Thursday, February 25, 2010

Rishabh, Hayward, Penny and the deprived kids

TCC Founders, Rishabh Bhandari, Hayward Sagembo, and Penny Sagembo have big dreams for the settlement orphans and abandoned kids under their care, but to achieve them may prove difficult, as they only receive modest funding grant which is just barely enough to keep the TCC afloat.

Penny taking charge of cooking a Filipino dish called "lugaw" introduced to them by Port Moresby-based Filipino journalist Alfredo. P Hernandez

Hayward with kids ... small care groups like the Tembari Children Care have to fight for the attention of funding agencies and institutions because of the presence of bigger organizations that usually corner the funding grants.
Kids enjoying a specially-prepared lunch soup which they could have only on Saturdays as it is paid for by kind sponsors and donors.

These are the two community learning centers (CLCs) donated to TCC by the Digicel Foundation, PNG. At least 45 kids are benefiting from the facilities which are also provided with reader books, picture books, writing pads, pencils and other school materials.

Volunteer teachers at work at the CLC. She's one of the three teaching the kids how to read and write and to deal with numbers. -- All pictures by ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ, Port Moresby, PNG

Rishabh Bhandari, Penny Sagembo and Hayward Sagembo; and the underprivileged kids

A Friend of Tembari Children Care (TCC) Inc

THINGS that grew big usually began small. And those that showed persistence for growth despite all odds had no other way to go but up.

The Tembari Children Care (TCC) Inc, an unassuming little entity that clothes itself as a Community-Based Organization (CBO), is one happy example.

Operating at ATS Oro Settlement at 7 Mile outside Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, TCC was born in 2003 when its founders, Rishabh Bhandari, and the couple Penny & Hayward Sagembo, incidentally met at Murray International School. Rishabh was a student at that school that time and Penny & Hayward were there to present a lecture about the plight of some unfortunate children. While Penny had discovered to her horror that the community where she and her family live was beginning to be populated by a growing number of young orphans and abandoned children. On the other hand, Rishabh could not sit at ease when he learnt what a large number of unfortunate kids were going through. He compared his & his school peers’ privileges with the conditions in which many children were suffering. Rishabh thought it was squarely unfair and he vowed to do his bit to bridge the gap for as many children as he could and as much as he could do. Rishabh immediately got in touch with Penny and they agreed to do something for those unfortunate kids. Although they did not know how far they could go, the concept of TCC was born.

Penny herself was a “give-away” baby as soon as she was born, and was given up by her parents to their in-laws as part of a bride price deal. Now 30, she knows how it was to grow and live with people other than her own parents
She could feel how the orphans and abandoned children in her community felt, especially when their guardians – often their grandparents – are themselves too poor to provide for their most pressing daily needs – food and parental love.

Growing up, she resented her environment and strived to get an education how little it might had been. But then, it gave her a good measure of exposure to theworkings of the Anglican Church, where she got opportunity to work.

When Rishabh and Penny decided to start TCC, at first Hayward, who was then a salesman at a hardware store, grumbled over what his wife had started, considering that they themselves had their own problems feeding their own children.

But with the help from other mothers in the settlement, who later became regular volunteers, Penny and Rishabh persisted. It was not long before soft hearted Hayward was also chipping in from his own pocket, just like Rishabh was doing from his small pocket money; to buy food for some 35 children in the settlement. (This number has since grown to 83 by now).

Since the trio had convinced themselves that they should really look after the orphans and abandon children in the settlement where Penny and Hayward were living, they began to gather them together – and painstakingly at that one after the other -- in their settlement home. Thus, they had initiated one challenging exercise that they knew would be like getting through the hole of a needle: Feeding the kids from meager resources.

Eventually, Rishabh, Penny and Hayward founded TCC in 2003 and continued their pursuit with their own resources, with some small assistance from here and there. Eventually, they managed to register Tembari Children Care Inc. with the Investment Promotion Authority (IPA) to formalize the existence as a charitable entity. While Rishabh, Hayward and Penny continued to work hard looking for donors and supporters, their trouble also began to pile up.

