Donations: where does the money go exactly?

how we spend your donations @ Melinda J. Irvine and Stamps for the Visayans

Maybe you’ve seen the donation buttons on my website and wonder what I do with the money — I hope this post will give you a better understanding of how I spend the money, and even inspire you to do more in your own community.

For the past 5 years I’ve been living in the Philippine Western Visayas — supporting kids, families, and schools from a fishing community deeply affected by poverty. To fund these projects I use the money I earn as a freelance writer, as well as:

  • Donations of cash and recyclable bottles, cans, scrap metal (from family and friends)
  • Selling stamps on eBay (check out Stamps for the Visayans)
  • Online donations (from website readers and crowdfunding)

It might seem a bit strange doing these projects — just a regular person who reads crime novels, goes to the movies, has holidays, and eats spaghetti — but in my short time here I’ve learned that no amount of money I could ever spend on myself could unlock the same level of joy as sharing what I have with others.

That said, it’s especially important to remember that these projects are no single effort — they simply would not be possible without the support of my writing clients, neXtDRAFT subscribers, readers of my blog, family, friends, and you.

Thanks to you all.


Adopting Jerry

It was May 2015 that I first met Jerry wandering the dirt backroads of Estancia in the Philippines. He came to live with me full-time later that same year, and after only a few months his father died — leaving him orphaned.

I’d come to the Philippines as a Typhoon Yolanda recovery volunteer and never intended to stay more than a 3-4 months. But more than 5 years later, I am still here and Jerry has become my son in every sense of the love, joy, and exasperation he brings to my daily life. Yes I truly have become his mother.

Jerry only started school at the tail end of Grade 1, so he commenced grade 2 unable to read, count to more than 10, or write anything more than his first name. Jerry also has ADHD, a history of childhood trauma and abuse, and suffers learning difficulties. I am so proud of the progress and attitude of this little boy who has quickly learned to speak english and (more importantly) not to fight.

I’m in the process of adopting Jerry under the the Philippine domestic system — it’s known as “expat adoption” and of course this takes time (and money). But (so far) the biggest complications have been finding a way to stay with Jerry in the Philippines, and earn money without breaking any tax or immigration laws.

Reinventing myself as a full-time freelancer and professional writer has been exciting as well as exhausting, but I’m proud to say I do earn enough to take care of Jerry and run the projects you’ll read about below.

Some of my readers, family and friends have donated money in the last few year to help me provide for Jerry, and for that I am very grateful. Since May 2015 many of you have helped me:

  • Fix Jerry’s teeth and remove the rotten ones.
  • Pay for medical tests and medication when he was diagnosed with active tuberculosis.
  • Transfer to the city and secure a small apartment.
  • Fund Jerry’s school fees and provide him with a private tutor, plus swimming lessons.

At 11 years old Jerry is a funny, upbeat, energetic and loving little kid who is the light of my world — maybe one day he’ll even learn to keep his room tidy.

Activities for kids

In Australia we are so blessed to have amazing public facilities, plus access to beaches, rivers, and forests — all for free. The kids of Estancia Philippines have absolutely nowhere they can go after school or on weekends that doesn’t cost them money. And even facilities for kids that cost money are limited.

When Jerry first came to live with me (a non-parent with no other kids) I had no idea how to entertain him. With no places to take him (or drop him off) what was I to do? That’s when I started running my own after school programs, so Jerry would have playmates and access to creative learning.

For almost 3 years I ran music, art, and reading programs, — teaching kids songs and dance moves, helping them with reading and basic math, and providing books, toys, and games — all from the back deck of the room I was renting.

Other times I borrowed a private space and installed everything under a giant (but very broken) tent. I was attempting to screen documentaries but there was too much glare. Once I even took my new TV down to one of the puroks and broadcast ‘Finding Nemo’ to the kids who sat under a tree (see photo above).

Many of your donations in the past were used to buy books, paints, stationary, games, and toys. And when Jerry and I moved to Iloilo City last year we gifted most of the toy library to the local Baptist Church and one of the elementary schools.

Medical school for Eunice

This year (2019) we were able to help Eunice take the first steps in her medical career, paying 100% of her tuition fees at a leading university in Iloilo City — as well as providing her a secure room with dedicated WIFI. She will spend the next four years studying Pharmacy before starting medical school.

At 5 years old Eunice already knew she wanted to become a doctor and her dream is to graduate as a qualified paediatrician — one day opening a community clinic for the children of her home village. But when I first met Eunice (she was in Grade 8) she told me she was going to study commercial cookery at the local college.

When I pressed her for details she confessed that she actually wanted to study medicine but felt it was too expensive on her family to undertake 10 years of study. Over the past 5 years Eunice has studied hard (still making time to help her parents and look after her younger siblings). I am so proud of the actions she has taken to realise her dream — I just wish she would get more sleep.

Resources for schools

My first trip to the Philippines was to volunteer at an elementary school that was recovering from Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). The Tanza Elementary School is located in between the forest, farmlands, and the sea. It’s difficult to access (especially in wet weather) and the Principal and teachers do an incredible job with the resources they have.

Typhoon Yolanda left the school without 12 classroom roofs — as well as blackboards, textbooks, library facilities and even a fence. It’s been a delight to continually return to this school making small donations of books and learning materials.

