More than School

Words and photos by Haley George, photographer

jhon mark headshot

It is a quick twenty minute motorbike ride on a dirt road into the mountains to get from school to Jhon Mark’s house. His mother, Rowena, knows each dip and steep edge well. When they arrive home, Jhon Mark takes a minute to play with his youngest sister, Faith, who waits for him at the door. His older sister, Kate, will join them for hide and seek after she finishes her day at elementary school. Jhon Mark and his parents warmly greet each neighbor who passes by or visits the sari sari store attached to the front of their house. The sales from the store, along with the pigs in the backyard, supplement his father’s income from selling fish and charcoal to support the family of five.

jhon mark helicopter

Stepping out of their modest home, Jhon Mark grabs his helicopter and robot toys, which he received as Christmas presents from his kindergarten. He has never seen a real helicopter, but he grins with the imagination that he will get to fly in one someday. He climbs into the back of the green truck parked in front of his house, which his father borrows to deliver charcoal, and talks about his dreams. They are simple and serious, likely inspired by the stories he has read: to taste fruit salad and spaghetti, to visit America, and, most importantly, to become a pastor.

john mark lovely ruth

Jhon Mark is a student in the morning class at Lovely Ruth Kindergarten, a donor sponsored, International Care Ministries (ICM) operated school. Although the ICM Jumpstart Kindergarten program has only been a part of Jhon Mark’s community for the past two years, it has already offered many children the opportunity to launch their education, complete with uniforms, books, pencils, backpacks, and full stomachs.

jhon mark school

Two years ago, none of this would have feasible with Jhon Mark’s father’s income of roughly US$13 per week, and the remote location of their home. But today, the six year old has already learned to count to 100, and is excelling in new situations that pull him from his comfort zone and instill an awareness of his abilities. At a reading contest among kindergarteners from 18 surrounding public schools, Jhon Mark placed second overall after loudly and confidently reading a story in Tagalog for the panel of judges. It is clear that this champion reader is not just attending school. Lovely Ruth Kindergarten offers Jhon Mark a high-quality, holistic education— something that would not have been an option without the assistance of ICM’s donors.

jhon mark reading

jhon mark closeup reading

Rowena speaks proudly of her son’s accomplishments, and Jhon Mark sits shyly in her lap as they wait for his teacher to approach. His eyes shift around the classroom— wide windows into his curious mind. His mom speaks for him at first, knowing that it takes time for his soft spoken, brilliant personality to shine. She tells Jhon Mark’s teacher about the importance of education in her children’s lives and how she has seen Jhon Mark’s confidence grow in his ability to play with other children. When she sits with him to practice reading and writing three times a week, his progress consistently surprises her. He is learning quickly, both socially and academically, because of the opportunity that he has to attend the Jumpstart program.

jhon mark family

Jhon Mark and his family say they are grateful for the presence of ICM in their community. Jumpstart has not only provided an education for Jhon Mark, but has also equipped him with pride, opportunity, friends, and the ability to chase his dreams. He is thrilled to move forward to an elementary school next year.

jhon mark jumpstart

Please visit www.haleygeorge.com to read and see more of this talented photographer’s work

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