Dutchman treats poor Filipinos to free English lessons
Dutch national Peter Buijs’ desire to help others led him down a different path in the field of education.
Early this year, Buijs established Phil-Dutch Scholarship Inc., a nongovernmental organization that aims to help poor students attend English language training courses and hopefully land jobs in call centers.
The NGO shoulders the expenses for a two-week training program at the American English Skills Development Center Inc. (AE), an English language training center in Makati City established in 2006 by Buijs’ wife, Mylene.
“Initially, I was just sponsoring the school. But the more I got involved, the more I was liking it,” Buijs said.
Buijs, a nurse by profession, said he had no regrets leaving behind the graphic design business he had established in the Netherlands 12 years ago.
“Making business and money wasn’t my priority. Helping people and giving them a better future fit me better,” he said.
Communication skills training
According to Mylene Buijs, the NGO and AE work hand in hand to provide communication skills training to those who want to join the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector, including the call center industry.
They also work with the Contact Center Association of the Philippines (CCAP), an organization of call center businesses in the country.
The local BPO industry is hiring 90,000 to 100,000 people every year, said Jojo Uligan, executive director and corporate secretary of CCAP.
“We’re trying to make people more hireable for the industry. There are a lot of unemployed but there are also a lot of jobs available for them. The problem is that many of them lack the communication skills,” Mylene said.
These days, even college-degree holders are finding it hard to land a job because of this problem, she said.
“They may have the skills for the position, and they may really be good. But first and foremost, how can you get the job when you cannot handle yourself during interviews? For you to be able to get the job that you want, you have to be able to present yourself [well]. But often, applicants screw up once they start talking during these interviews,” Mylene said.
Oral and written
Mylene said foundation scholars are taught programs that cover both oral and written communications.
“These programs deal with aspects of the English language that are most troublesome for Filipinos,” she said, adding that AE instructors are American and Filipino-American, who are familiar with the nuances of “Filipino English.”
“We recognize that English fluency provides Filipinos with better opportunities. This is why we work on improving our students’ abilities to think in English and to speak like a native English speaker with correct grammar, pronunciation and intonation,” she said.
However, Peter Buijs said that even though a scholar need not spend a single centavo for the training itself, some of their students still can’t attend classes due to poverty.
Training and fare subsidy
“That’s why we created the foundation. It’s for those who don’t have the means to pay for the training or fare. We’re now working on subsidizing the transportation and even the meals of those who really need it. Because for some of them, merely getting to the school is a problem,” Buijs said, adding that most of their scholars are found at job fairs.
Upon completion of the training, the scholars are referred to call centers and other BPO companies.
“We support them from the start of the training until they get hired. We have call center people coming here to interview them,” Buijs said, adding that many of their students have been employed by multinational corporations.
Passion for helping
Buijs said his passion for helping the unemployed was ignited when he met a girl named Marietta Yumang at a job fair in Makati City in 2009.
“She was desperate to get a job. We offered her training at AE but she said she had no money to pay for the course and the fare to go to the center. In fact she had walked from her house in Sta. Ana, Manila, to get to Glorietta mall where the job fair was being held,” Buijs recalled.
“I gave her money so she could attend the training. It paid off because
she was good and she was immediately hired by a call center company,” he
said, adding that it was Yumang who inspired him to push through with his advocacy.
In an interview, the 23-year-old Yumang, who now works for another call center, said she couldn’t thank the Buijs couple enough for helping her.
She recalled her first encounter with Buijs, particularly when he told her to open her palms and he placed all the money he had in his pocket on them.
No excuse to quit
“He gave me around P600 to P700, mostly coins and loose bills. He told me I no longer had any excuse not to attend the training since it was free and I already had the fare,” she said.
“It really made me cry, first out of pity for myself, but also out of happiness that a stranger was helping and trusting me, pushing me to have a better life,” she said.
Yumang said that at the time she was quite apprehensive about undergoing the training because she wasn’t sure if she wanted to work in a call center.
“I’m not comfortable talking to people, plus I have to use the English language. But at the time I really needed a job,” Yumang said.
“Now I’m glad I did because it really helped me a lot. More than the things I learned during our classes, AE training boosted my self-confidence,” she said.
Small positive changes
Buijs said he decided to stay in the Philippines because it gave him a chance to help and “make small positive changes for others in need,” besides being with his wife and children.
“Although life in the Philippines can be very frustrating for me sometimes, I don’t have any regrets. I hope to use my experience in business and set up a system or an NGO that will help many more people have a better future than they have right now. I think education
is the key for getting there,” he stressed.