MANILA, December 15, 2005
 (STAR) By Igan D’bayan - Forty years ago, Jesuit Father Pierre Tritz (a French priest who later became a naturalized Filipino) read a study published by the Bureau of Public Schools. A particular piece of information stirred his soul: out of 100 students, only 40 finish elementary school.

"As a professor, an educator, I was shocked by this," says Father Tritz. "It is sad how children from six to 12 years roam the streets, or worse (land) in jail."

Rather than sweeping the disturbing statistics under the rug of consciousness (like what most of us do), the priest went into action. He started a project that has become the passion of his life: to help poor but deserving Filipino children have access to education. "Education is our greatest asset as individuals in gaining a brighter future," says the priest, now 91 years old.

In 1974, Father Tritz founded the Educational Research and Development Assistance (ERDA) Foundation Inc., the same year he was granted his Filipino citizenship. ERDA Tech is a non-stock, non-profit educational institution that provides poor families the opportunity to see their children get a high school education and at the same time learn an employable skill.

ERDA started with six beneficiaries. Currently, ERDA Tech has a student population of 508 children, who come mostly from the slums of Manila (with some hailing as far as Taguig and Antipolo).

"We have graduated over 600 high school students (and 800 trainees) in the past 10 years," says ERDA Tech administrator Wilhelmina Martinez. "Our graduates receive both a high school diploma and a skills proficiency certificate."

This worthy endeavor has been noticed by electronics giant Samsung, which recently donated P3 million to ERDA Tech as part of its DigitAll Hope program.

Samsung’s DigitAll Hope, the company’s social responsibility initiative, seeks to provide a brighter future for the less fortunate in Southeast Asia and Australia. Into its third year, Samsung DigitAll Hope has awarded funds to organizations across seven countries – Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam for projects such as "education technology center for the blind; an e-skills development training program for the disadvantaged youth; a street-Net mobile technology van; and a digital audio book library and screen display reading program."

"It is exciting to see the creative and innovative solutions that the winners have developed to help better the lives of the disadvantaged in their own communities," says Sang-Jin Park, Samsung Asia regional CEO and president, adding that technology is but an enabler that will bridge everyone to a brighter future.

"Through the DigitAll Hope program, we are proud to crystallize our goal of giving back to the communities within which we operate, in a meaningful way, and raising the awareness of specific needs."

ERDA Tech proposed to Samsung a project called "E.T. goes IT," a skills development project for the disadvantaged children and youth of Manila. The project aims to "enrich and widen the youth’s chances and competency by offering skills in cell phone repair and computer servicing."

What caught the eye of the people at the Samsung panel (composed of economist Winnie Monsod, former DSWD Secretary Dinky Soliman and TV personality Bam Aquino) was the project’s goal of "bridging the digital divide and enable the youth to have equal access to opportunities to compete and prosper in the global market."

"DigitAll Hope is all about supporting community programs that will help young people achieve their dreams through technology," says Samsung corporate marketing head Angie Limbaco, adding that the youth will be the future leaders of the nation.

She concludes, "What is so remarkable about ERDA Tech is that the students even get allowances to enable them to attend school and make a bright future for themselves."

In this day and age of companies going after the big bucks and getting more slice of the market share pie, it is refreshing to see a company devote time, money and energy to help small people attain big dreams, and bridge that looming digital divide.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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