The Gift of Education

Nov 5, 2023

Guest Writer: Caroline Habiger- Secondary Knott Scholar Alumna (NDP 2023) & Current Knott Scholar at Loyola University Maryland (2027)

Aaliyah Perez exemplifies the values of service and intentionally living for others. The Marion Burk Knott Scholar and Freshman at Notre Dame Prep has transformed a simple idea into an impressive service project.

Her initial goal was to complete an International Scouting Project that would entail building and donating a “Kariton Klasrum” (a push cart classroom) and school supplies to the Balon Youth Alliance for Children (BYAC) in Batan, Philippines. In the end, she raised enough money for two Kariton Klasrums for BYAC with sufficient funds left over to also support two full-ride college scholarships for students in the Philippines. She is currently working on achieving Eagle Scout, the highest rank. However, even after achieving Eagle Scout, she plans to continue being active in her troop.

We interviewed Aaliyah to ask her about her initiative.

How did you get the idea for this project?

In February 2022, I was searching around for an Eagle Project, which is one of the main requirements to earn Eagle Scout Rank (the highest rank in Scouting). I realized that I was going to visit the Philippines, my family’s home country, for the first time in June 2023. So, I decided to complete my project in the Philippines so that my visit would be more meaningful and memorable.

The Philippines is a beautiful country filled with loving, grateful, and hardworking people. Unfortunately, there is much homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. Because of poverty, 1 in 6 Filipino kids will not attend school. As of June 2022, 90.9% of 10-year-old Filipinos cannot read or understand a simple story

As I searched online, I found out about Mr. Efren Penaflorida’s “Kariton Klasrum” project and how he used it to teach street children in the Philippines. The program piqued my interest, and it inspired me to do something for the Filipino children in need.

What was the biggest challenge you encountered during the project, how did you overcome it?

There were many challenges during the entire process. First, despite multiple attempts to contact him, Mr. Penaflorida did not respond to my emails. So, I had to search and find another non-profit organization (the Balon Youth Alliance for Children).

Second, the Head of Public Sector Compliance and Governance at DHL Express, Mr. Mike Taylor, was the one who agreed to ship the Kariton Klasrum via air-cargo to the Philippines for free. Since DHL is into training and sustainability, he requested for me to build a second pushcart classroom so that more kids could benefit from it. Mr. Mike Taylor worked with the United Nations, and he had a vision for my project. Unfortunately, he passed away unexpectedly. I was left with two pushcarts that I was not sure what to do with. I spoke at Mr. Taylor’s Celebration of Life for his family to know how great of a person he was and how much he impacted me during the short time I knew him. I was unaware that other DHL leaders were also there. They spoke with my Scoutmaster and my Eagle Project Coach, and they agreed to honor Mr. Taylor’s wishes.

The third challenge I had to overcome was the complicated rules and regulations for international shipping. These delayed the deliveries of the pushcart classrooms and the school supplies that were also donated. From the moment we arrived in the Philippines, we followed up every day and submitted all of the requirements in a timely manner. We also went to 3 churches to pray because the shipments were taking much longer than expected!

What did you learn from the experience?

My initial intention was just to complete an Eagle Project, but through this, I have gained so much more. I learned to communicate with people from here and abroad. I took the courage to speak in front of many people to raise funds. I learned about how to use different tools and materials. I learned about the complex custom requirements and regulations for international shipping. I have learned about teaching, guiding, and leading others. Most importantly of all, I learned to be truly grateful for everything and everyone around me. Especially in countries such as the Philippines, not all kids are as blessed as I am.

Mr. Taylor taught me to not be afraid in saying my ideas. He also told me to “think big” and to “think outside of the box.” My Scoutmaster, Ms. Lori Mannino, taught me how to have faith and hope during the whole process. She said, “No matter what, it will happen.” This helped me a lot, especially when going through the many challenges of the project.

What’s next for you as you begin in NDP?

At NDP, I am looking forward to being part of the many service programs available at the school. I am very excited to work with other girls who see the value of serving others. I am hoping to deepen my faith and strengthen my relationships with everyone I encounter. Most of all, I am ready for all of the fun I will experience during these next four years of high school!

Aaliyah and her family were so inspired by her project and the extra money that they raised for the scholarships that, upon receiving the Knott scholarship, they decided to fund two more college scholarships. Because of her amazing servanthood, Aaliyah’s efforts help to provide access to learning for BYAC and send 4 Filipino students to college! We are so inspired by her incredible commitment to service and cannot wait to see what other service endeavors Aaliyah’s future holds.

Check out this video Aaliyah made about her project: