In October 2016, Christina Villamiel showed her fourth-grade students a video of her trip to the Philippines, where she encountered lions, tigers and more. Seven months later, inspired by scenes from the island her family lives on, Villamiel’s Grant-White Elementary School students fundraised for Basiad Elementary School, located in the country’s balmy Camarines Norte province.
“It really makes me proud, and it makes me feel I can teach them things beyond the classroom,” said Villamiel, whose connection to the Filipino school spans generations.
Her father Gene and his siblings attended school at Basiad Elementary; her grandmother taught at the school; now her aunt, Jacqueline Ebona, teaches and runs the library there. Villamiel, who was born in the U.S. but identifies as Filipina, first visited the school in 2015. Joined by seven members of her family, the Villamiel clan boarded a plane in Chicago, flew about 20 hours and landed on the southeast Asian island, ready to celebrate Christmas, New Year’s and reconnect with family.
Villamiel wanted to see what education looked like in her family’s country, so she asked her aunt for a tour of the school. As she walked through Basiad, Villamiel noticed the dried-out markers, outdated books and a tattered white blanket the class used as a projector screen.
Ebona told her that government funding is often distributed unfairly in the Philippines.
Villamiel returned home with new appreciation for the resources available in Forest Park District 91 schools, vowing to do something for the students there. She quietly raised money, buying books and school supplies. About half a year later, she was teaching her second-graders a lesson on the diversity of species, when she decided to show her students a video from her voyage to the Philippines.
Students were enthralled by the lions and tigers. They wanted to see more pictures of her tour of her family’s homeland, so she showed them pictures of Basiad Elementary, where kids fanned themselves with cut-out cardboard to combat the heat.
“Our necessities [here] over there are a luxury,” Villamiel told her students.
Inspired, 18 students decided to hold a fundraiser for Basiad Elementary.
Titled “4V Overseas,” students sold baked goods, homemade necklaces, and bracelets last May, raising nearly $360, enough for five ceiling and two standing fans for the Filipino school.
“It’s really hot here in our country, so one or two fans in a class is not enough,” Villamiel’s aunt Ebona wrote in an email to the Forest Park Review. “This additional ceiling fan [has] better quality, [it] quite gives a big difference in how the pupils feel.”
Ceiling fans were installed in Basiad Elementary’s kindergarten classroom, which houses 60 pupils; a first-grade classroom that houses 20 students; and three second-grade classrooms that hold 28 students each. A standing fan is in Ebona’s second-grade classroom and in the Day Care Center.
Villamiel continues to raise money for Basiad Elementary, through www.gofundme.com/booksforbasiad. She has so far raised $1,115, and hopes to eventually get to $3,000.
“Christina is a real hero,” Ebona emailed. “What she did together with her pupils and parents is a selfless action that we highly appreciated.”