What I Learned Living in a Filipino Slum for Six Years: Our Toxic Relationship With Drugs

einstein*Names have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

James* is two years old. Or three. No-one’s quite sure. Like many kids in the area he doesn’t know how old he is. While most of us will celebrate our birthdays every year as a milestone, a way to look back at the year and make plans for the next, James doesn’t know what a birthday is. Many kids here don’t.

James is scrawny and stunted. He’s about the same height as a typical one year old. Most of the time, though, he’s running around the streets by himself. He emerges from a tiny shack made of wood, no bigger than the smallest room of a ‘normal’ house, where his entire family sleep. He wears a t-shirt that’s too big for him, nothing else. And that’s if he’s wearing anything at all. He’s often just completely naked and dirty and wandering around.

His slightly rounded cheeks betray a stick-thin figure, the result of chronic malnourishment. His physical condition pales in comparison to the mental malnourishment that comes from this combination of poor nutrition, poor hygiene, and constant negative attention creating an awful environment for James… and others. He learns every day that the only way to get attention – something every child desperately needs and craves – is to break something, to hurt someone, to do something wrong. He learns from day one, that bad is good.

No-one around him thinks this is unusual. They know that his parents have to work, scavenging through piles of someone else’s trash so that they can eat a meal that day. A meal of rice with fish sauce, soy sauce, or if they’re lucky a piece of meat they found int he trash discarded by someone at a restaurant or out of date from the supermarket. Everyone knows why James is dirty, naked, and wandering around the street by himself. They know why the other kids are too.

So what do we do about a problem like James? What happens to him and the thousands of kids like him? There are answers… it just takes a lot of learning to get there.

Lesson One: Understanding the Environment of Poverty, it’s as Toxic as the Trash

One study about Payatas, the home of the largest dumpsite in the Philippines and what Payatas is mostly known for, measured the human development index in the area (Regalario, 2002). The human development index is a rough measure of overall development, it includes life expectancy, education, and income per capita. With a score of 0.4179, if Payatas was a country it would rank 180 out of 189 in the world. It is one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines and you can expect that many slums here have similar conditions. Meanwhile the Philippines nationally scored 0.74 back then. It is now ranked 115th in the world, an average score labelled as ‘medium development’.

A child born just a few kilometres away from a Filipino slum will be in the Middle Class of the world. They will have enough food, enough shelter, enough education… not great, but they will have enough. Their worries will be about what their friends think are cool – not if they will eat that day. Their childhood will be spent with toys, games, and trips – not spent by the time they’re 4 years old. Their time will be spent doing things which collects trash to be thrown away – not spent scavenging through that trash to find something to sell, recycle, or even eat.

And yet just because of the environment James was born in, that’s what awaits him.

this is where your trash goes 2.1.pngLiving in poverty is stressful. If you haven’t truly lived through poverty you cannot understand how that feels. That includes me. One study found that the stress of living in poverty is the equivalent of losing 13 IQ points. For a better measure that’s the difference between you as a normal person and you if you became a chronic alcoholic, or if you went all night without sleeping. The feeling of having pulled an all-nighter is something we can relate to. So imagine living every day feeling like that. Remember the last time you pulled an all-nighter. Remember the feeling of being overwhelmingly tired but needing to finish something – whether it was for school, for work, or anything else. Remember how easily you were annoyed, frustrated, or just wanted to give up. Remember how difficult it was to think straight and how easily you snapped. Remember the food you craved and ate. And now imagine that this is how you feel for the rest of your life. Double your workload, go through the day as if you haven’t slept, and do it all while being looked down on and insulted by the rest of society, and you have a small glimpse of what living in poverty is like.

In positive psychology (check out one of my favourite TED talks by Shawn Achor for an intro to the Happiness Advantage), the Losada Line shows that for any positive environment to grow there must be 3 positive experiences for every 1 negative experience. Minimum. Anything below this line becomes a toxic environment; whether in business, school, or the home. Among other things, and based on other factors of course, it isn’t a supportive environment any more and a negative mindset takes root. So here’s the crucial point: if you were in their situation you would almost certainly make the same decisions. It’s not their place in the world, it’s not their station in life, it’s what they are like when forced to live in this environment. It’s toxic. And like anything toxic it doesn’t discriminate. Whoever is there will be affected by the toxic environment, anyone breathing the toxic air is affected. Right now, that’s James.

What will happen to James? It’s a fairly simple question to answer as for the vast majority of people born in this situation he will most likely follow in his parents’ footsteps: becoming addicted to drugs, burnout, and if he lives to mature adulthood restart the cycle with his own kids.

Lesson Two: What Determines Who Becomes an Addict and Who Doesn’t Isn’t About Drugs, it’s About Their Environment

People take drugs for many different reasons. Most drug users, however, are casual users, whether that’s alcohol, cigarettes, or ‘harder’ drugs. What separates those who can handle their drink or the casual smoker to the alcoholic or chain smoker is often why they drink or smoke. Street kids often sniff glue, for example, because it dulls hunger pangs and other senses for a time, allowing them to escape their reality. A big part of addiction is how addicts feel they need the drug, and that need usually comes from a need to escape their environment, whether that’s hunger, loneliness, or a lack of purpose.

rat park.jpgAnother study sums this up rather well. Rats were placed in Skinner Boxes to study their reaction to drugs (left). Rats could press a lever to have the drug under study injected into their system. They did this so often most of the rats overdosed and died. It was hailed as conclusive evidence of the addictive nature and dangers of drugs.

Soon after, though, it became clear that wasn’t the whole picture. Other researchers figured that a lonely, tiny cage where you could barely move was not a particularly nice environment. The researchers instead made a better environment, Rat Park, where rats could run around, eat well, and interact with other rats. There they found the rats didn’t take to drugs. And when they placed the previously addicted rates in rat park, they showed withdrawal symptoms and gradually weaned themselves off.

Sound a bit ridiculous? That’s for rats, right? People are very different. But there is a kind of natural experiment for this too. During the Vietnam War nearly 20% of US soldiers in Vietnam became heroin addicts. It’s not difficult to figure out why people under the stress of war would resort to drugs to escape.

So the USA was naturally worried about what would happen when literally thousands of heroin addicts returned to the USA? For the most part, though, nothing happened. 95% of those addicted in Vietnam effectively stopped taking heroin overnight. Again because the drug isn’t the problem, the environment is. When the environment changed, when their stress and the cause of their fear, anxiety, and most of their problems disappeared, so did their need for heroin. You can read more about that here.

Most of all I would recommend this great TED talk about the whole issue. It sculpts together the problem with how we think about drugs and addiction, how the ‘War on Drugs’ has only made things worse in the long-run.

Here Johann Hari shares the example of Portugal. Being ‘tough on drugs’ led to a situation where year after year politicians got tougher and tougher, meted out harsher sentences and punishments, and yet the problem only got bigger – until 1% of the entire population became addicts. Portugal took a radical shift in policy and legalised drugs, shifting the huge amounts of money spent on policing and imprisoning drug offenders to development, rehabilitation, and support mechanisms.

drug deaths.jpgThe rate of overdoses, violent crime, and HIV rates dropped very quickly and the country saved a lot of money because of it. The USA has similar findings after the legalisation of marijuana: better health outcomes and fiscal savings. But a key point to the solution of Portugal’s drug problem wasn’t just about decriminalisation. It also included a guaranteed minimum wage and other measures which improved the quality of life. They had to improve the human development index of those areas.

Addiction is a symptom of a desperate and basic need in the lives of addicts that has not been fulfilled. That could be human connection, food, meaning, or other physical or mental needs. Fighting the symptom alone will never solve the issue. Tackling the issue of drugs means understanding the cause of addiction, and the need that hasn’t been fulfilled and tackling that. Only by doing this can we hope to solve the issue of drugs, and related social problems.

For more on the example of Portugal (and others) who decreased the need for drugs and therefore the addiction, deaths, and other social problems associated with drugs read here.

No Man is an Island…

If 95% of US soldiers addicted to heroin stopped using practically overnight when they returned to the USA, we have to endeavour not to put each addict through the emotional turmoil of what feels like war to them, but rather to improve their environments around them so they no longer feel as if they are in one. We cannot blame and punish the addict as much of our current system does, things will predictably get worse this way. Solving the problem of drugs in our society doesn’t mean fighting the drug itself, it means fighting the social problems we have made that leads to addiction; the stresses, the hunger, the lack of basic needs which leads to drug use. It means understanding and fighting the cause, not covering it up by locking up the symptom.

The good news is that it’s possible to solve these problems with compassion and understanding; that it’s more effective, and even cheaper! Throwing a person in jail year after year is far more expensive than solving the social problems in communities that lead to drug use. Not just because of the costs of housing the inmate, but because of the social costs on the family and community they have been taken from. Solving these issues does require empathy, effort to understand and research, and commitment to keep at it. It’s certainly easier to lock people up and forget about them then to do that… and that’s the real crime here. We have been lazy as a society, and it’s costing us all. 

We can learn what makes kids like James tick and why they will end up making the choices they do. It will take effort, patience, and understanding – but by helping kids like James at a young age, we can prevent the next generation of addicts, criminals, and save ourselves a whole bunch of money and aggravation later down the line in the process.

