In most dormitories in the University Belt, the average rate of a four-person room with two double-deck beds is P18,000 per month, excluding utilities.
In contrast, the rate for similar facilities – a room with four single beds – at the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation Inc. (KKFI) dormitories along P. Paredes corner Lerma Streets is only P7400.
The first of its kind in the country, “it’s a home away from home,” says Nancy Nicolas, executive director of the KKFI, social development arm of the United Methodist Church in the Philippines.
Formerly known as the Methodist Social Center, the KKFI was founded in 1950 as a response to the challenge to work with the poor in their struggle for genuine human development.
Spanning 66 years of social development work, the KKFI started as a feeding program for children that missionary Madaleine Kleeper set up in 1949.
The feeding program spawned a kindergarten and a pre-school. At the same time, the children’s parents were provided with skills or livelihood training like sewing.
During martial law in the 1970s, KKFI responded to the issue of the time, opening the center to student activists.
Until today, KKFI remains committed to the marginalized sector, says Nancy, relating that farmers from Tarlac and Sumilao, Bukidnon have at times sought their help when they travel to the metropolis.
A volunteer teacher for Likharal looks on as students accomplish an exercise
“But what remains is education, that’s our expertise,” Nancy says.
From offering pre-school education, they moved on to the Alternative Learning System (ALS) for poor children in elementary and high school levels starting in 2011
Development work is not an easy task, according to Nancy, as she stressed that they have a lot of support groups.
KKFI executive director Nancy Nicolas distributes relief goods to victims of calamities in the provinces and slippers to beneficiaries in Navotas.
“We cannot do everything. We have to partner with like-minded organizations like the church,” she says.
Nancy Nicolas signs a memorandum of agreement with representatives of Unilab and Lighthouse Baptist Church, KKFI’s partners.
“Ninety percent of our budget comes from our facilities like our dormitories. We have offices, basketball courts, and of course, donations are welcome,” Nancy says.
“We have volunteers from Africa, the US and other parts of the world, but their social development skills should match those that we need. They serve normally for about a year or two, but the others extend.”
Wilma Galacio, who had been living in the Manila North Cemetery for over 20 years and whose three children enrolled in the ALS, expressed gratefulness to KKFI for what she described as a big blessing to her family. She said she never imagined it was possible to send her children to school. To express her gratitude, she volunteered to cook the meals offered to ALS students.
An ALS student demonstrates her skill in massage therapy at the KKFI spa center.
Leonard, one of Wilma’s children, meanwhile, vowed not to waste the opportunity given to him. “Hindi ako magsasayang ng panahon. Desidido akong makaangat sa buhay (I will not waste time. I am determined to improve my life),” he says.
Nancy tries to use a solar-powered cooker donated by Brainfood, a Washington based NGO.
Last year, the KKFI also started to provide technical education using the dual training system of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) called the training for employment program.
Under the scheme, the students have classroom education for six months then proceed to their on-the-job training wherein they will already be paid by their employers.
KKFI also helps find scholarships for ALS students who are able to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) test.
To provide livelihood for those who do not pass the A&E test, KKFI put up a spa where they could work as massage therapists.
“We are not going to stop. Otherwise this will impede the transformation of the students,” Nancy says.
While the process of transformation may seem never-ending and at times difficult, Nancy offers another important word: hope. “Kahit ‘yun man lang maibigay naming (Even if we could only give them that),” she says, explaining how some poor students who had the opportunity to go to school quickly realized they could do something to chart their future.
“Their perspective changes. They start to think that they have value in our society,” she says.
But things do not always go according to plan, says Nancy, so they always have to keep their doors open.
“When you plan, you usually have a time frame – which may not necessarily be followed. Like if the process of a child’s development is slow, then we have to extend our time frame,” she says.
“At the end of the day, you have to be flexible, you have to have a back-up plan, otherwise you will end up frustrated.”
Nancy believes in the saying that great things almost always start small, and what’s important is stepping toward the right direction, similar to what the KKFI has done throughout the years.
Ultimately, what the KKFI inculcates into the minds of the beneficiaries is that without spiritual growth, the pursuit for a better life would not be sustainable.
Spiritual growth, transformation and hope – that’s what can be found in the heart of Manila’s best kept secret.