Philippine Self-Help Foundation

Our Lighthouse Learning Center has just completed its 21st year and we had an enrolment of just over 100 children. There have been many management challenges throughout the year and indeed our history but once a year, in March, we all gather together to celebrate. Graduation days in the Philippines are major highlights in the lives of families throughout the country.

On March 23rd, we held our graduation ceremony in the function hall of Talisay’s South Town Centre. We would be bidding farewell to our 22 graduates - 12 boys and 10 girls - four of whom have been with us since 2013 when they  joined the Playgroup as toddlers.


The preparations for the culmination of the school year celebrations begin in late February, just after the conclusion of the final exams. Our four teachers, Rhea, Mildred, Jessa and Yeluin then begin to prepare the children in their respective electives (Dance, singing, Art) for their performances or displays on the day. We are told by parents of Teacher Mildred’s graduating class that their children would often come home and switch on you-tube to familiarise themselves with the lyrics of their songs.

In the final few days before the ceremony, we have two teams working under pressure to prepare things. In Tagbilaran, on the neighbouring island of Bohol, we have Ireen assisted by various cousins and nieces as well as our field worker Phady all working flat out to prepare the programme. This is an 18 page colour booklet comprising the day’s programme of activities, my founder’s article, class photos, the words of the graduation song, the names of outstanding parents and the list of all the awardees. As for the graduates, all their individual photos are posted along with their profiles and career dreams. These include: To be a nurse, policeman, doctor, teacher and even to be an electrical engineer. Our valedictorian Eden Paul Lauro, we discover, wants to be a reporter!

In our Lighthouse Learning Centre, the pressure is on too in the final days. Over the weekend, the teachers have been designing, laminating and personalising the academic and special award ribbons. For the first time, we have adopted the Dep. Ed. guidelines for special awards because we think they are great. Our parents were to be delighted to have their children receive commendations such as Sunshine, Eager Beaver, Little Teacher and even Best in Bodily Kinesthetic!


Ireen’s and my arrival at the South Town Centre at 9am coincides with the arrival of Laima Lagura, our new Principal who has crossed over from Tagbilaran on the 6am Ocean Jet. There is a buzz in the air and already over 150 of our expected 300 guests are here, mingling or taking their seats in the function hall. Rufina, close friend of Teacher Rhea’s is at the welcome desk giving out the programmes and our teachers are giving last minute encouragement to their protégées.

A lovely display of artwork and creations attracts my attention as I walk in. We began to hold twice monthly electives in art, dance and singing three years ago. Teacher Mildred has worked wonders with the children in her arts elective as can be seen by their caterpillars and spiders, all made from paper and a wide variety of  their colorful salt paintings.

I am delighted to have children come up to me for a blessing - they take my hand and put it to their forehead. Graduating pupil, Kaela is the first one to come up to me and then others run up to me for the blessing, a lovely tradition in the Philippines.

By 9:30am, the guests have all arrived, the sound technicians have the audio equipment ready and the stage is set.

The ceremony begins with the processional and I am paired with Laima. We take our seats to the left of the stage and soon we are treated to a delightful dance number by the toddlers and Playgroup children. Then comes the Lupang Hinirang - the Philippine national anthem and everyone stands up and respectfully puts their right hand to their chest.

Early in the proceedings, it is my turn to get up on the stage to introduce Laima, our new Principal and guest speaker today. She gives a nice talk with the emphasis on technological gadgets and how they can be both a hindrance and a reinforcement to learning. Laima tells me later that this was her first ever speech and she had been nervous; I assure her that she did just fine.

The ceremony continues with a combination of award ceremonies and presentations by the children in both the dance and singing electives. Throughout the proceedings, there are hundreds of photos being snapped by proud parents on their cell phones and videos on their i-pads.

As for the awards, we have discontinued the practice of giving academic awards to the younger children as we do not want to promote competition at such a young age. Instead we have the ribbons with commendations that reflect any unique gift of the child. As for the older children, we do have honours (5 in all) for the preparatory class children and the graduates, respectively. The awarding of honours in the Kinder graduating class was a particularly daunting task for Teacher Mildred as so many were deserving. In the end, it came down to marks, the scoring thereof and Eden Paul Lauro came out top. It was easy to see why when he went up on stage to deliver the words of gratitude on behalf of the graduates; he spoke eloquently in English without notes. Bravo to him.

Second honours went to Arturo Nasayao. It was a particularly poignant moment when he went up on stage to receive his medal and commendation ribbons (Best in writing & peace maker award) as his mother Gladys is in ICU at this time. Our thoughts and prayers are with her and her family. Arturo’s father is here today for his son’s proud moment. Just outside the honours list is Kaela and I go up to talk to her later after she had performed in an entertaining dance elective number. She seems subdued and I realised later that she was perhaps disappointed to miss out on honours. She does perk up later when she comes on stage with family members for the awarding of a supportive parent award. Kaela has a bouncy personality, speaks excellent English and I know she will realise her dream to be a nurse as stated in her profile.

A number of presentations follow the Kinder awards ceremony including a delightful dance interpretation of a traditional Visayan folk song performed by the two children who won the costume awards at our UN day in October, 2016. There is also a touching testimony by a parent, Zaikai Villaver, father of kinder pupil Kazzi, who comes on stage to tell the audience how much Kazzi has grown since he joined the Lighthouse. He has learned to do what he is told and to be disciplined in doing his assignments. I learn later from Ireen that it was Kazzi himself who had chosen to study at the Lighthouse. His grandmother had been taking him on a tour of various pre schools in May last year and none of them met with his approval; that is until he reached the Lighthouse and saw the toys! Later he said to his grandmother “I like this school, can I come back tomorrow?

The 21st Commencement exercises draw to a close with the graduates all going up on stage to sing their graduation song “ Today, my life begins “. This is an especially poignant moment for our teachers as well as the parents of the graduating pupils. We have come to know these children and love them as our own. They will be moving on to grade one in elementary schools in Cebu and neighbouring Talisay city. We wish all our graduates well and we cherish the memories of their time with us.

Richard Foster

May, 2017

Postscript: We are happy to report that eight of our graduates passed their examinations to enter Elementary Science Schools.