Meanwhile, we’ll see James next week…**


**James now regularly comes to the Fairplay Center, a safe space where he can play, bathe, rest, and learn. He is part of the community and while he is still a long way from anything resembling a normal childhood, like many of the children we work with at the Fairplay for All Foundation, his situation is improving. It takes baby steps…

You can support the development and education of kids like James at the Fairplay Center by getting in touch with us at ffafoundation@gmail.com

Kids from Payatas in our Kinder group, learning emotional intelligence




The Official Opening of the Fairplay Center; To Become the First Demcratic School in the Philippines

center outside
Some of the many kids we work with outside our new Fairplay Center

On Sunday, December 13, with the help and support of the Silver Star Century Group, we at the Fairplay for All Foundation were able to open our new Fairplay Center.

The Fairplay Center is the base of our education programs at FFA. It’s a safe space in the community of Payatas (mostly known for having the largest dumpsite in the Philippines), where working and out of school children can come to learn, rest, and play.

The Opening

Left to right: Roy Moore (FFA), Richard Joson (CEO, SSCG), Dr. Ponciano Menguito (DEPED), Kenneth Lim (GM, SSCG) displaying the plaque now proudly on our wall.

So last Sunday, we celebrated the full, formal opening of the Fairplay Center. With the help of the Silver Star Century Group, the renovation was made possible from a run-down building with potential, to a fantastic facility with even more potential.

For several months we’ve been using the facility during the renovation period, and the extra space has been brilliant for the development of the program.

And with the culmination of the effort from all our team at FFA, we were able to fully open the Fairplay Center. This includes a Kinder area, given that many of the kids have to look after younger siblings – one of the reasons older girls in particular drop out of school. This means the younger kids learn and play while the older girls have the space and time to learn and rest too.

Some of our performers from the Opening, in the Studio

Upstairs we hold our main classes, with three classrooms known as Eureka (Science area), the Studio (Music and arts), and Lingua Franca (Literacy and language). Farming and other classes are still offered at the previous center too.

The backyard, the final piece of the puzzle, needs to be levelled before we can host more dance, sports, and martial arts too.

Homemade pancit canton, chop suey, tofu menudo, palabok, and more, made fresh by our Kitchen Nanays.

And what of our previous center? That will become the Fairplay Café, as in 2016 we can cater outside of Payatas to events – for example we can cater with healthy, tasty, homemade food for sports clinics, CSR events, and offices.

Link to before and after album of the Fairplay Center

A Brief History


center through the years ext.png
Our Trilogy of Drop-in Centers

In 2011, Naomi Tomlinson and I, Roy Moore, established the first drop-in center. With few funds and wanting to start from scratch to build things up by working with the community, we started off in a very run-down building along the main road.

Naomi ran the center at this point, organising 20-30 kids who came by each day for basic study. That was crowded. We had started sponsoring our first kids in the nearby public schools, though, and we were making progress. The point of the drop-in center was to get to know the kids and families so we could support those ready to go back to school/at risk of dropping out, and provide individual support for others.

By 2013, we had enough support to get a larger, more permanent base. Immediately the number of kids coming by each day doubled, though our teaching staff grew and the format began to develop.

center through the years int.png
Inside our Centers

Since Naomi went back to the UK to study, May (our project manager) and I have taken over everything with this project. And after much planning and preparation, we now have our new Fairplay Center; the final model of the program. The facility means we can transition from supplementary education – identifying kids who dropped out or never went to school at all – to providing full-time education ourselves in a happier, more effective learning environment.

The Rationale

Through the drop-in center model we identified children to get back into school, or who were at risk of dropping out. We currently sponsor 45 kids in the nearby public schools. These kids are for the most part doing very well in school; some are top 10 in their class, even top 5 and sometimes top 1. In classes of sometimes more than 80 children this is an impressive feat.

However that over-crowding also tells you something of the long-term feasibility of sponsoring children there. Sponsoring a child back into formal school is great for that kid, but in the long-run if we return every child to the classrooms, that overcrowding will become an even bigger issue and the quality of education will fall.

In addition, traditional school doesn’t suit everyone. It’s why so many kids drop out and have very low engagement across the world, not just in the Philippines. The traditional formal school model was created in Europe, then copied in America, and then brought to the rest of the world through colonialism. Countries saw it was good at teaching discipline, obedience, and uniformity (hence uniforms, strict schedules, and a reliance on obedience to the authority over the kids). There’s a great TED talk by Sir Ken Robinson here, about how this school system was created to make factory workers, and that it hasn’t really been updated since.

Informal education is surprisingly effective. The Spanish, for example, found that the Philippines had a higher literacy rate than Madrid when they first arrived (Woods, 2006). With no formal education system, the community based model was teaching people effectively for that period. Skip forward a few hundred years and more and more people are home-schooling because they’re seeing that the world is changing, and that education isn’t only possible in a school setting.

And beyond academics, more than basic literacy and academic measures, often the biggest problem in communities like Payatas is mindset. With constant negative attention, few kids have good self-esteem, self-confidence, or the emotional and social skills to effectively deal with what life brings. Not surprisingly that translates to very high dropout and very low engagement rates in poor communities – in the Philippines roughly 50% of students drop out at some point (Nava, 2009).

Emotional intelligence is key for their decisions and problem solving, and thus learning (Goleman, 1995). The Marshmallow Test is a good example of this, where those 4 year olds who could resist the lure of one marshmallow now to receive two marshmallows when the experimenter returned after 15 minutes (delayed gratification), scored much higher SAT scores even years later because of their underlying sense of emotional intelligence which allowed them to study longer and more effectively.

The first step with kids in Payatas, then, isn’t to find a building with better facilities, it’s to boost the intrinsic worth of the child. Until children are confident in themselves, trust themselves, and have developed control of their emotions, they rarely develop long-term learning patterns. The flipside of that, is that when the child sees they are capable of learning from their own motivation and action, when they feel treated with dignity, when they develop a growth mindset (Dweck), then with access to better facilities and the space and freedom to choose, those learning habits last a lifetime.

This is the basis for our new Fairplay Center; a school which develops social and emotional learning first. A child will likely never need to know what the capital of Madagascar is, or how to work out the area of a hexagon, but they will need to know how to respond to their emotions appropriately, how to develop constructive relationships with others, and how to delay their gratification and develop self-discipline so they can accomplish their goals.

Other intelligences follow, including the academic, but this must be the first step. One of our girls at the Center, one of our first five full-time students as we experiment with having full-time kids, dropped out of school in Grade 3, for example. After 2 and a half years of formal schooling she was totally illiterate. When she first came to the Center she was shy and disengaged, had a short temper and would lash out frequently. She was used to being called a failure and seemed to want to lash out at others before they could, in her mind, lash out at her by calling her a failure again – whether on a report card, on the streets, or back home.

DSC_0439.JPGAt the center, her emotional intelligence developed. Given the freedom to trust herself, she saw that the staff and kids here care for each other as individuals and joined in. She developed self-worth and began joining in with activities. Over time she signed up for many classes and less than a year later, she’s well on her way to reading stories – not just reading letters or words now. Meanwhile her confidence grew so much she was one of our dancers performing in front of 300 people at a recent event, as well as at the opening. When kids feel safe and happy, their learning jumps forward in huge leaps.

So What is Democratic Education?

This is why we’re really excited about our center developing into the first Democratic School in the Philippines. Of course many people haven’t heard of Democratic Education before, so what is it?

Inside the main area with our ‘rule’ and ‘Gratitude Galaxy’

In a nutshell, the idea is that everyone is free to do what they want, as long as they don’t disturb anyone else’s freedom: ‘Malaya tayong gawin ang gusto natin, huwag lamang tayo makaistorbo ng iba’.

In practice that immediately means students are free to join whichever classes they choose, if any at all. Attendance is optional, no-one is forced to do or learn anything. That means you have a classroom of engaged students, not kids forced to sit and listen. Importantly that also means teachers are free too. Teachers can teach what they want, how they want, not burdened by a National curriculum designed by politicians with no background in education, as happens across the world.

Typically, Democratic Schools also have a weekly meeting for the community. Anyone can raise up ideas and issues, everyone will discuss them, and then together vote on solution (one vote per person regardless of age).

To see more about how a Democratic School works you can check out this fantastic 4 part series via CBBC in the UK about Summerhill, the First Democratic School in the UK and usually the model for all subsequent schools built on this philosophy.

Democratic Schools already exist in over 30 countries. In Payatas, for those who have dropped out of formal school, for those who are trapped in a negative environment with constant criticism undermining their self-worth, it can be a fantastic place. As we develop our methods and as we show the data over the next two years, that will become clearer.

The current education system in the Philippines isn’t Filipino. It’s an efficiency model based on Western logic spread through conquest for the purposes of the conquerors.

But we can build a Filipino system, an education based on relationship and community, which harness the most positive aspects of Filipino culture. This is our dream with our education system, and week after week, month after month, it is becoming our reality.

Thanks again to everyone who has made this possible, especially the Silver Star Century Group for making the renovation of the Fairplay Center possible. Check out our video in preparation for the celebration of the event:

Get in touch with us at FFA be emailing: ffafoundation@gmail.com


The Next Chapter in Payatas FC’s Story: A Home for Payatas Football Club

Payatas Football Club is about to enter into a new era; we are about to get our own place to train. It may take weeks, it may take months, but it’s now sure to happen. It’s just a matter of time.

