x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Ramadan target: get Gautemalan school build in the bottle

Dubai resident aims to build affordable school buildings in Guatemala using recycled bottles.

Jonathan Defante, a 24-year-old Filipino who works for Virgin Megastores in JBR, was nominated as a United Nations Citizens Ambassador in 2011 based on his vision to build schools out of recycled bottles filled with non-biodegradable waste.
Jonathan Defante, a 24-year-old Filipino who works for Virgin Megastores in JBR, was nominated as a United Nations Citizens Ambassador in 2011 based on his vision to build schools out of recycled bottles filled with non-biodegradable waste.

DUBAI // A music store employee with a plan to build affordable schools in Guatemala will be using Ramadan as a time to prepare for his charity mission by selling as much stock as possible.

Jonathan Defante, a 24-year-old Filipino who works for Virgin Megastores in JBR, was nominated as a United Nations Citizens Ambassador in 2011 based on his vision to build schools out of recycled bottles filled with non-biodegradable waste.

The idea calls for hooking the bottles onto chicken wire before covering them with plaster.

"Most classrooms in my country and Guatemala don't look like classrooms," he said. "In my country, they usually conduct classes under a tree because schools can't accommodate every child. Many of the rural areas don't get the government support the cities do and the schools are very poorly maintained," he explained.

This month, Virgin Megastores will be donating five per cent of book sales to his bid to raise $6,500 for the school and funding for his flight to Guatemala.

Mr Defante will work with a charity called Hug it Forward when he gets to the Central American republic, where the UN says 58 per cent of people live in extreme poverty.

"Hug It Forward builds a new school that can be sustained," he said.

The charity also gets the community involved in the building, which making them feel a part of the project. "This means the kids are more motivated to go to school as they feel as sense of attachment. Most schools are many miles from the homes of these kids in both Guatemala and the Philippines so non-attendance is very common."

Varto Basmajian, head of music, video and books at Virgin Megastore, said Ramadan was the ideal opportunity to show support for Mr Defante's cause.

"We're very proud of Jonathan and his initiative. You don't see many young guys doing these kinds of things," said Mr Basmajian. "He's been working on this for around a year now and we wanted to help him achieve this. Ramadan is the month of giving so it makes sense to use this time to help his project."

Once he has built the school in Guatemala, Mr Defante hopes to make the idea work back at home. Unicef has estimated that 12.8 million children under the age of 15 live in poverty in the Philippines - a number that is rising.

"My dream is to take this to the Philippines once I've been to Guatemala and gained the experience on how to organise such communities," he said. "The main challenge in both countries is getting the government support."

mswan@thenational.ae