He dreams of becoming a soldier, she a teacher. They walk two hours to school each day hoping to reach their dreams.

It is a blistering hot day. Rafaella and three of her six children navigate the forest where their house stood in the middle of nowhere. They walk about a mile more of muddy, uneven trail to reach the local church where an ICM staff waited to interview them. Rafaella’s daughter, Ella, was a Family Academy participant about a year ago before she entered school. Now, she is in first grade.

Ella is a shy six-year-old, but her 12-year-old brother Rachem is more expressive. As Ella shows off her ABCs and counts 1 to 10, Rachem quips, “I can count from 1 to 1,000!” Everyone laughs in admiration.

Rachem shares how they would walk almost two hours each day to get to school, and then walk the same distance going home. If they’re lucky, someone would let them hitch a motorcycle ride along the way. With a few books in their backpack and a small container with rice for lunch, they set out crossing a stream and walking through rough mountain tracks in their faded uniforms and worn-out slippers. It is only 5am.

This is the only life they know. Neither Rachem nor Ella feel it is unfair. They just know that getting a shot at education could be the way to reach their dreams.

“So I could finish and get a good job!” Rachem responds with conviction when asked why he endures the long walk to get to school. He hopes to become a soldier. Ella dreams of becoming a teacher, just like her instructor at the Family Academy sessions she once attended.

ICM’s Family Academy helps prepare children in ultra-poverty for school. Parents are empowered to be their children’s first teachers through a four-month parent-child, instructor-led session of math and phonics. At home, mothers reinforce these lessons one on one with their children. In turn, children like Ella get a head start in practicing how to write their name, read basic words, and count in preparation for when they enter school.

Rafaella supports her family on her own. Her husband has been in prison for about a year for stabbing someone during one of his frequent drinking sprees. This is his third jail time. He once did time for murder. Rafaella works as a canteen attendant earning P1,200 a week (around US$20). On a good day, her family eats boiled banana or sweet potato or dried fish with rice. But on bad days, all they have is sweet potato with salt.

Since meeting ICM through the Transform training program and Family Academy more than a year ago, Rafaella has had a sense of hope and confidence that her children will be able to finish school and hopefully lead better lives. She is now a part of the ICM Savings Group, which also serves as a community of support for her.

The problems families like Rafaella’s face in ultra-poverty are complex. ICM walks hand-in-hand with them to empower progress in the right direction. These small changes add up to lasting change as families like Rafaella’s realize their potential to reach better futures.

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