Through the support of companies like DTSI, Ortigas and Co., and Straight Arrow, FFA has purchased the first half of more than 1,000 square meters. These lots (actually 4 adjoining lots owned by the same family) are in the only place we know in Payatas that has land titles. Typically in Payatas you don’t own the land you’re on. Even though so many of the families here were relocated by the government (beginning in the 70s) to Payatas, they were relocated without an official place to live, nor prospects of employment. And so this land is the future for FFA and our programs.

The land where Payatas Sports Center will rise.

In particular that means Payatas Football Club has a future. For a long time now we’ve been unable to train. Many times we’ve reserved the barangay basketball court but shown up to find that our schedule (with signed approval of the barangay captain) has been revoked. Either an event from the barangay means we can no longer use it, or there are other groups scheduled at the same time and so it’s been triple booked, or even there are just basketballers playing and no-one will move them on. And by the time they’ve finished, typically hours later, we can no longer practice. There are some very nice people within the barangay, but others have told us that football shouldn’t be played on the court, they have not cared about the kids because they don’t vote, and also that I (Roy as the Coach) am not from there so shouldn’t be allowed to use it anyway – despite living in Payatas for 5 years now.

So for over half a year now our players have only been able to play on the streets. And for a team with such talents – including kids invited to the National Youth Teams, that’s been incredibly difficult.

How Payatas FC Started

Training in Payatas (with One World Futbol balls)

We are often asked how did Payatas FC begin. Well it began with 80 kids on a basketball court with two footballs and a coach who’d never coached before. Chairs for goals, slippers for cones, and a bunch of kids who’d never so much as kicked a football.

Payatas is known for trash. It’s home to the largest open dumpsite in the Philippines. Payatas is a mountain of trash, where hundreds of thousands of families live scavenging for something to sell, recycle, or even eat. But football became known in Payatas – one of the largest and poorest slums in the Philippines (a completely basketball-mad country for anyone reading outside of the Philippines).

You can check out this feature by FIFA TV early in Payatas FC’s story:

The Philippine National Football Team had just gone through to the Semi Finals of the Suzuki Cup (a tournament for countries in Southeast Asia). It was the first time they’d done so well in a tournament ever (well not quite, the Philippines were a decent side in the early 1900s before America took over Spain in colonising the country). The Philippines qualified for the Semi Finals of the competition, and it was such a big feat that it was one of Sports Illustrated’s top ten sports stories of the year.

This meant media attention, and the kids finally learned of the beautiful game – of the most popular game in the world. And they wanted to learn. So naturally, being English and born and bred with football, I was happy to coach.

For many of the kids, joining tournaments outside of Payatas were the only times they left the sight and smell of garbage. It helped them learn to dream again.

Every Saturday we would go down to Payatas and train the kids. And soon after Naomi Tomlinson came to the Philippines too and together we founded the Fairplay for All Foundation. Payatas FC began to develop and became a full project and brought constructive sports to the kids, built an identity, broke down barriers, and kept kids away from drugs and gangs.

Jacko’s Story

Jacko during a tournament at the British School of Manila

Our players are among the poorest kids in the country. One family sums up the holistic nature of the poverty cycle in Payatas. Jacko is the youngest of three boys. His two older brothers also work as jumper boys – kids who climb inside garbage trucks as they drive by to scavenge trash and sell it to junkshops. They make around P50 a day (just over $1 and just under £1) working often 2am until dawn and another shift later in the day.

It’s dangerous work. One time Jacko had found metal in the trash, and began flattening it out with a hammer, as all metal sold to junkshops must be flattened. Being 7 years old at the time he didn’t realise it was a strip of bullets someone had just thrown in the trash. As he hammered away, one bullet exploded and flew off hitting his brother. Fortunately it just hit him in the leg, though his older brother was left with a bullet in his leg for half a year. Other kids have died from scavenging, hit by trucks or killed on the dumpsite itself. It’s dangerous work, but when your family needs money to eat that day you have to do it.

One of the reasons Jacko needs to work is because he’s orphaned. His mother died when he was a baby, his mother was just 19 years old at the time. She was first pregnant at 12 years old and had three boys before dying of a heart attack. A series of events unfortunately not unique in slums. His father was stabbed a year later.

Jacko joined Payatas FC after one of our older kids began training him and other kids in his street. Quickly Jacko progressed and became a key part of our younger teams. He was also one of 10 kids invited to join Kaya FC’s Academy. Jacko has many medals and trophies to his name now, and is proud to wear the Payatas FC jersey. Most pleasing of all, though, is that he always wears a smile.

National Team Players

angelica w beckham cropped
Angelica at a training camp by LA Galaxy, inc. David Beckham

Other children have huge potential too. Angelica is now 14 years old and was invited to join the National U14 Girls Team. She was unfortunately homesick during the training camp, though, and so didn’t join the final squad but another of our girls did the following year, Regine. Regine’s younger sister may very well make the squad the following year. There are many strong female players in Payatas.

Imagine, if Payatas FC has players good enough for the Philippine youth teams after playing barefoot on a basketball court at most once a week, how good will the players be with multiple trainings for their age groups? On our own court. We’re talking University scholarships and a whole lot more national team players.

Angelica’s story is also inspirational, telling of the big talents if the right opportunity is presented. At 4 years old she had fallen in Payatas and hit her head  on a piece of iron. Symptoms of the damage, though, only appeared when she was 9, as it turned out Angelica was walking round with a cracked skull for 5 years. During that time she joined her father in his truck to pick up garbage throughout Manila, on one of the usual Payatas garbage trucks.

Suddenly Angelica had an episode, half her face drooped, she slurred her speech and couldn’t hold her head up, ‘naging isip-bata daw’ (she became like a child). Fortunately she got treatment and recovered. A year later and Angelica joined Payatas FC trainings. A year and a half of training on a basketball court, once a week, barefoot, with 80 other kids crowded around, and she was invited to the National Team – one of the best girls in the country for her age.

The year after she joined Team Philippines in the Street Child World Cup, and was a key part of the team that won silver – as the youngest girl in the teams in the Quarter Finals, playing against 17 and 18 year olds.

A Home for Payatas FC

This is the kind of potential we’re talking about. True grassroots football where kids who love the game and have used it to improve their emotional, social, and academic performances. Kids who have learned and developed on and off the pitch. Not just becoming talented footballers, but better people too.

And so it’s with great pleasure – absolutely huge pleasure – that we can announce that we’re now ready for a futsal court, a 5 a side concrete pitch to play on. It’s the first step in a fully developed Sports Center, a place where we can have trainings every day, higher quality trainings in every age, and also host regular youth leagues for the city too.

Everyone can help to make this a reality as FFA fundraises for the court itself. After a full costing by people within the construction industry and local workers, we are looking to raise up to P750,000 for the court. P500,000 for the court itself, and the remaining P250,000 for equipment and trainings for players, coaches, security, and referees. Our own court means the full pyramid of grassroots football can develop. And through hosting leagues and tournaments, we can generate income for the running costs – making it self-sustainable once ready.

You can donate to the project via our JustGiving page, or email us at ffafoundation@gmail.com for more information. For those who don’t have money to give, consider fundraising too; run a marathon, climb a mountain, do your own thing. Everyone can contribute in their own way if you believe in the goal.

DONATE: https://www.justgiving.com/PayatasSportsCenter/


A Welcome Development in Local Grassroots Football: LBC Foundation’s GK Liga and the Quezon City OPES Futsal League

Right now Payatas FC, the team we run at the Fairplay for All Foundation composed of kids living at the foot of Payatas dumpsite, are involved in two youth leagues. It’s an exciting – if busy – time for football here.

LBC GK LigaLBC Foundation’s GK Liga

The first we generally play on Saturdays, as we were kindly invited by Gawad Kalinga to be the first guest team for GK Liga, sponsored by the LBC Foundation. We’ve always enjoyed working with Gawad Kalinga. The first major collaboration was with Team Philippines in the Street Child World Cup, where 5 GK players made the final cut for the team. We also had a joint GK and Payatas FC team in RIFA thanks to FEU providing a slot under them. Now Payatas FC is the first guest team of LBC Foundation’s GK Liga.

With a home and away format for 15s, 12s, and 10s, this means every team will play 18 games over the course of the 5 months of the league. If I’m not mistaken, GK Liga is the longest youth league in the country.

The match rules are also built for player development. The 10s play without a goalkeeper, with 4 smaller goals instead. Each team aims for their two goals and learn to switch the play if one is guarded. The U12s and U15s play futsal (5 a side, goalkeeper and a goal), though the U12s must put 3 passes together before they can score. The U15s are straight futsal as by that time they graduated from the U10s and U12s already. Another point is that goals from girls count double, encouraging teams to get more girls involved in their games.

One of the many good things about the league is that it’s run by volunteer alumni of GK. Each community is headed by 18-24 year olds who played football under GK . They meet each month to go through the rules and challenges of the past games, learning as they go. Naturally problems arise and mistakes are made. But this experience is invaluable for the admin and management, as well as the players, because it’s all part of a supportive environment. It’s all a learning process.

Gawad Kalinga have put together the biggest youth league in the country, as far as I’m aware, and we’re grateful to be a part of it!

Quezon City OPES Futsal League

The second development is a futsal league for Quezon City. It’s a constant challenge for youth teams to brave the Manila traffic. When I was writing regularly for GMA I wrote about this in a series of articles about Pinoy Moneyball – how players often spend more time in traffic than on the pitch.

