understand what they would need.
Even though we have the usual framework for the kids, we try to tailor it depending on what they exactly need. So in Malagnat, which was the first one, they needed more resources in English, because that’s the students lacked in understanding. And for the Taal volcano eruption that was more of a young population as our targeted beneficiaries, so we wanted to add mostly coloring kits are child-friendly materials. But now we’re also trying to help the most indigenous peoples, such as in mountainous areas. Now we’re working on a long-term plan, to help not only natural disaster struck areas, but also the most vulnerable population.
How do you develop the learning materials?
When we first started, we did develop the materials ourselves. We based it on the current K-12 curriculum in the Philippines, and the learning goals for the grades that we’re providing them to. So we created two, one for Junior High and one for Senior High. Currently, we’re in the process of creating more workbooks for different curriculum needs.
And each workbook, how much materials does it cover?
It usually takes around 2 weeks for one workbook to develop and it covers the span of what it covers is usually 1 year. Because we’re not sure how long the schools will be closed for, we take the entirety of a yearly curriculum. We also try to include the thing that naturally comes in mind. For example, if they need political cartoons, or something that we really try to instill in the Filipino communities trying for them to be more proud of their culture. So we could put for a national hero political cartoons and with that we also try to include the work of Filipino artists.
What is your outlook for the future?
The main thing right now is expanding, so that we have a greater reach within the Filipino community. Currently we are trying expanding the council, because since the inception of KnK till now it was mainly just me in Razel working on the workbooks and then traveling to these schools to provide the kits. Now we implemented the Core Committee and we’re in the process of interviewing applicants. We have an Alternative Learning Committee, Public Relations Committee, an Internal Relations Committee. And each of the committees can focus on different things. For example, the Alternative Learning Committee is designed to focus on creating a mobile app and then the Public Relations Committee to expand our reach, to focus on our social media and the website. Right now, we’re in the process of renovating our website as well.
Also, we’re partnering with several youth organizations that have similar missions to us. For the alternative learning we wanted to expand the workbook. So how would that specifically work is that for each school, for example elementary one, the workbook would contain two grades and divided by them in two. So from grades one to two, and then three or four… that would be the same for High School, Junior High and Senior High School.
That’s intense, because we want to first emphasize the core curriculum – English, social studies, math and science. But we also want students to stay engaged. The big thing is that in the Philippines we have a problem with student retention. Most people have access to primary education, but there’s a huge dropout rate of high school. So, we wanted to make sure that our workbooks are interesting and they would actively engage with them. We’re partnering with organizations for that and also help up find the beneficiaries.
How can people who want to support you get engaged?
If people want to help us with our mission we’re always excited to evaluate members that send us their applications. For the workbook, we are always open to work with more international population. We’re collaborating now with Minessota and Nigeria, because since we’re in a pandemic right now, the most vulnerable people are the ones who don’t have access to online resources and technology. Hence, we wanted to collaborate for the workbook and expand it to different locations. So that the youth leaders in those communities will distribute the workbooks.
We’re also looking for organizations that can help us with developing the curriculum. Anyone who is equipped with the knowledge of humanity, STEM, science.
Youth organizations which can help us with the app as well as people who have suggestions for more inclusive technology. Because not everyone has phones or access to a signal with telephone segments. Were very aware that this is not only a problem in the Philippines. So people who would love to shed light on the issues that their local community is facing, we’re very open to that. And of course, if that would help others, we’re always open to share our story if someone wants to publish it on their website.