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BC Senior Founds Nonprofit to Aid Filipino Students

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (Summer 2010) - BC senior Kristoffer Munden knew about poverty, or thought he did. He had borne witness to it growing up in various places around the world, especially in the Philippines, and through his volunteer stints as a high school student.

But working as an intern for the Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office in the Filipino city of San Pedro the summer after his freshman year gave him a fresh insight into the impact of poverty. There was, for example, the day Munden and some staff members went to visit the families of a few pre-school children he had met.

Kristoffer Munden

“A garbage dump was nearby,” recalls Munden, a political science major with a minor in history, “and we noticed a young girl inside a garbage truck searching through the trash for things to sell.  After speaking to her, we learned that she was 13, came from a family of about six, and had a third grade education.  She had dropped out of school because her family couldn't afford her supplies, and now that she was older, she could help make money for the family.”

Education may be critical in helping children escape poverty, Munden says, but experiences like this helped him realize that the public schools provided by the Philippine government just weren’t enough. So this summer, Munden founded Leap Ahead, a non-profit charitable organization that will provide scholarships for needy Filipino high school students. The scholarships will cover tuition at a private school and all school-related expenses, including books, supplies, transportation, uniforms and food. In addition, scholarship recipients will be required to participate in community service projects to develop their leadership skills. 

As Munden explains, poor families face a hard choice when it comes to educating their children. The Philippine public school system faces desperate shortages in staff, facilities and funding, and the Philippines fare poorly in national and international surveys of academic achievement. Small wonder that many parents decide their children’s earning potential for the family is more important than education, Munden says: some 5.6 million school-age Filipino children are out of school, with less than half of every 100 students finishing high school and only a quarter going on to college.

Fortunately, he adds, the government has recognized the problem and is subsidizing the high school education of some public elementary school graduates in private schools as a means to relieve the severe congestion in public schools. Education officials also are considering putting selected public school students in private schools on scholarship.

In this context, Leap Ahead seeks to offer indigent students an opportunity to improve not only for educational success but overall personal growth. Munden said the organization, with a board of trustees in place, will now embark on fundraising to fund several students for the 2011-12 school year. Scholars — who must be nominated by one of his or her teachers to apply — will be selected through a competitive application process based on their financial need, potential for academic achievement, and commitment to improving the lives of their family, their community, and themselves.

While Leap Ahead will initially support only high school students from San Pedro, Munden said the organization plans to expand its scholarships to cover college educations.

“It has been a long process getting to this point, and fundraising will be a challenge.   However, I believe in this cause and know that our effort is worthwhile.”

Munden’s activities at Boston College include serving as president of the Model UN and of College Democrats of Boston College, and taking part in the International Assistant Program. He also is a junior fellow at the Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy.

More information is available at the Leap Ahead website

—Sean Smith