In this garage-based school, 'bulilits' are 'iskolars'

In this garage-based school, 'bulilits' are 'iskolars'
By Walter Ang
October 17, 2009
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Having grown up along the railroad tracks of Muntinlupa, Danidon Nolasco knows how difficult life can be for children who have to grow up in low economic conditions. To help out, Don has been providing free pre-school education to children of Bgy. Buli for the past eight years.

Don's project is called "Bulilit Iskolar" (Little Scholar). "It concentrates on the fundamentals of learning, like how to read and count, arts and crafts, and, most importantly, social interaction," he says. "The program prepares them for elementary education. There is also a feeding program. A nourished mental faculty is better for absorption of learning."

The thing is, Don isn't a teacher. He took up computer science in Adamson University and joined the banking industry during the big Millennium Bug scare. The idea for Bulilit Iskolar was actually from a former partymate when Don ran for Barangay Kagawad in 2002. Don won, the partymate didn't. Nonetheless, Don decided to push through with the project.

While the project is subsidized in part by barangay funding, Don shoulders the allowance of the volunteer teacher and other expenses. Just like a regular school, classes are held Mondays to Fridays. Instead of a school building though, students learn in Don's family's converted garage.

"In the mornings, I make sure the scholars are doing well before I go to work," he says. "We have 60 kids this school year. We had our largest batch last year with 80 students. The garage isn't very big, so there is a morning class and an afternoon class." Since there is only one teacher, some of the students' parents volunteer their assistance as well.

The project has become popular and now accepts children from nearby barangays like Bgy. Cupang and Bgy. Sucat. Even though Don is on his second term as Kagawad, he wants to ensure that Bulilit Iskolar remains apolitical. "I want the scholars to say that they are the product of the project, and not of any politicians," he says.

The students of the project usually proceed to public schools for their elementary education. "The difference is that they are better-equipped than other students. They receive good remarks from their principals because most of the Bulilit Iskolars excel in their classes. I'm proud to say that we have already `graduated' around 500 students from the program," he says. "Some `alumni,' like John Josehwi Felipe and Jean Laurente, who are already in the fifth grade, are consistent honor students in Buli Elementary School."

Don's penchant for volunteerism started even before he joined public office. He was president of Akbayan Radio Communication Group, an organization that conducts youth leadership training, rescue operations, and distribution of relief goods. "We received a Hall of Fame award for being one of the Three Outstanding Youth Organizations in Muntinlupa," he says.

Don's interest in education may have stemmed from the fact that both his parents were part-time college teachers in Saint Rita College, Paranaque during the 80s and 90s. They are retired now and run a small store selling, what else, school supplies, while helping out with Bulilit Iskolar by shouldering the power bills.

Don's enthusiasm for helping children become better educated is apparently infectious. "Members of the Christus Boys Choir of San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish and Akbayan Radio Communication Group assisted us in constructing the classroom. College student volunteers from different schools like AMA Computer Leanring Center-Alabang conduct feeding programs and community services," he says.

But it's not just big groups that help out. His friends do what they can in their individual capacities. His colleagues from the banking industry usually donate materials while his friend Julie Garcia helps out with solicitations. "Not just for money, but also for school materials like books, notebooks, coloring books, pencils, and crayons," she says. "People who help Don with Bulilit Iskolar don't get anything in return materially, but we get a lot of self-fulfillment because it helps us feed our passion for helping others."

"Education is a primary concern of society. Education builds character," Don says. He plans to formally register Bulilit Iskolar as a non-governmental organization. "So it will cater to a broader scope of indigent children not just in our barangay but elsewhere, too. We want to conduct leadership programs for the youth and instill in them the value of learning, so they can realize how they can contribute to society."

To donate or volunteer, email or call 215-9167.

Also published online:

Finalist, 2010 Lasallian Scholarum Awards, Feature story on Youth and Education Category

Five Philippine Daily Inquirer stories ... were included in the list of the top 10 finalists story in the Lasallian Scholarum Awards contest sponsored by De La Salle University ... 

"In This Garage-based School, 'Bulilits' are 'Iskolars'" by Walter Ang, an Inquirer Lifestyle contributor.

The ... Scholarum Awards recognizes outstanding media coverage of Filipino youth and education issues by print, photo, broadcast, and campus journalists.

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