When you ponder the question, “What do you do?”—you’ll be surprised where it can lead you to.
I met an energetic, friendly 26-year-old girl named Lynn Pinugu. She runs a nonprofit school. I already found this interesting, but learning more about her opened up a whole new world for me.
Pinugu moved to Mexico to work as an international youth volunteer in 2006. Part of her work was to go to schools to encourage high school students to volunteer for social action programs. Her story began when she walked into the Mano Amiga Guanajuato school.
“I was surprised when I found out the students only paid a symbolic amount for their tuition, because the campus had spacious grounds and up-to-date learning facilities,” she said of the school set up by a nonprofit organization to provide quality education in places like Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Mexico and Venezuela.
“I was immediately impressed by the students’ self-confidence, good communication skills and enthusiastic participation,” she said.
According to Pinugu, what made a profound impression on her was the students’ genuine desire to serve others. “Many of them voiced out how they consider themselves more fortunate than other children because they were given an opportunity to study and they would like to share their blessings by joining a volunteer program.”
From Mexico to Manila
Before she left for Manila, Pinugu told the program director to give her a call if they considered Manila as one of their future development sights.
Little did she know that the conversation with the program director would alter the course of her life. The Altius Foundation, which operates the schools in Latin America, asked Pinugu to pioneer the school system in the Philippines.
Pinugu was 23 then, and the responsibility she inherited was enormous. For starters, she had to convince a group of investors to trust a young girl in her early 20s with their money.
Armed with her vision and her slides, Lynn pursued as many people as she could to get the school started. “All I could show potential donors was a Power Point presentation on the success of Mano Amiga schools in other countries, and the promise we will do our very best to achieve the same results here,” she said of how she started the small campus in Taguig City.
“I will always be grateful to the different individuals and organizations who supported us during the first few months. They really took a leap of faith by supporting the school,” she stated.
From a class of 35 students in kindergarten to 90 students this June, the school is growing slowly, but steadily. “We can still remember how the school only had a makeshift bathroom for the first three days and everyone really watched their food and liquid intake,” she recalled.
Volunteerism played a big role in the development of the school. Through the volunteers who donate their time, resources and knowledge, Mano Amiga has been able to offer student enrichment programs, free medical services, skills and training seminars, and parenting classes.
Programs can range from ballet to football classes, as well. In fact, a few of their students received a scholarship from the ballet school because of their amazing potential.
A lot of the volunteers are also young advocates. Doing everything from painting the walls to playing with the kids, the volunteers are energetic and excited to be there. “I constantly experience first-hand how our youth volunteers could be so effective in empowering our students, who are simply starving for good role models to look up to,” Pinugu shared.
She added: “Interaction with youth volunteers improves the students’ social skills, builds their confidence and motivates them to have higher aspirations. What is just an afternoon or a day for a volunteer has a lasting impact on a child, who receives the inspiration he needs to thrive in life.”
This year, the volunteers got even younger. There were groups of 8-year-old girls who made bookmarks and sold it to relatives and neighbors to help earn money for scholarships. To raise more funds, a group of fourth graders conducted a bake sale and car wash to buy armchairs for the school. This proves you are never too young for volunteerism.
Each year the Mano Amiga staff and volunteers conduct house visits, where they spend time getting to know the family of each student.
“We cannot understand the circumstance of a student without understanding his situation at home,” Pinugu shared. “We also recognize that parents are the primary teachers of their children, and that the school cannot fully accomplish its mission without the parents’ cooperation.”
The school makes sure they keep all levels of communication open with the parents with dialogues and parenting seminars. Pinugu encourages families to participate in the development services offered by the school. After all, it is important that a peaceful home environment supports what one learns in school.
Pinugu understands the misconceptions regarding charity work. “For me, the biggest mistake a person can make when it comes to working with marginalized communities is to give them everything they need without asking them to do their part.”
She was inspired by the idea of teaching a person how to fish, instead of giving them fish. “We really discourage the dole-out mentality in Mano Amiga because it’s not going to be good for the families in the long run.”
Learning from students
After working so long with the kids, Pinugu shared how she, too, is learning a lot from them. “It’s their generosity toward others, despite having so little. Sometimes we get so caught up in the consumerism mentality, and we’re always fixated on what we can have. These children constantly remind me of my responsibility to use whatever resources or talents I have to improve someone else’s life.”
The students also teach Pinugu about life’s simple joys. “I think it’s really beautiful how the children never take anything for granted,” she says.
“One time, about nine kids visited me in the office. They got so excited when they saw the swivel chair. For an hour, the children just took turns spinning around. They found it magical!”