The Quezon City OPES Futsal League is a solution to that, among other things. Run by Ralph Spencer and myself, the QC OPES league provides regular competition at a central venue, the Olympian Preparatory and English School in North Fairview. By limiting costs, the league has no registration fees, making it the perfect place to develop the players – to field a B or C team, or let younger or newer players get playing time. We also have a rule in place to prevent blowouts and with no trophies teams play for fun and for development.

Training in Payatas. It's often difficult ot find a regular place to train with basketballers dominating the court and even scheduled practices being kicked out by local officials.
Training in Payatas. It’s often difficult ot find a regular place to train with basketballers dominating the court and even scheduled practices being kicked out by local officials.

As always nothing’s perfect. This is the pilot league to work out the kinks and for us to get the model working. The potential is there though. Teams are lining up for a 2nd season. Currently we have 7 teams each with two age groups (born 2000+ and 2004+). Though in the future 9 will be the perfect number of teams under this format – where three teams play a round robin in an afternoon. With two games each visit (15 minutes each half) that’s a full hour of playing time, usually a lot more than a one day tournament for most teams too, and without the P3,000 fee. That’s why leagues are the backbone of every decent grassroots system.

The Vision

So here’s the vision: each city in Metro Manila provides a futsal venue. Two City Organizers run a futsal league on the weekend. This provides regular competition, in a format which gives six times as many touches, among other benefits noted in Rappler by Miguel Bermundo.

Photo c/o connorsportcourt.com
Photo c/o connorsportcourt.com

Every team gets regular competition within a reasonable distance. Then at the end of the season the top two teams from each city meet for a Champions League. City versus City, in a one day big event extravaganza. The league provides the player development and sustainability. The City Rivalry and Champions League builds the hype and draws the crowds.

Existing stadiums equipped for basketball and volleyball games now become potential venues for fast, action packed football. Think of it as a stepping stone for new fans, who get all the goals, all the action, and begin to understand the beautiful game. The potential of growing the sport is huge.

So together what GK Liga and the Quezon City OPES Futsal League show is regular leagues in Metro Manila are possible. It shows a better tool of player development than one day tournaments. And it shows with the right motivation this is possible – at low cost too. Collectively such a system provides a futsal court (venue), develops players (the product), and draws the crowds (market).

Nothing is perfect, and something like this always takes a lot of hard-work. But it’s exciting.

In the meantime you can support our team in Payatas, where we will be building a futsal court for leagues in the future, by donating for your own Payatas FC jersey. Click the photo below or follow the link here to see more about Payatas FC and fill in the contact form at the bottom of the page: http://fairplayforall.weebly.com/payatas-fc.html or email ffasocialenterprise@gmail.com for more info.

AJ (Team Philippines, 2014 Street Child World Cup) and Regine (Philippines U14 Girls, 2015)
AJ (Team Philippines, 2014 Street Child World Cup) and Regine (Philippines U14 Girls, 2015)

Girl From Payatas Makes Philippines U14 Girls’ National Team for AFC Regional Championships

Regine taking on two boys in 2v2 in Payatas
Regine taking on two boys in 2v2 in Payatas

Regine, a girl born and raised in Payatas (one of the biggest and poorest slums in the Philippines), has made it to the Philippine National Football Team. Joining the 18-girl squad for the U14 AFC Regional Championships, Regine and the rest of the Philippine team will face group hosts Vietnam on the 23rd, Singapore on the 24th, and Malaysia on the 25th June.

Payatas is most renowned for being the home of the largest dumpsite in the Philippines, and it is also home to up to 500,000 people who typically live off the garbage industry through scavenging. But slowly the reputation is changing as more and more gems like Regine are uncovered and people begin to realise the true potential in Payatas.

Regine against her younger sister in 2v2 in Payatas
Regine against her younger sister in 2v2 in Payatas

Trained by Payatas FC, of the Fairplay for All Foundation (FFA), Regine quickly stood out not just in the girls division but for any player in her age category. A natural attacker, she combined well with her younger sister to pass through any boys in their way.

On the same weekend when she was 11 years old, she won the MVP award for a boys U12 tournament and a boys U14 tournament. She would have joined Team Philippines for the Street Child World Cup also, but was too young for the competition. Later she joined Kaya’s Academy for the U17 girls, playing in the UFL Youth League’s U17 Girls Division at 12 years old. Now at 13, Regine has shown she has the ability to be one of the top female players in the country by making it to the final 18 of the Philippines U14 Girls.

You can check out some of Regine’s moves in this video of Payatas FC celebrating the team’s 4th year in Payatas. She’s the girl in red scoring goals from 2:45 onwards.

The U14 Philippine Girls surprised ASEAN last year when they won silver. Another girl from Payatas FC, Angelica, had been invited to join the National team but was homesick and dropped out of the training camp of 32 girls in 2012 and felt she couldn’t join in 2013.

For such young girls, these feelings are entirely normal. Not least when you consider the difficult backgrounds many such players are coming from. However it also shows the huge potential of Payatas with girls invited to the National team in each of the last 3 years, and strong potentials for the next few years too.

The boys are doing well also with 10 players in all previously part of Kaya’s Academy. Distance and transport costs proved difficult to maintain, as Payatas is far from any football field. Payatas FC, though, were featured in the past by FIFA, by the major local channels, and in an upcoming CNN Philippines feature.

A Home for Payatas FC

There is so much potential in the area for grassroots development. Payatas FC has shown it’s producing great players, despite training on a basketball court barefoot once or twice a week, with 60-80 players at each practice.

Regularly the team have been kicked off the barangay’s basketball court by older basketballers, schedules have been ignored, and when the team does get to practice it’s not very regularly or for very long. This prevents us from breaking down the kids into age groups and providing more advanced trainings. So given all the limitations, including malnourishment which often sees Payatas FC players only half as tall as some of their opponents, the kids are doing brilliantly. Imagine how much better the players and development can be if we have our own futsal court.

Picture source: www.connorsportcourt.com
Picture source: http://www.connorsportcourt.com

And this is FFA’s dream for 2015, to complete the purchase of nearby titled land in Payatas to build a futsal court. Our own futsal court will mean we won’t lose so many kids in training, as they get used to the drills. It means we won’t lose the older kids who find something for their age group. And it means we won’t lose all that potential that is clearly here. If we’re producing players good enough for National Youth Teams with what we’re doing right now, how much better will the players get with our own futsal court and professional training?

Build a Home for Payatas FC

FFA Drop-in centre Manager and Urban Farmer May, modelling the new jersey
FFA Drop-in centre Manager and Urban Farmer May, modelling the new jersey

To this end, you can now you can join the Payatas FC Supporter’s Club to help build a home for Payatas FC. All it takes is a P1,000 donation and you will net your own:

  • 2015/2016 Season Payatas FC jersey (sponsored by StraightArrow, a local marketing company)
  • Polvoron and other home-made goodies from FFA’s urban farm
  • And exclusively for those who pre-order by July 31, a Team Philippines jersey from the Street Child World Cup (while stocks last).

Everyone who pre-orders by July 31 will also be entered into a raffle to win one of three Waka Wakas, a solar powered torch and power bank that can charge your smartphone on the go, worth P3,500 each. Courtesy of Witsenburg Natural Products.

Picture Source: www.product-reviews.net
Picture Source: http://www.product-reviews.net

So it’s a great opportunity to help build a home for Payatas FC, whilst giving yourself a chance to win some great prizes too. Email: ffasocialenterprise@gmail.com for more information on how you can be part of the Payatas FC Supporter’s Club and proudly support grassroots football in Payatas and the Philippines.

*Last names of minors have been withheld as a child protection policy


The Credible Hulk Episode 3: Why We Should Stop Condemning China’s Yulin Festival (And Why I’m Vegetarian)

credible hulkRight now it seems almost every country in the world is condemning China for the Yulin Festival, where apparently tens of thousands of dogs are captured and killed to eat. This comes after the latest South China Sea issue and has somewhat overshadowed that political situation for now, and perhaps explains why everyone’s been quick to condemn China and make this issue go viral – rather than every other year it’s happened before. Now, however, there has been an unprecedented backlash for the Festival, campaigns and petitions have sprung up across the web, trying to stop this meat festival.

Now up front, of course I think the Festival is cruel. Of course this causes so much suffering to the dogs. This isn’t what I’m taking issue with, I’m not saying the Festival isn’t cruel. There’s primarily two reasons for the majority of outrage, the first being people are apparently stealing others’ pets (ownership issue) and the unnecessary cruelty of how the dogs are treated (moral issue).

But here’s the problem. How can we condemn this treatment of animals so passionately, and then sit down to a big dinner of pork, beef, chicken, and fish, snapping pictures to post over social media to celebrate our meals day after day, knowing that those animals went through at least the same amount of suffering? In all likelihood they went through much more given their confinement in factory farms and battery cages for their entire lives. That they were pumped full of antibiotics and

Soure: stopdogmeat.com
Soure: stopdogmeat.com

growth hormones sometimes making it impossible to even stand up. Many animals can’t even turn around because their cages are too small. Many never see the sun or natural light. And they receive physical, social, and emotional abuse on a daily basis.

All this we already know.

So how can we condemn the cruelty of making one kind of animal suffer, killing and eating it, and then sit down every day to eat other animals?

