During my time living in Asia, I worked with many NGO's (Non-Governmental Organizations) and charities to capture photos documenting their projects. One of these, Sambat Trust, in the Philippines, made excellent use of my images to promote their work in creating school libraries, offering workshops for teachers, as well as their Scholars program - a program that covers the expense of school necessities for students in need. One of my first assignments was to tell the story of a young man named Mark. He was a Sambat Scholar, in high school at the time, and was one of the highest performing students at his school. The scholarship stipend that his family received enabled Mark to stay in school rather than work to contribute to the family's income, child labor being a common and necessary reality for many young people of the Philippines.
The first time I met Mark, I was struck by his initial shyness. He was tall and quiet, very polite, offering to hold my hand as we crossed a muddy patch on the dirt path that led to his home - an offer I should have accepted as I soon slipped and landed on my backside! Once we reached his home (and I cleaned up a bit) I asked about his daily life and quickly realized that this young man was dedicated not only to his studies, but to his family as well, rising early and staying up late so that he had the necessary time for household chores and tasks he took on in addition to his schoolwork. This was a hard working young man whose quiet demeanor hid a deep passion for helping others.
The following day we met at his school, a nearby campus focused on math and science education, where I joined him in the classroom. Around his classmates, he had a lively teenage spirit that revealed a sweet smile, but it was also clear that he had the focus and drive to take his schooling goals to the next level. These goals were to complete high school, to go to college and to become a teacher. The aim of the photo story was to get him the support he needed to meet these ambitious goals, something he deeply hoped for.
Now, almost 6 years later, Mark has just graduated from university, Magna Cum Laude, and is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of being a mathematics teacher. I took this opportunity to ask him a few questions about his experiences with and feelings about Sambat Trust.
Can you give an example of what expenses are involved in going to school in the Philippines?
My elementary and high school studies were both free of tuition fees. When I reached college, tuition fees were collected before examination days. We also needed to make down payments during enrollment. Some of my expenses as a student included: food, transportation, uniforms, books, school materials, computer rental and projects.
How did help from Sambat Trust allow you to continue your education?
For ten years, I was able to go to school with the help of Sambat Trust. They are the one who provided for my needs as a student such as uniforms, school materials and tuition fees.
Why do you want to be a teacher?
Looking back on my elementary days, I remember how excited I was to go to school every day and to learn how read and write. Having good grades made my parents very happy. And some of the happiest moments in my life have taken place at school. My alma maters became very special places for me. I chose to become a teacher maybe because I was so attached to my alma maters and with the idea of learning and teaching.
What do you enjoy about math and why do you want to teach it?
Many people believe that Mathematics is a difficult subject, but based on my own perspective and experiences Mathematics is indeed the best, and an easy subject. For me, to learn and teach it was a bittersweet process. You need to have determination and courage in order to love and study this subject, then you can discover its wonders. With efforts and patience, Mathematics became easy.
What do you think you would be doing now if it weren't for Sambat Trust?
With their kindness and generosity in supporting my studies for ten years, I was able to earn a degree. Now, I will be able to uplift my family’s way of living and provide them a comfortable life. Without Sambat Trust, I could have never come to reach this moment. Maybe without them, I might now be working in a factory or junkshop. I’m very thankful to God that Sambat Trust came into my life.
Do you feel organizations like Sambat Trust are important &/or needed in the Philippines? Why?
Yes, organizations like Sambat Trust are very important in the Philippines. My country is one of the third world countries. Our government’s funds are limited and are not able to provide for all of the needs of its constituents. Education is one of the major problems in my country right now. With the aid of NGOs like Sambat Trust, students like me are able to attend school and earn a degree. We know how essential education is in an individual. It also serves as the foundation for a strong economy. I believe that NGO's play a vital role in providing for needs and a sustainable life for the third world country.
What are your next steps and future dreams?
I’m planning to take the Teacher's Licensure Examination next year so that I can transfer to teaching at the public school*. Furthermore, I also want to continue my studies and pursue a Masters and Doctorate degree in the coming years. I also want to save money so I can buy land for my family where our own home can be built in the future. Moreover, I want to help my co-scholars and other students who need my help and advice in their studies.
* (Mark currently works as a teacher at a private school.)
You can read Mark's heartfelt thank you letter to Sambat Trust, here.
Working with NGO's and charitable organizations is hard work but also incredibly rewarding. Here you can see a portfolio of some of the NGO's that I have provided images for over the years. If you have or know of an NGO that needs help telling its story, I'd love to work with them to help. Have camera, will travel!
(Interview responses have been lightly edited for clarity.)