In March last year, TCC started to receive a modest monthly grant of K400 from a foundation – “WeCare! PNG” – after it took notice of its activities towards the settlement’s underprivileged children.

Fr John Glynn, WeCare! founder, said in an email to Rishabh that they began to subsidize TCC’s activities because of the responsibility towards orphan children the founder trio was already exercising.

Later, Fr Glynn introduced TCC to the Digicel Foundation, which supported with two community learning centers (CLCs) – classrooms fashioned from cargo container vans. And then followed, the learning materials, text books, reading books, picture books, writing pads and pencils etc. for the kids.

These two CLCs have been a big instrument in providing basic early education to the children. Since there are now more than 45 school-age children, TCC has been prompted to invite three volunteer teachers from the settlement to teach the kids writing, reading and arithmetic.

The exercise, however, is costing TCC at least K400 a month. Each volunteer teacher had asked an allowance of K50 a fortnight, making it a total bill of K300 per month. TCC also has to pay a K100-allowance to the caretaker looking after the learning facilities from Monday to Friday.

Due to the last two months’ allowances remaining unpaid, the volunteer teachers walked out. The founders are trying hard to convince the teachers to return to the school for the sake of the kids, promising them they would be paid their allowances as soon as money becomes available. As to when, they have no idea.

At the start of the school year this year, TCC has been able to enroll 42 children from the orphanage for schooling at various levels. They are scattered in some 16 elementary and primary schools around Port Moresby. All school fees have been paid by WeCare!

Thanks to the K400 monthly grant from WeCare!, along with an equal amount from Pacific Towing Ltd headed by its general manager John Whitfield, who immediately recognized the noble efforts it is giving to the kids, TCC is able to sustain the four-times-a week feeding session.

But the meal which is served at lunch is still very austere, as it only comes with kawkaw, tinned fish and slice bread and sometimes greens cooked in coconut milk. Not very much actually in terms of nutrition and we can blame this to the outrageous cost of foodstuff in Port Moresby.

My suspicion is that most of the kids have not seen a glass of milk in their entire life, and this is one thing that Rishabh and myself are trying to work on with some trading firms. Who knows? They might feel the urge to deliver and sponsor something.

On the eve of last Christmas (2009), I decided to cheer up the kids by cooking for them a dish that they would taste for the first time – the Filipino version of macaroni soup.

And then we realized that it is possible to provide them with a decent lunch meal once a week, on a Saturday, through sponsorships from individuals who would chip in at least K150 (US$60) each to cover the cost of the Saturday feeding, which would cover all the 83 children.

All of us, myself, Rishabh, Penny and Hayward brought this up with our respective friends and contacts, and some of them immediately responded by pledging to “sponsor” a Saturday feeding session. This exercise has been going on for more than a month now, since I it was started on Saturday, February 13, 2010, in which I shelled out K150 to treat the kids with a nice, nutritious soup lunch, on the eve of Valentine’s Day. I knew it was good because I cooked it myself.

After that, the Saturdays of the month that followed were immediately booked – courtesy of some generous friends and contacts.

The kids are quite lucky. The four Saturdays of March 2010 have already been booked by individual sponsors. The reason is quite simple: They believed in the noble gestures being shown by TCC towards the parental, educational and nutritional needs of the children.

But TCC, as an entity short in funding, but long in perseverance and heavy with love for the kids, needs a lot of things-- translation: funding -- to make its operations more beneficial and results-giving. And it all boils down to its cash-flow crisis.

While it strives to provide the kids with decent meals four times a week, thanks to WeCare! and Pacific Towing Ltd, to make this possible. However, TCC is continually saddled with the lack of other resources to really make its delivery of services to the kids more effective.

And the kids, being kids that they are and unaware of their struggles, continue to expect that they would get the best from what is available at hand.

But little by little, the three persistent founders are surely on the way to getting there – with a little help now and then from friends in Port Moresby.

And the way things are going right now, the Tembari Children Care (TCC) Inc is on the right, but bumpy track.

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