What’s the Difference Between Dogs and Other Animals

Now many will say dogs are different. They’re not like other animals; they can learn, be trained, they are social. Dogs are man’s best friend. Turns out that other animals can do all that too. Practically all animals are social, they all learn, and they all contribute to the environment and eco-system we need to survive in.

To be more specific, it turns out pigs are probably smarter than dogs, cows have best friends and are stressed when they’re not with them, and chickens are apparently smarter than a 4 year old. The exact details of the studies may be debated, how intelligent certain animals are and what capacities they have for certain things, but the general point is that the animals we eat are more self-aware, social, and smarter than we’ve ever really given them credit for.

In other words there’s no substantial reason to differentiate a dog’s suffering from a pig or a cow. Either you say it’s cruel to put any animal through such suffering, or you’re happy to eat pigs, cows, and, yes, dogs too. .

Why I’m Vegetarian

“If slaughterhouses had glass walls, everyone would be a vegetarian.” – Paul McCartney

To resolve this moral conflict for myself, I turned vegetarian. When people find out I’m vegetarian they inevitably ask why.

There are many reasons to be vegetarian. For me it was personal morality. I didn’t want animals to suffer, to take a life unnecessarily. So I chose not to eat meat, wear leather, or use anything that killed an animal for its purpose.

I believe animals deserve life. If we don’t need meat to survive (see below), then we’re not eating meat for survival but for pleasure. We choose to allow the suffering of the animal so we have the pleasure of eating it. Not the necessity (as with a lion or a tiger), but singularly the pleasure.


“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet”. – Albert Einstein

So many people think that you need meat to survive. This is perhaps the first myth to bust, because put simply, you don’t. Studies have shown that a vegetarian diet reduces the risk of heart disease by up to a third, as well as other diseases (including many types of cancer). Heart disease is the world’s number one killer, with 7.4 million deaths every year. A vegetarian lifestyle also cuts down the risk of type-2 diabetes. In other words if we all went vegetarian millions of human lives would also be saved every year, along with the animals.

Even some life insurance companies offer lower premiums to vegetarians, sometimes as much as 20% less. The linked article also references another study concluding vegetarians have a 12% reduced risk of death overall. Studies will debate the exact figures, but the overwhelming evidence is that being vegetarian is healthier. One of the reasons goes to another myth, that vegetarians lack protein. Beans, lentils, and other vegetable sources of protein have more protein per gram than meat, without the large serving of fat and other unhealthy parts. Eating meat doesn’t just make the animals suffer, in the long-run it makes the person eating meat suffer too.

By the way red meat is unequivocally the worst. If you want one step right now to a healthier lifestyle, then quite possibly the single best thing you could do for your health right now is to cut red meat out of your diet. One study concludes that 1 in 10 early deaths in men and 1 in 13 in women is attributable to eating red meat.


“By eating meat we share the responsibility of climate change, the destruction of our forests, and the poisoning of our air and water. The simple act of becoming a vegetarian will make a difference in the health of our planet.” – Thích Nhất Hạnh (Buddhist)

Not eating red meat also happens to be the single best thing you could do for the environment. The methane from cow farts, burps, and excrement, accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than burning coal, gas, and crude oil. One study finds that 1KG of beef comes at the cost of the equivalent of 34.6KG of carbon dioxide. With over a billion cows being farmed for our beef wants, those emissions add up very quickly. Again studies will debate the exact figures, but the Environmental Protection Agency of the USA note Agriculture is the greatest single source of global greenhouse gases.

It’s also an incredibly inefficient way to produce food. As a rough idea of what we’re wasting, it takes about 20lbs. of grain to produce 1lb. of edible beef. By comparison pork requires 7.3lbs. and chicken 4.5lbs. of grain to produce a single lb. of meat.

And that’s just in terms of grain. Add in the extra water, transport, and other things needed to grow animals not plants, and you’ve got an incredibly inefficient way of making food. So why is a burger often cheaper than fresh fruits and vegetables? Because all of these extra costs are paid for by the government (meaning your taxes). The USA alone spends $38 billion every year to subsidize the meat and dairy industries (http://www.peta.org/living/food/10-things-wish-everyone-knew-meat-dairy-industries/). By comparison the USA subsidises fruits and vegetables to only $17 million a year.

To put that in perspective, our meat would cost almost three times as much without government subsidies, the additional healthcare, costs of reducing environmental damage, and other costs of eating meat and dairy.

So we could produce many times more food on a vegetarian diet, saving ourselves money individually and as a society, and improving our health in the process. And yet consumption of meat continues to increase, reducing food production drastically despite the world now having the most number of malnourished and starving people in history. We’re looking at expensive ways we can grow more food, thinking GM crops and investing in technology, when we’ve got a cheap solution staring us in the face. A way that is well researched, well documented, and something we could all individually do. A way that means we can produce more than enough food for everyone on the planet in a cheaper, healthier, and more efficient way. And as a bonus we eliminate the biggest cause of greenhouse gases too.


Now this is no exhaustive list of reasons to be vegetarian, or the available research of course. But it should provide enough context to return to the original point of how there’s no consistency in condemning the Yulin Festival while tucking into our burger, steak, and yes, even our lechon (for Philippine readers).

If we are outraged over the apparently tens of thousands of dogs that will be killed during the Yulin Festival, we should likewise be outraged by the suffering and killings of the billions of animals that end up on our collective plates during the year. To be clear, I don’t want these dogs (and apparently cats too) to be killed for the Yulin Festival. But then I dont’ want any animal to be abused. I don’t think our care for animals should suddenly stop at cats and dogs. It should be for all living creatures.

The treatment of animals in the Yulin Festival is abuse. But so is the treatment of the animals in our meat industries across the world. The choice is simple. If we want to eat meat, we have no right to moral outrage against any animal cruelty. Because otherwise we’re criticizing the Yulin Festival and how dogs are treated, while celebrating a much grander, a much bigger, and much more brutal Yulin Festival on our own plates every day.

Payatas FC Invited for Kaya’s Tournament and Global’s AFC Cup Match Ahead of Big News for the Team P

Ahead of Payatas FC’s 4th year anniversary, which coincides with the one year anniversary for Team Philippines in the Street Child World Cup, support for Payatas Football Club was once again on full show.

For those who don’t know about Payatas FC, we’re a team made of kids living at the foot of the Payatas dumpsite. Many oft he players are jumper kids, scavengers, or work in other ways. Coming to our 4th year we’ve won over 20 trophies now, showing how skillful the players can be with the right opportunity. Check out FIFA Futbol Mundial’s feature on the charity here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i80YJ-hDdyA

So, In the same week, UFL rivals Global and Kaya both invited the team for events and so while they may be rivals on the points – sometimes the most bitter of rivals following Kaya’s 2-0 win over Global – off the pitch the two are always supporting good causes themselves.

Payatas FC Compete in 3v3 Warren and Brown Tournament

(Photo c/o Miji Gonzales)

Last weekend Payatas FC joined Kaya’s 3v3 tournament at the Emperador Stadium. It was a fun event as teams from Gawad Kalinga, Tondo, Dream Big Pilipinas, Payatas, and similar community teams battled Kaya, Loyola, and other academies.

I say battled, but it was one of the friendliest tournaments I’ve been part of and that’s largely because everyone knew each other. Perhaps the best example of that is with the Bootcamp U11 Champions, who were made up of the Celdran twins and Marcos, one of our players in Payatas. The Celdrans are a lovely family who have been big supporters of FFA, but due to a problem the third player in their team couldn’t make it and so after brief negotiations, Bootcamp signed Marcos on loan. Terms included a hug, and a smile. For us it was good because with 4 players in one of 11051073_10155331141295492_1206918270_nour teams it meant our sub would start instead and get more playing time. Incidentally the boys (right) won their age group.

And that’s what youth development is about, friends and fun. Chris Greatwich, who organized the tournament with Miji and others, said “The 3v3 format is really good for the Philippines [because] it’s difficult to get full size pitches… [it] encourages as many touches as possible, in an environment where [players] are free to express themselves.”

Speaking more generally of the Kaya Academy, he said “Everything is [going really well], it’s very busy with the upcoming UFL Youth League. We had 170 kids at the tryouts.” And he was quick to thank sponsors, Warren and Brown, of course. Neil Domelow, of W&B, himself recalled how his own sons have played football for a long time, and through this he was introduced to the UFL scene. “Since my boys were involved in Kaya we got more and more 11047151_10155331141180492_141998674_ninvolved [too]”. He spoke of their “obvious interest in the sport as a company, seeing the opportunity with [Kaya], seeing what they do with less fortunate kids”.

For him, “as long as the business remains profitable we’ll put more into the sport” which bodes well with more and more companies starting to get involved in Philippine football too.

Payatas FC Cheer on Global in AFC Cup

Earlier in the week, then, Payatas FC were very kindly invited to watch to Global in the AFC Cup. Global and the Palami family in general have been supporters of FFA for a long time and they have been a huge help to us over the years.

boys supporting globalHere, the older players at Payatas FC were able to go from their friendly games against OPES near Fairview in the morning to the Rizal Memorial Stadium to watch the first match for any Philippine club in the AFC Cup Group Stage. It was an action packed day of football.

As it happened, Global were of course beaten, but as I posted on Facebook after the game I think the 6-1 scoreline flattered South China a bit. The team from Hong Kong scored their first three decent chances and that killed the game.

South China certainly deserved the win, of course, so we hope Global can ride a quick learning curve to improve in their next match against Pahang of Malaysia.