Some of our earlier projects funded 12 new school blackboards, and at times I’ve screened  documentaries and run short music programs. Each year we try to donate science and conservation-related textbooks to the school library to educate the kids about sustainability and the future of the planet. It was a delight to be able to gift our toy library to the school earlier this year (2019).

Support for families

Poverty levels in the Philippines are slowly reducing, but 21% of the population continue to live on less than US$210 per month. That’s more than 21 million people who don’t have enough money to cover their food and basic needs. We in the west often make value judgements about people living in poverty — but I can only think of the children born into poverty through no fault of their own.

So every gift we make of food, clothing, medicine, drinking water, and hospital fees is always for the children — to help them stay in school and not perpetuate the poverty cycle by becoming a child labour statistic. Even now we see our sponsored kids working on fishing boats instead of going to school.

Over the past 5 years we’ve helped more than a few families pay for medications and funeral costs, buy rice, meat, and other staples. We’ve bought lice shampoo and washed the kids hair — soap, toothbrushes, drink bottles, and lunch boxes. For a year we cooked lunch for 10 kids every day just so they would go to school. That’s how we’ve spent your money.

I can’t bear the thought of kids not having anything to eat, clean water to drink, or even soap to wash themselves. And there is truly no amount of money I could ever spend on myself that can provide as much joy and sense of purpose as buying food for a family who weren’t going to eat that day. How about you?

livlihood projects -- melinda j. irvine

Livelihood projects

We all need a legup in difficult times, but for people born into generations of extreme poverty it can be difficult to break the cycle. Livelihood projects consist of loans and capital donations to help a person start a business and generate income for their family.

For many people, the only way to start a business is by taking out a number of 5/6 loans. This is where the person borrows 5,000 pesos and pays back 6000 pesos over 60 days. Every afternoon at 5pm the loan ‘officer’ rides past on their motorbike and collects 100 pesos. No need to discuss what happens if you start missing payments.

Can you imagine taking out a loan to start a business knowing that the very next day you will be required to make the first loan payment? It’s not only stressful, but shameful because the loan ‘officers’ are incredibly visible and everyone knows who they are and why they are visiting the house or store.

Over the past 5 years we’ve been able to pay out a number of 5/6 loans to help micro business owners get back on their feet after a flood or family illness. We’ve also funded startup capital for sari-sari stores (convenience stores), tricycles, and small restaurants/catering operations. The best part about a livelihood project is the person retains their autonomy and an element of dignity.

Helping kids go to school

Kids in the western Visayan region of the Philippines miss a lot of school due to seasonal flooding and typhoons. But for families with no fixed income, many children don’t attend classes when they need to bring art and craft materials to school.

I learned this first hand from the kids — as sometimes I would show up at their school only to discover they had:

  • Not attended family day because they could not afford the cost of the t-shirt.
  • Failed an assignment because they could not afford to buy coloured paper or paints.
  • Stayed at home because they only have one school uniform and it is wet or dirty.

The beginning of every school year (June) is a stressful time for parents, as children needs new uniforms, shoes, socks, school bags, and stationery. Plus each child must bring 5-10 notebooks, writing pads, spelling pads, pencils, ballpens, scissors, folders, coloured cardboard at the start of class.

Each year we provide school supplies to more than 20 kids (sometimes more if we have the funds). The kids are terribly excited knowing they will be going back to class but as the months pass the poorer kids start to drop out.

It floods, or their uniform is wet, they didn’t eat for the last 24 hours and hungry, they ran out of ballpens — no matter how many times I ask these kids to come to me if they need something — they rarely do. Parents also pull them out to look after sick siblings or grandparents.

So everything I buy and give to the kids ultimately is about inspiring them to stay in school and graduate elementary school, junior high, and their senior years. A number of our kids dropped out this year (2019) and I’m still working with their parents to work out how to get them back in class.

developing online tutorials for kids -- melinda j. irvine

Developing online tutorials

This is my new project — and something I’m terribly excited about — developing online tutorials for the kids of Estancia. You read earlier about the out-of-school activities I ran for the kids from the back deck of the room I rented. But after moving to the city last year (to access better medical care and private tuition for Jerry) I’ve lamented abandoning those kids.

In response I’ve started building an online learning centre at the back of my own website that houses free tutorials and creative activities for the children. Once it’s built and rolled out I can run it from anywhere and keep in contact with all the kids through Facebook and other online Apps. I’ve already begun upgrading my website and rolling out a whole new look and applications.

Of course it’s probably going to take me another 1-2 years of consistent work, but ultimately I’ll have a set of customised learning materials (in their native language) to assist with English proficiency and numeracy — as well as business skills and creative applications. And it will all be free for the kids of Estanica — maybe other disadvantaged kids too.

Practical, fruitful, achievable, and affordable. It ticks all the boxes.

So if you’ve ever seen the donation buttons on my website and wondered what that’s all about, I hope I’ve answered your questions. There’re plenty more to do and we can always use your help. Even if you can’t donate money, you can pray for us — or take a step towards becoming more active in your own community. When we all help, the world’s a much better place.

Make a Donation

Help disadvantaged kids go to school
If you’d like to help out I’m very grateful for donations — you can use credit card or PAYPAL or donate using our crowdfunding page.

Just shoot me an email if you require an official invoice/receipt. All cash donations are declared through my registered freelance writing business.