Wednesday, August 11, 2010


To all the restaurateurs, the chefs, the servers, and the diners who are participating in Best Restaurant's Charity Week, I'd like to tell you about the organization and its work that will benefit from your invaluable help. On our tenth year, we’ve trained and fielded over 7,000 volunteers to hundreds of organizations in Metro Manila needing help, from painting their schoolhouses, planting gardens in centers, teaching work skills to women and having fun in the process.

In our public schools, we noted a number of school children scoring higher in tests, were more analytical, loved to read and an inexhaustible thirst for learning. If prodded and given extra mentoring they’d struggle even harder to defy the current 35% national dropout rate in grade school and the 50% drop out rate in high school.

If these bright students weren’t mentored they’d lose their drive, perhaps follow their parents’ order to work instead of finishing and become a drop out statistic. So, we started a program three years ago called Galing Mo Kid, translated, You’re a Bright Kid.

We focused on three public schools in Metro Manila and got the principals and teachers to identify the brightest students. On our end, we trained and placed volunteers to work Saturdays at the schools helping the chosen students with their homework, reviewing their assignments and taking them on field trips. For them, field trips outside their poor neighborhood are rare. Imagine students walking through a university campus, or visiting a corporate office, being urged by our volunteers with the mantra “You Can Better Your Life. A World Out There Awaits You.”

I’ve been part of the interviewing committee for the past years to select the students. One by one these students enter a room facing a panel to be probed and asked why they want to be part of the program. They are usually shy. Just last month, I had a boy who froze up to a question. I found out he was the school Karaoke singer and got him to sing which he did with gusto. After that, he was fine.

These students reply in a way that first feels hokey but in actuality they are speaking from the heart. Instead of wanting to be a millionaire or a rich industrialist, these students have a constant refrain. They say this:

I would like to be a teacher and teach poor children like myself so they will learn and study hard and have a future.

Or I would like to be a doctor to help the sick. And I will practice in the government clinics to help many poor people get better.

Or, some would say I would like to be an architect or an engineer. So I can build a real house for my parents, and not the flimsy cardboard structure we live in.

The hopes and desires of these students, nurtured and encouraged by our volunteers, inspire us.

We face a challenging but happy problem. The thirty students we chose three years ago are now entering high school. And we still add thirty more each year thus increasing our financial burden exponentially.

But Hands On Manila is on to something. We focused on a problem we could chew. Bright kids in poor schools needing attention so they won’t fail. And with our volunteers, they won’t.

When I saw this roster of so many incredible restaurants participating to help our - now your - bright kids, we on the board were overjoyed. We can now continue to add more students. You see, in our interviews, we could pick only ten students and yet there were always more than ten faces outside applying, equally bright and deserving of mentors.

On behalf of the board, I profusely thank the restaurateurs, their staff, and the diners for this ingenious way of helping. Splendid food, fine dining and bright kids who’ll better their lives too. A delightful combination!

To know who the participating restaurants are, please click on