And it was great to see most of the football community come together to support Global for the night. Ryan Fenix wrote a good piece about that here, http://www.interaksyon.com/interaktv/rampaging-fullback-football-fans-should-set-aside-club-loyalties-even-just-for-one-night, noting the historical and nationalistic reasons there. From another angle, you can also say it’s in everyone’s best interests. If Global (and Ceres in the playoffs) do well in the AFC Cup this year, and whoever qualifies next year too, then it contributes to raising the ranking of the country (coefficient) to get more slots in continental competition. at rms

So hopefully we can see an even bigger support for the team in their next game too. It’s great to set rivalries aside for the night as we support the Philippines’ representatives in the competition, and it truly is in the best interests of Philippine football as a whole.

Fairplay for All Foundation Goals

The next steps for FFA, though, are also exciting. Support from a wide spectrum of teams, companies, and individuals, has meant that FFA has at least doubled every year since it was founded by Naomi Tomlinson and myself. And for 2015 there are some great plans too. These announcements will be made first at the anniversary on Sunday, March 15, in Payatas, and then will be shared.

And while we’re primarily known for football in the Philippines, these announcements go far beyond the beautiful game. As FFA works in education, nutrition, livelihood, and other areas to holistically and sustainably break the cycle of poverty, look out for the exciting news over the next two weeks, and see how you can be part of the team.


A Revolution in Education Part 3/3: A Better Way

For a happier, more effective learning environment
For a happier, more effective learning environment

In Part 1 of this series I talked about the hidden cost of school, and then in Part 2 I talked about the hidden purpose of school. To complete the trilogy, I want to discuss solutions. I want to talk about how we can build a happier, more effective learning environment, saving billions in the process.

If it sounds impossible, just consider that it’s already been done. Nothing I write here is original in concept or application. It may (perhaps) be unique to Payatas (home to the biggest dumpsite in the country), and I don’t know of any democratic schools in the Philippines, but there are many alternative schools and inspiring people out there – the key is to bring a little bit of that back home.

Is Algebra More Dangerous Than Driving?

Part 2 of this, the hidden purpose of school, talked a lot more about how school is designed as a prison so I’ll skip over most of that. How truly odd our current education system really is, though, is seen by comparing how we learn geography, math, and other traditional subjects by how we learn to drive.

As John Taylor Gatto notes in Dumbing Us Down, driving a car is potentially far more dangerous than learning about algebra, what the capital of Madagascar is, or what happened in 1066. The most recent estimates show 1.3 million people die each year in traffic accidents which makes it the 9th top cause of death in the world. For some context, the other top 10 killers were all diseases – led by heart disease and strokes by a significant margin. Aside from diseases, then, traffic accidents are the biggest cause of death in the world – more cars kill people than bullets, bombs, and tanks.

Yet when you learn to drive there is little that you are legally required to do. It’s mostly up to you. This begins with the first choice of whether you learn (I don’t drive for example, I commute everywhere). If you do choose to learn to drive, you can do it at whatever time you choose, at any particular space suitable, learning from whomever you want in whatever method you want. You can ask a family member to teach you or get an instructor, if you don’t like the teacher you can change them, if you want to stop, you can. But if you stick with it you’ll take a test. If you fail, you can take the test again and again until you pass. After that you’re mostly left alone until a crash or a speeding ticket.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/s5967/standardized-tests/
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/s5967/standardized-tests/

Let me be clear, I’m not advocating for massive increases in prescriptive learning for drivers. What stands out with the number of traffic accidents isn’t so much how many there are but how much safer driving is given the massive increase in cars on the road.

What’s odd is that by comparison for algebra, for rock formations, and learning the capital of obscure countries half the world away, the story is completely different. We have no choice of where we learn, how we learn, and who we learn from. We are even told what to wear. If you try to stand up you’ll get shouted at, and if you try to dropout truant officers will visit your office and threaten you and your family with jail.

For what clearly needs a good level of proficiency not to kill someone, you learn in almost entire freedom then submit to a standard proficiency test. No distinction for drivers is made from this test, if you want to go further and be a professional driver the only stipulation is that you drive well.

So here’s the question, if we trust people to learn to drive why can’t we trust people to learn other things too? I cite again the example from several of the education philosophers I’ve mentioned; that a typical 12 year old can learn the whole Elementary curriculum in about 4 months. Instead we waste huge amounts of time and money forcing kids to learn institutionally. And in the process so many fail (in the Philippines 1/3 dropout before High School and of those who reach High School 31% more dropout).

A Revolution in Education

One of the daily classes organised at our drop-in centre
One of the daily classes organised at our drop-in centre

This is why I titled this series a Revolution in Education. This isn’t about tweaking the system, it’s an entire overhaul. The fundamental purpose of a happier and more effective education system is choice, freedom. As John Holt and A.S. Neill write, their books can be summed up by two words: ‘trust children’. Children have an innate curiosity and want to learn, they copy adults around them to literally stand on their own two feet and speak complex languages that no other creature has ever managed to do in the history of the known universe. No classrooms, no authority, just a loving environment and a little support.

By contrast, one of the fundamental problems in the education system for AS Neill, the father of democratic education, was that school takes away this drive to learn, they take away self-direction to leave children dependent on authority for validation (through competition, grades, and ranking). The very architecture of school, the way the classroom is built and arranged, says that a child can’t learn from anyone but the teacher (who in turn is told what curriculum to teach).

The Most Important Factor for Success

Self-discipline is a much bigger factor for future success than grades or IQ.
Self-discipline is a much bigger factor for future success than grades or IQ.

More recently, research (such as that found in Daniel Goleman’s Focus) has found self-discipline is a bigger indicator for success than grades or IQ. In some cases twice as much. Goleman, however, advocates for teaching children meditation and breathing techniques within the current school system (he’s not an education expert). But what if we take this idea to its logical conclusion? If self-direction, self-discipline, is more important than grades and IQ, and we learn self-discipline and direction through experience and through doing things ourselves, what if we arranged school to support the experience of the student?

If you want real life examples of how this works, look at Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, all dropouts. Actually look at the biggest companies in the world and typically a dropout started it. Naturally these people were smart and self-driven, they each had their own huge slice of luck which gave them an opportunity to succeed. But listen to Steve Jobs’ commencement speech to understand his reasons for dropping out at University. By dropping out it meant he could go to whatever classes he wanted to, whatever his interests were. His University was one of the best in the world for calligraphy and so he joined in some calligraphy classes for fun. No doubt his University helped him, but not in a prescribed course, a curriculum for a chosen subject, but because Steve Jobs effectively cheated the system and chose to go to whatever he wanted. Skip forward in time and that calligraphy class was the basis for how Jobs created fonts for Mac computers and built the most user friendly interfaces in the world.

Jobs’ idea was that you can’t connect the dots going forward, only when you look back. In other words you don’t know what the future will bring, you can’t force another person to learn something because it’s useful because in a few years it might not be. None of us know what will happen next year, let alone a decade after our children first enroll in school. Instead, learn from your interests, learn about what excites you, and you can make something work from that.

Building the Revolution in Education


Almost 100 years ago that was AS Neill’s idea too, so he built a democratic school. Still going today (run by his daughter) the children choose what lessons they would go to (if any at all) and would meet each week to discuss and vote on the rules for the whole school (it was a boarding school so they also lived together). All students and teachers had one vote each, it was a community where everyone was equal, regardless of age or competence. You can read more about that in AS Neill’s Summerhill, or watch the CBBC series which gives a good look at how this works.

Not everyone can build a school, so what can we do? In some way every teacher knows how to improve school. No teacher ever goes into teaching wanting to give children standardized tests, shout at a girl for having her hair out of place, and most importantly they never go into teaching to help children pass standardized tests. This all just comes with the territory. But it doesn’t have to.

More and more parents are homeschooling their kids. Many parents and teachers have in fact started their own mini-schools, effectively homeschooling their kids together. And at the Fairplay for All Foundation we have a drop-in centre for any kid in the nearby area to drop by and learn. The idea is to allow people to learn and teach whatever they want; wherever and with whatever learning methods too (within legal bounds, i.e. no corporal punishment). In Payatas, this includes the corkboard of learning. At the start of each day the teachers write what classes they’ll teach. The kids can add to this, posting classes they want to teach too. Anyone can teach, anyone can learn. Earlier today a child taught others the five senses, another kid was teaching addition, one kid was teaching football on the streets, a volunteer teacher was doing word games with a group, while others were teaching themselves keyboard. Any child is free to go to any class (or none at all), to move around if they get bored, and ultimately to leave if they don’t want to be here

For some time the problem we have is not attracting kids to learn… its finding room for them all. Kids in Payatas desperately want to learn. Let me be clear on some things, though, this isn’t always easy (or easier). Our centre is relatively small for roughly 100 different kids who come by in a week, mostly everyday. It’s draining for the staff with the extra energy, noise and mess. Teachers need to be very flexible to adjust quickly to students and to allow kids space to have arguments and find ways to resolve those. It takes patience and time… and a whole lot more patience.

But in the long run it’s so much more rewarding; children smile and genuinely laugh for the first time in months, they learn to love learning again, teachers learn to love teaching again, and you see kids debate issues with discussion and compromise that would shame some politicians. For sure we’re far from perfect (and would appreciate help from those with experience in such types of education), so for sure we have so much to improve on. But I believe in this because I believe in the kids.

