Instead of catching a movie or hanging out with friends at weekends, Ruel Tenerife, an information technology specialist, spends most of his time teaching children who have difficulty reading. The 32-year-old heads a group of some 60 young professionals, all single, who volunteer half a day each weekend to coach more than 100 grade school pupils. The group is part of Cornerstone, a nationwide tutoring program organized by Couples for Christ
, a Catholic movement that aims to strengthen Christian family life. Tenerife, who has been a volunteer tutor since 2012, said working Saturday mornings is not easy but added that helping children is all worth it. In a country where an estimated 20.1 million of the population are supposed to be literate, many young children from public schools do not understand what they read.
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Tenerife said what his group is doing is to support and help the pupils read. "The teachers supports the program because they find it helpful for them and for the students to improve," he said. In his area alone, Tenerife supervises the tutorial of 182 pupils aged from seven to 12. He hopes all of them will successfully move up to the next grade level when classes resume in August. "Moving Up Day" brings about a sense of accomplishment to tutors like Tenerife. Tina Matanguihan, a volunteer for Cornerstone in the city of San Juan, said the program has inspired her to be more grateful. "I realized how blessed I was to be in a place where God could use me to be a blessing to others," she said. "It makes me more thankful to be where I am." Volunteers prepare educational material for pupils taking part in the tutorial program of Cornerstone, a Couples for Christ project in the Philippines. (Photo by Ruel Tenerife)
Sherryl Canlas, Cornerstone national coordinator, said several non-readers among the children they have tutored have made it to the honor roll in their class. "The only reason for many of them not to be able to perform is that nobody has taken time to help them study," said Canlas. Many students in public schools struggle with poverty, malnutrition and even a lack of teachers, especially in the provinces. Pupils like Ronnie Pahimnayon say they have gained much from Cornerstone. The boy joined the program when he was 13 years old and could not even spell his own name. He stayed in Grade 3 for two years because of his poor comprehension and reading skills. Maybe out of despair, he started bullying his classmates who were smaller than him. Canlas said the Cornerstone program also includes the "spiritual and moral upliftment" of children. The program even extends to the parents. "We incorporate values formation in the program because we want to impart to parents the importance of their personal worth and dignity as children of God," she said. The parents are invited to join livelihood programs, like soap-making and cooking. Cornerstone has two levels, one for primary school pupils and another for high school students. While the elementary program aims to help slow readers in public elementary schools, the high school program aims to develop potential leaders through Christian leadership and values formation. The Couples for Christ group has also partnered with the Ateneo Center for Education, a Jesuit-run institution, to help upgrade public school education in the country through empowerment programs and other school-related services.