Nora is a German who volunteered for 10 weeks in Cebu, Philippines in early 2018. She shares about her experience helping at OM’s learning institute that helps students to finish their High School exams.
When I walk down the street to the Alternative Learning System (ALS) building I hear voices singing loudly and full of passion. The closer I get, the clearer the words become. “I will call upon your name, when oceans rise…” I recognise the song as I knock on the big turquoise gate, wondering who is on guitar. The gate opens, I step in and see them; a group of young adults sitting in a circle, one student playing the beatbox, Mark on the guitar. As I walk towards them I see a young woman in the back cooking rice. It’s 12:30pm and lunch break. “Hi Nora!” “Good to see you!” the students welcome me. Sitting down to sing with them, I think about each individual student and the role ALS has played in their lives.
Alternative Learning System describes a learning institution for those who have dropped out of school or failed their exams. Initiated by OM Philippines, Cebu, ALS is different from other institutions because its workers strive to transform lives through God’s Spirit. Kuya Dabe, one of the teachers, gives an alternative to the ALS acronym: “Active Life in the Spirit.” He loves to see lives changed and feels honoured to invest in, and tutor, students. He is amazed when students are able to look back on their lives and see that with God all things are possible.
Lyra, the head of the ALS team, says it is not just about preparing the students for the exams, it is about teaching them who they are in Christ, which will influence all other areas in their lives. “Their confidence will rise, they will be able to reflect on their experiences, learn to forgive and be forgiven for all the wrong they experienced,” she says, “They will find a new family in Christ.”
Started ten years ago, ALS has gone through many different batches of students, staff and locations. Today, it is run by Lyra, her team of two teachers and some international volunteers like me. I have only been here for six weeks, but ALS has impacted me from my first day. Here, I get to see God working: in the student’s lives and in my own. While I teach English and life skills, I get to know the students on a very personal level. Each of their stories is touching and often a testimony of God’s great love.
Mark, the guy on the guitar whom I mentioned earlier, used to be a student here. He dropped out of school and only entered ALS because his brother had been and encouraged him to go. Even though he was quite shy and scared at the beginning, he kept coming because of the friendships he found. His favourite part of ALS was the Bible study on Friday mornings. He says he loved the morals he learnt and how God changed his life, adding “I was very proud before.” Today, I see him humbly cleaning the kitchen after lunch without being on duty. He loves playing the guitar, improving his skills and just singing with the others. Now that he has passed the ALS examination, he is studying for a Bachelor of Science in Criminology and volunteers with OM whenever he has time. The ALS staff and students have become a family to him.
The girl cooking rice when I walked in is named May. She was not able to go through high school because her family moved. Still, she desired to go back to school so she could financially support her family as soon as possible. Their living conditions and a pastoral friend in her community motivated her to take the chance ALS offered. May described herself as “anti-social” during her first weeks at ALS, but that slowly changed. She now comes often because the people have become her family. While she studied, God changed her life. Coming from a non-Christian background, she learnt about Christ, got to know other Christians and calls them friends now. She loved learning to play the piano, going on outings like church retreats, playing sports and – most of all – putting God first. Today, she is studying for her Bachelor of Science in Christian Education at a Bible school and still spends her free time at ALS or with the friends she found here. Her dream is to become a missionary.
Both Mark and May also volunteer with other OM ministries – like the kids’ outreach on Saturdays that takes place in May’s own neighbourhood where as a child she first heard about OM; now she herself volunteers to win other kids over for Christ.
Most of the students that ALS caters to come from dysfunctional families, hooked on drugs and gambling addictions, intoxication and are products of abusive and broken homes. The fruit of God’s work in their lives through ALS is evident in many areas. About 80% of the ALS students pass the final exam. The current group is smaller than usual: only 17 students took the exam, of which 13 passed. OM’s ALS passing rate is much higher than the national passing rate.
In the near future, a few things will change. Some staff will leave and so the need for new teachers arises. In addition, another OM ministry will take place in the same building. It will be a challenge, just as the location of the ALS building is already a challenge by itself. Some kids think about going to ALS but find it hard to get there on public transportation.
Please join with us in prayer that each student will know that God has all things in His hands and that it is on Him whom they should rely on – not only school wise – but for everything. Pray that God will continue using ALS to meet these young people where they are at and address their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.