The Next Step for FFA: Volunteer or Help Build the Fairplay Centre

Learning about nutrition and urban farming
Learning about nutrition and urban farming

So now we’re looking for volunteers to teach one day a week, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm. We’re looking for people, experienced or not, who have a passion for teaching and who want to learn more about education philosophy and to apply it. You can teach any skill, music, hobby, or traditional subject. Anything. Likewise the kids are free to go to your class and to leave if they find it boring.

And the next step for FFA is to get a bigger place. Payatas is a very crowded area and space is hard to come by. An area for kids to play and study opens up so many possibilities – not least helping children who dropped out of school (usually to work to help their families eat) study in their own time and take High School equivalency tests when ready. This will be the Fairplay Centre – a place for anyone to learn in freedom and respect.

There’s a lot to be excited for 2015 so if you want to be a part of this revolution in education get in touch at ffafoundation@gmail.com to volunteer and/or donate from wherever you are.

Or to donate online go here:


Final version 1


A Revolution in Education PART 2: School is Not a Human Right, it’s a Prison

In the first part of this series I wrote about the Hidden Cost of School in the Philippines. Adding all the hidden costs of school in Payatas (the slum I live in) it’s about P15,000/year to have any chance of success. For the average family of five making P7,500/month (just below the poverty line), then, this means half of their income must be spent on their kids’ “free” education.

In this second article I want to move from the hidden cost of school to the hidden purpose of school. Let me first be clear in what I mean by saying school is not a human right but a prison, then, as universal education is being tied to ‘human rights’, it’s a Millenium Development Goal, and many NGOs focus entirely on education. There are a lot of good people with good intentions leading this fight, however we need to be VERY careful about what we’re fighting for because if we don’t define what we mean by Education and by School we can so easily become part of the problem, for they are very different things.

The Psychopathic School

Please-climb-that-tree1For newcomers to this topic there is a huge number of people who have shown how school is a prison, many of them teachers. People like John Taylor Gatto, Ivan Illich, Paolo Frere, John Holt, AS Neill, Leo Tolstoy, George Dennison, and more have written countless books about how the real purpose of school and why it was designed that way. Let me also define what I mean by school here, as the institution we are compelled to go to by law to learn. There are many alternatives and good schools which don’t fall into the same category as what I describe below, or are much better. However the vast majority, especially public schools, do and the alternatives tend to be highly discouraged by the education system. This also doesn’t include colleges and Universities, as we don’t have to go there, it’s a choice, whatever the methods employed.

In Dumbing Us Down, John Gatto writes about how school, well, dumbs us down. It’s quite self-explanatory really. In one chapter he writes about ‘The Psychopathic School’. Compulsory education means you are forced to go, you cannot leave the premises during the 8 hours in school, you are told by a further authority what to do during those hours, what to learn and how to learn it. Any objection, any speech or protest, is met with sanctions and detention. Even going to the bathroom requires permission (and often a hall pass).

So, where we are, what we do, what we think, what we say, what we wear, who we’re with, and increasingly what we eat is controlled. Any objection, however slight, is met with instant disdain, shaming, and further restrictions on time (detention). For a more personal feel of what that feels like again, check out this article by a teacher which went viral as she shadowed a couple of students for two days. For an interesting read from a more psychological perspective you can check the Seven Sins of Our System of Forced Education also, for more about the effects of this psychologically.

What other institutions follow this same strategy? The only other places where you have no choice in attending, in the rules, the place, what you wear, and where you have to ask permission to go to the bathroom are prison and mental homes.

A Brief History of School

school-to-prison-pipelineJust like prison and mental institutions, one of the biggest reasons school continues in its current form is that we think we’re doing this for their own good. Kids will need to learn this stuff if they’re to succeed in the world right? Kids will need to develop the right character and listen to the teacher because one day they’ll be listening to their boss?

In a large way that’s why compulsory education was invented – so the transition between obedience from the teacher to the boss would be easier. The biggest businesses and wealthiest families led the charge for forcing children into classrooms because they stood to gain the most. Check out John Taylor Gatto’s An Underground History of Education for more on that. Sir Ken Robinson talks about how the original purpose of school was to produce factory workers, not as a place of leaning, in a well-known TED talk here.

Now, the biggest employers in the USA are Walmart, McDonald’s, and Burger King. The system has had a facelift, but the framework is the same; producing uncritical, obedient workers for production lines.

To those who haven’t read about education philosophy and history before it sounds conspiratorial, but school as an institution became popular in the 19th century. This is a time of colonialism, a time when women were still largely considered property, and where only the richest men could vote. This is a time right before the USA embarked on eugenics, secretly sterilising their ‘undesirables’ so they couldn’t reproduce. This is the context for compulsory education because it was never about providing an opportunity; it was about the elite serving their own interests.

Universal compulsory education really took root from the Prussian model. In 1763 they declared all children until 13 or 14 years old must attend school to be educated in Christian ways, forming a universal curriculum. From the outset it was unapologetically about propaganda – convincing their children to blindly follow certain ideologies – and the duration has only increased since.

Other countries began copying this model and over the next century most of Europe had a compulsory education system. In the USA, Massachusetts was the first State to adopt compulsory education in 1852 and the last was Mississippi 1918 – fun side-note, Mississippi only officially outlawed slavery in 2013.

In Britain compulsory education came relatively late on – the Elementary Education act of 1880 forced kids to go to Primary School from 5-10 years old. It may be surprising that this comes after Britain’s rise through the Industrial Revolution, you would expect education to lead to the innovations they had, but despite other countries in Europe having a wider education system Britain produced the best inventors at the time precisely because it allowed creativity. As with Ken Robinson’s talk the system was about producing the right kind of citizen to fit into a rapidly growing nation, turning citizens into consumers (check out Edward Bernays for a fascinating look at this).

It’s For Their Own Good, Right?

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/s5967/standardized-tests/
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/s5967/standardized-tests/

There is no denying the overlap of methods in schools, prisons, and mental homes but you may still believe that it’s for their own good. It’s a big world and we have to prepare our kids for it. Well that’s exactly the reason I’m writing this; compulsory education is actually making us worse off.

As with Illich, Neill, Holt, Dennison, and others, it’s long been known that children learn to read and write naturally if given the freedom to, much like kids learn to walk and talk. Instead, the effect of The Psychopathic School has been to reduce literacy, as Gatto notes in Weapons of Mass Instruction, where he notes that to enter the US Army you need to read at a Grade Four level. In WWII the soldier’s literacy rate was 96%, in 1950 81% and by the 1970s this fell to 73%. This wasn’t an issue of increased participation of marginalised sectors, either. When you isolate racial factors you see that illiteracy doubled for blacks and quadrupled for whites.

See school kills that natural curiosity because whatever questions you have, whatever interests you have, are pushed aside for the National Curriculum. You can longer learn what you want to, you have to study what some faceless bureaucrats decided was best, and how they say too. Try asking a question in class not related to the ‘lesson’, you’re told to shut up. Try standing up in class just to move about naturally, you get shouted at again. That’s what I meant by the lack of freedom of speech, that school actively discourages certain human rights. Many children have such an enthusiasm when they first go to school, it’s not surprising then by the time they reach High School they’re apathetic, lazy, they “need to apply themselves”. It’s not that they’re actually lazy, it’s that they’re tired of being told what to do all the time, of having not a single choice throughout most of the day – even having to do homework when they can finally leave the building.

I’ve restricted myself to talking about the philosophy and overall purpose behind compulsory education rather than talking about its effectiveness and more practical elements. Part of the reason is that the ineffectiveness of modern schooling has been known for decades (centuries in all probability). Finland regularly tops the world charts for education, yet there is no Pre-School and little if any homework is done. Studies have previously shown homework does not improve grades, it is to extend the authority of school. Rote learning is based on memory and has nothing to do with intelligence, yet despite largely using rote methods no memory techniques are ever taught, though many brilliant and easy techniques exist to build a great memory. Anyone skilled in these techniques shoots to the top of the class. This is why Daniel Goleman, among others, writes much in Focus about how self-direction is a better indicator of future success (however defined) than grades and IQ. The problem is that school actively destroys self-direction; you have no choice in school. Those anonymous bureaucrats aren’t interested in your success, or your child’s success, because potentially that’s a threat to the system. And all of this is why Universities more and more are turning away from grades when admitting students – they don’t indicate competence in the student.

To conclude this point, the ineffective nature of school is why George Dennison, and others who ran alternative schools or research the effectiveness of education, say that a 12 year old child who has never been to school can learn everything from Elementary School in about 4 months. Imagine how much time and unnecessary frustration we could have saved.

What Can We Do?

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/claireemmack/edfon-midterm/
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/claireemmack/edfon-midterm/

This, of course, will all sound very negative to many of us, not least to teachers. If school is a prison than teachers are in effect prison guards. Many teachers will already know and understand what I’ve written and see their job as doing the best they can within the system. My Dad and Uncle were teachers, my brother-in-law is, and I’ve done some classroom style teaching myself (outside of coaching).

Others may be angry right now and say I’m criticising them and their profession. I hope I can show the opposite. The problem is not teachers, the problem is the system. Teachers, in the modern sense, also have little choice. Teachers cannot choose what to teach, how they will teach it, or where. My hope isn’t that we get rid of schools and therefore get rid of teachers; my hope is that we get revolutionise schools so that we can free teachers. If teachers and Headmasters were really free to arrange the school as they wanted, they’d be much happier places teaching far more effectively.

