The idea of the Bagong Barrio Education Fund (BBEF) began in 1987 after Br. Peter Doug Walsh, an Australian-based Marist Brother, visited the slum village whilst attending the East Asian Pastoral Institute (EAPI) at Ateneo de Manila University.
Br Doug met Placid Gutierrez, whom along with other pastoral workers from the Birhen ng Lourdes Parish shared the story of Bagong Barrio with Br. Doug who was touched by the struggles of these young people.
During his first visit to Bagong Barrio, Br. Doug was astonished by the material poverty he witnessed. He stayed with parishioner Nida Tapia and her family in their one-room house. Br Doug was inspired by the optimism of young Nida and he returned to Australia determined to support the continuation of her education. He shared Nida’s story wherever he went and began sending money to her family to support her education.
It was during Br. Doug’s second visit to Bagong Barrio, in 1989, that he was convinced a formal sponsorship program should commence. And so it was, with the help of parishioners from both Br. Doug’s parish and his connections with Assumption College in Kilmore (Victoria, Australia), that four students from Bagong Barrio began receiving financial support for their education.
The program began to develop with the help of other pastoral workers, Elma Ellen and Lolith Delossantos, establishing links between Australia and the Philippines.
The official launch of the BBEF was in 1992 with 38 sponsored students and Br. Doug as director. It was originally known as “The Dot Hoare Memorial Sponsorship Programme”, named after Sr. Dorothy Hoare, who was an active member of Assumption College’s Bagong Barrio group. She was tragically killed in a car accident just months before the program was launched.
The program continued to grow and to ensure the success of the program, Br. Doug enlisted the support of James Lee, named as Young Australian of the Year (Vic) 2003 and founder of Wednesday Night Tutoring (www.wnt.org.au), a youth-based voluntary tutoring program for refugee and migrant children living in housing commission flats in Melbourne.
On Br. Doug’s retirement in 2005, James was appointed the new director and sought to expand the program with more students and greater connections between the Philippines and Australia. He enlisted the support of Liz Stearne, Michelle Miller and Michelle de Guzman, who together make up the BBEF Leadership Team in Australia today.
In 2007, the BBEF celebrated its 20 year anniversary. Thanks to the ongoing support of sponsors and leadership team members from Australia and the Philippines, the program is flourishing with the hope of continued expansion in the future. As of May 2008, there were 80 students being sponsored.