Former Taranaki defence lawyer Amy Dallison from Waverley who left for overseas three years ago, is now the project administrator of a community school programme on an island in the Philippines.

A year ago when Amy started working for a French property developer selling high end apartments in at a ski resort in northern Japan, her boss told her about a charity school project he was funding.

"He told me about his school project and I said I would help him. After a lot of consideration for the right location we finally chose the Philippines because it is close to Hong Kong, where my boss lives and also a large portion of the population speak fluent English."

START UP: The school takes shape in the village.
START UP: The school takes shape in the village.

Amy said they first spoke to the Department of Education in Manila and introduced the project to them.

"They suggested two areas that had a high incidence of poverty and lack of schools. We carried out feasibility studies in the two areas and then finally chose the island of Siargao after we met with the local government there and their mayor who has been very helpful with our project."

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Fortunately, said Amy, the choice also happened to be a blessing for her boyfriend Joel Chamberlain from Whanganui who is project manager.

"The island also happens to be home to the famous cloud 9 surf spot- the best surf spot in the Philippines...so it hasn't all been hard work."

They forged an agreement with a non government organisation Gawad Kalinga (the biggest Philippine NGO) who rehouse people who are displaced or living in danger zones.

SHADY SPOT: Amy Dallison, right, at a group meeting in the village.
SHADY SPOT: Amy Dallison, right, at a group meeting in the village.

The government initially donated 2 hectares to Gawad Kalinga for their housing program and as there are only 50 houses there they have donated us 3000sqm to start building our school, Amy said.

"It's a progressive school so we're just starting with one classroom and will build another one each year until we complete the K-12 program (year 1-13). Joel is project managing the build and I do all the paperwork."

They are now six weeks into the build and aiming to be finished in September.

"But this may be ambitious. We will teach all the traditional academic subjects but will introduce alternative programs with a big focus on the environment and sustainable living."

They were also starting work on a large garden to grow vegetables to feed the children as well as providing lunch for them all, she said.

"It's a free school and all materials etc are free but the parents have to contribute their time (cooking, gardening, assistant teachers etc) in exchange for their children's attendance."

The school has the French name Espoi which means hope, she said.

Though the island was small it was a special community with wonderful people, she said.
"We're enjoying our time here. It's a great project and very worthwhile.''