One Meralco Foundation provides off-grid schools and low-income families the opportunity to harness electricity to bolster their productivity and ensure a sustainable future.
Tawi Tawi, a province in the southwestern edge of the Philippines, is a hidden gem. Its coasts are lined with unspoiled, pristine white sand beaches that could rival the shores of Boracay and other well-known tourist destinations in the country. It is teeming with marine life and its nutrient-rich soil is perfect for growing high-value crops such as corn, banana, and coconut. Its geographic location, being in the middle of valuable seaports of Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and China, makes it a suitable candidate for a lucrative transshipment port. Unfortunately, the province is widely misunderstood.
Located in a region stigmatized by armed conflicts in the past, Tawi Tawi’s potential as a progressive, industrial, agricultural and tourism masterpiece of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (BARMM) is hampered by outdated norms that have deterred investors from participating in its economy.
Tawi Tawi, to date, is classified as a third-class province, and its progress comes at a snail’s pace, amplified by the dearth of basic services such as reliable electricity.
While its capital, Bongao, is largely energized, many island communities remain without constant power.
In fact, based on 2018 data from the Department of Energy, only about 27.8 percent of households (34,000 families) are energized¹. The absence of electricity has a negative impact on the education of students. Teachers in off-grid schools could not integrate modern learning tools in classroom discussions and, as a consequence, students aren’t able to keep up with modern concepts and develop the skills that would lead to high-paying jobs. If Tawi Tawi hopes to cash in on its economic potentials soon, it must first invest in providing quality education and skills training to its future workforce. For this, it needs technology — and essentially, electricity.
Meanwhile, in most parts of the country and the world, students use technology and the Internet in the classroom and in their day-to-day lives. The surplus of tools available to them and the limitless access to information gives them an advantage in the very competitive job market.
Unfortunately, those in marginalized communities who need a higher income to breach the poverty line are usually the ones without the qualifications.
This inequality inspired One Meralco Foundation to launch its school electrification program in 2012. As one of its core advocacies, the program has since energized 245 off-grid public schools across the country² — even those located outside of the franchise area of Meralco.
In 2019, the program brought electricity to 20 public schools, eight of which are in Tawi Tawi:
- Simalak Elementary School (Languyan)
- Aliakbar Elementary School (Bongao)
- Luuk Buntal Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
- Tandoh Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
- Parangan Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
- Matolo Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
- Pamatakan Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
- Buan Elementary School (Panglima Sugala)
Three years earlier, three schools in the municipalities of Sitangkai, Simunul and Tandobas, were energized by the Foundation. To maximize the schools’ electrification, Meralco employees complemented OMF’s donation by providing multimedia equipment consisting of a laptop computer, a printer/ scanner and a large-screen television. These were funded through members’ monthly contributions to the Meralco Employees’ Fund for Charity, Inc. (MEFCI).
Electrifying a far-flung school requires a huge amount of donated funds and it is only prudent for the Foundation to make sure that its social investments benefit more students and teachers for as long a period as possible. Moreover, the effect of the intervention on the knowledge gains of students is not immediate and becomes more apparent as they continue to use the technology.
Therefore, it is necessary for the Foundation to ensure the sustainability of each electrification project. Financial support from the Department of Education, which owns and maintains the schools, and from the local government are necessary for the continued maintenance and repair of the equipment after the one year manufacturer’s warranty expires.
The school’s immediate community must also be willing and capable of protecting the equipment. These are among the parameters the Foundation considers in selecting candidate schools.
Since 2012, the Foundation has energized 245 off-grid island and mountain schools in 38 provinces in the Philippines.
(Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the “Energy for Productivity” section of the 2019 OMF Annual Report)