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    Beyond Ball Gowns And Bright Stars: The ABS-CBN Ball 2019 Will Be For The Benefit Of The Bantay Edukasyon Scholarship Program

    “Education is the great equalizer,” says Susan Bautista-Afan, Managing Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation

    One can only imagine that the late Gina Lopez’s heartbeat pulses through each organization within the ABS-CBN Foundation, whether that’s Bantay Kalikasan or Bantay Bata. After all, her love and compassion for the rights and protection of her fellow countrymen as well as her beloved environment had fueled her life as a philanthropist and as a Filipino. But nowhere else does her heart beat the loudest than it does with her 1997 brainchild, Bantay Bata 163, the hotline-turned-social welfare program she had created more than twenty years ago. 


    Bantay Bata has grown to become the country’s most trusted organization for child protection and welfare, rescuing abused children and championing children’s rights and development overall. The organization has rescued and served more than one million children nationwide, beginning with Jessie, a mentally challenged boy Gina found under a sink. A crisis center was established and it housed the first 20 children that Bantay Bata had rescued. Since then, Bantay Bata has expanded beyond Luzon: two years later in 1999, Bantay Bata Iloilo was launched, and the next year, former President Joseph Estrada funded Bantay Bata’s expansion to Mindanao, opening in Davao. 


    Bantay Bata operates through four pillars: Proteksyon, EdukasyonKalusugan, and Pamilya, each focusing on a specific aspect of a child’s development, all coming together to provide holistic and rights-based nurturing. Bantay Proteksyon provides interventions during reported cases of abuse, whether physical, psychological, or mental. Bantay Edukasyon provides educational assistance from elementary all throughout college. Bantay Kalusugan provides medical assistance to children in need, serving more than 5,600 children in 2018 alone. Finally,Bantay Pamilya helps advocate and promote children’s rights through workshops and outreach. 


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    This year, Bantay Edukasyon finds itself in the spotlight as the benefitting pillar at the ABS-CBN Ball. Donations gathered from the Ball will help fund the Bantay Edukasyon Scholarship Program, giving hundreds of children access to an education. This program began in 1998 as an “aftercare mechanism” for rescued children who had been reunited with their families. It is designed as a long-term solution to help alleviate poverty. “Education is the great equalizer,” says Susan Bautista-Afan, Managing Director of the ABS-CBN Foundation.


    “We know stories of people who have been able to get out of poverty because of education. What better way to give someone a chance for a better life than to give them proper education? There are different ways to help,” she adds. “This is just one of those ways.” Aside from educational assistance, scholars also receive counselling from social workers—an important aspect of the rehabilitation system of Bantay Bata. “Hopefully,” Susan says, “when [the rescued children are ready to] leave, they have stronger reserves in them to know that they are good.” 


    The Bantay Edukasyon Scholarship Program is distinct because it doesn’t just provide scholars the money or the miscellaneous fees they need in order to survive—transportation, uniforms, books, food. “Ours goes further than that,” Susan says. Bantay Edukasyon is equipped with the means to provide tutoring and, as mentioned, counselling. “It’s over and above. We check on the kids, the parents. We make sure that they’re okay,” she tells Metro.Style. 


    There have been roadblocks along the way, of course. There are cases of parents wanting to “cash out” their children’s scholarship, as the money could be used to raise four other children as opposed to just one. “Hopefully we give them to deserving people and deserving families,” Susan adds. “Part of the screening process to is to find parents who will really nurture the children. We need nurturing parents. It’s really not a one-way street. It’s us, the benefactors, the children, and the parents all working together.”


    Children served by the Children’s Village in Bulacan are prioritized for scholarships, but that doesn’t mean only children who are victims of abused can apply to the program. Any child between 6 to 18 years old who is in need of financial help is qualified to apply. The Foundation stresses the importance of a child’s willingness to finish their studies, this factor becoming crucial as to whether a child is eligible. Since the program’s implementation twenty-one years ago, 6,400 students across elementary, high school, and college have been granted scholarships. 201 of those are even given to those who wish to study at a vocational school.


    The program’s target is to sponsor 400 scholars a year, increasing this number depending on the availability of funds, which mainly come from private and corporate donors as well as other foundations. In 2019, donations will be coming in through the highly-anticipated ABS-CBN Ball, of which Susan is greatly thankful for. “The first big thing that the ABS-CBN Ball does for the Foundation is awareness. When celebrities speak, when they engage, when they contribute, there’s a ripple effect,” she says. “It gives focus to an ugly problem. The Ball makes it palatable. The Ball makes it okay to talk about a serious subject matter.”


    The Ball will also be honoring Gina Lopez, who so lovingly and passionately founded Bantay Bata 163. They have a saying at the organization—“Ipasa ang pag-asa.” Susan admits that Gina is irreplaceable. “She was too big of a person. But I know that each and everyone of us has bits and pieces of Gina—her light, her love.” Through the Ball, and through the endeavors of the foundation that the philanthropist had left behind, may we all pass on the hope and continue her legacy. 


    Photos courtesy of ABS-CBN FoundationBantay Bata


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