And this is the reason why I’m writing, to advocate for students choosing what, how, and where they study, and teachers choosing what, how, and where they want to teach. It’s not just cheaper and more effective, it’s also a much happier and more fulfilling environment.

If it sounds impossible just consider that it’s been done by so many before. Many of the key education philosophers I’ve mentioned typically founded their own alternative schools and showed how much more effective and how much happier their schools were. Many of those had taught in traditional education for some time and no doubt many of our current teachers and headmasters can do the same. There are democratic schools (where students choose what to study and students choose the school rules) in over 30 countries, homeschooling is becoming a far more popular choice, and parents are banding together to found mini-schools.

So this is the basis of the revolution in education: choice, freedom. You learn best when you decide to learn, when you choose to learn. Teachers teach best when they have freedom and choice too. This is the basis of what we hope to achieve in our education programs at the Fairplay for All Foundation, too, as if what we really want from our education system is to encourage learning, creativity, and self-drive, then we need a revolution in education.


A Revolution in Education Part 1: The Hidden Cost of School, Why “Free” Education is Too Expensive for the Poor

Public Schools have to cram students into classrooms with no space to move. Source: http://www.development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/philippine_public_schools_not_so_public_after_all/index.html
Public Schools have to cram students into classrooms. Picture source: http://www.development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/ philippine_public_schools_not_so_public_after_all/index.html

With the global push for universal education over the last few decades, every country in the world now has some form of public school system. School has become “free” to the masses, based on the same model of a teacher, a classroom, a textbook, and a curriculum.

This model has conquered the world in a way no other idea or concept has. With Pre-School and University, some people spend 20 years in the formal education system before coming out into the “real world”. No Empire, no civilisation, no philosophy, and probably even no religion has reached as many people or been as widely accepted as school. This is, of course, with the understanding that school is an investment for the future. But in this first article of a three part series I want to first show how school is never “free”, that any public school is far too expensive for the country’s poor to afford, let alone succeed in.

So let’s work out how much it costs for a child to go to school.

The Hidden Cost of School

First, a child has to enroll. Officially school is supposed to be free but while public schools don’t charge a tuition fee, they do charge fees for parent-teachers associations, student government funds, tests, and other miscellaneous fees – some of which can be incredibly bizarre. Over the course of the child’s Elementary or High School education, these hidden fees for enrolling and taking tests often go beyond P5,000. And until you’ve paid that debt off, you can’t graduate.

So after negotiating your way through the miscellaneous fees of enrollment (sometimes literally), you’ll need to look the part. Around Payatas, where we live and work at the Fairplay for All Foundation, a uniform (shirt, shoes, trousers, PE uniform, etc.) comes to at least P1,000 ($22). Two sets of uniform, pretty much the minimum so you can wash one set while you wear the other one, runs up a bill of P2,000 ($44). On top of that you’ll need your school supplies, stationary, and a bag to put it all in, which adds another P1,000 ($22) a year.

But now we’ve enrolled and now we look the part, we have to get to the school. In Payatas transport is P14 per day (P7 each way for a student on a trike or jeep). With roughly 150 school days in the year that’s P2,100. But finally we’ve arrived at the destination, lessons can begin right? Well in the poorest areas school doesn’t start with lessons. It starts with all the students cleaning the school. Many public schools just can’t afford a janitor so every student becomes free labour, and they’re expected to bring cleaning supplies. Any student that doesn’t can be marked down for their ‘values’ (among other things). This is sometimes repeated each quarter and so for each kid that can add up to P500 and a few lost weeks every year as they work for the school and not for the family.

But finally you’re able to sit down for lessons. And after your lessons in school there’s homework. The materials for projects, homework, and assignments can get very expensive. Based on our experience sponsoring children in public schools we roughly estimate a minimum of P500 every month to meet every requirement well.

Next, after a hopefully successful semester, we can look forward to the end of quarter outing. There are the typical outings for the year, going to the cinema, a mall, a zoo, etc. running at a few hundred pesos each time, and then there’s special school outings. The top 10 students in a class are ‘invited’ to a special outing celebrating their achievements. Many of our sponsored kids are in the top ten of their classes. And so they came to request funds for this trip. Every student was charged P850 for the outing, as one mother put it: that’s a month’s worth of food for the entire family.And the teacher told them if they don’t go their grades will drop so they’re out of the top ten and another kid can replace them and pay the P850 instead.

Just like everything else before, if you don’t do the projects, don’t buy the right uniform, or can’t afford the school outings, your grades drop and your ‘education’ doesn’t get you a better job after all. Teachers rank their students on everything from geography, to maths, to values, honesty, and respect. What the values section roughly translates into is: does the student do exactly what the school and teacher says and do they pay for exactly what I tell them to pay for?

What you’ve hopefully noticed by now, is that not a single thing mentioned so far is about anything you learn or what would truly measure an ‘education’. In standardized testing your grade is everything. Yet no matter how much you learn, no matter how well you study and no matter what your test results are, your grade is being limited by how many of these costs you can afford. You have to buy at least part of your grade. So here’s a breakdown of the costs of “free” school:

  • Uniform (P2,000)
  • School Supplies (P1,000)
  • Cleaning supplies & other miscellaneous items (P500)
  • Transport to and from school (minimum P14 a day)
  • Projects (P500 a month for 10 months)
  • Outings (P850 per quarter)
  • Miscellaneous Fees (P1,000 per year)

Total: P15,000 per year per child

Source: http://www.development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/philippine_public_schools_not_so_public_after_all/index.html
Source: http://www.development.thinkaboutit.eu/think3/post/philippine_public_schools_not_so_public_after_all/index.html

The exact figures will differ between communities, and often between families in the same communities. I’ve also left out costs for things like lunch, as the home would have had to give lunch either way (leaving aside school lunches are usually more expensive than homemade meals). In either case, I don’t intend this to be an exact amount and it will need changing for different areas and different contexts. But this is a rough estimate for the minimum amount of money a family from a poor community must pay for their child to have any chance at succeeding in a public school.

Through the Eyes of the Poor

And here’s why it’s so important: when you look at these numbers from the eyes of a family living in poverty they are truly terrifying. For a family of five living in poverty (officially that’s below P8,500 a month for a family of 5 in Manila), they must spend half of their entire income on sending their 3 kids to school. School is no longer an opportunity; it is a potentially terrifying burden on the family.

No wonder so many drop out: 1/3 of Elementary Students drop out before Grade 5, and of those who reach High School 31% more drop out before Senior Year. They simply cannot afford it. This is why many families specialize their children, with one child going to school full-time and the others working to support their families and look after the youngest (Murakami, 2011, among others). The family cannot afford to send all their kids to school, and so their hopes are put into one child whose education is hoped to get them a decent enough job in the future to effectively be the parents’ pension. In other words, school has become a gamble for the poor. Education is a game of risk, and by definition only a small percentage can succeed: if there’s 100 kids in a classroom, only 10% can be in the top ten. The other 90 spent almost as much on school and have far less to show for it.

There are, of course, many groups doing the best they can with what they have. The public schools themselves are usually doing the best they can with the money, the teachers, and the number of students they have to deal with. The teachers are faced with such difficult pressures, a classroom crammed with children and many are doing their best in what is an impossible situation. There’s no time or room to think of what effective learning is, teaching becomes more about crowd management. And many NGOS, including ourselves at FFA, sponsor children in the public school system to allay these costs and make it easier for families to send their kids to school, not least because it’s almost the only place to gain formal qualifications. This can make a great difference for the child and the family. But in the big picture, to make that happen for everyone we would need to spend a whole lot more to extend that help and assistance to every child. It’s an incredibly difficult situation for everyone involved and by design, by definition, the vast majority will fall through the cracks. So what’s the lesson here?

Lesson Number One: School is Not Free

Universal education is not free. Families in slums in Manila must pay roughly P15,000 a year for their child to have a chance at success. Beyond that, as a society we’re putting incredible amounts of money into this system. The Department of Education receives the biggest budget of any department in the government. With P292.7 billion ($6.5 billion) spent on education in 2013, that works out to P2,927 ($65) for every man, woman, and child in the Philippines. And it’s increasing every year.

But if school was effective in teaching, in doing what it’s supposedly designed to do, then surely it would be worth it? We should increase DEPED’s budget and the poor kids (and the country as a whole) would do better right? Well that’s the topic for the second part; how this system is entirely outdated, how schools were never designed to be the best place for learning, and they’re really interested in teaching.

I don’t like to criticise, however constructively, without offering a solution. We all want the best for the kids and many people truly have the heart for that – again including an array of different NGOs and groups supporting children in education. But if this carries on the way it is we’ll only be treating the symptom. What we want is a long-term solution to the problem so that every child can afford to go to school, and every school can afford to offer a quality education. So in the third part, we’ll take a look at how we can break away from the Western model of compulsory schools to build a better model to give kids here a more effective and, most importantly, a happier learning environment. And save billions in the process.


At the Fairplay for All Foundation we are developing free, open source education based on academic research and community input. You can help support revolutionary education in Payatas by donating to FFA here: http://www.justgiving.com/FairplayForAllFoundation/

If you’d like to join the revolution in education you can teach kids in Payatas one day a week or sign up to classes on offer at FFA, you can email us at ffafoundation@gmail.com for more information