We observed that when children in the Philippines were out of school for the summer break, some of them were being pulled into tobacco post-harvest activities. We established a program that gives them an alternative to working and allows them the chance to thrive in new activities.

Our “Let’s PLAY” program is a 25-day summer school focusing on sports, music and reading. The PLAY acronym stands for Promote Learning Activities for the Youth. The project was designed to help eliminate child labor in 15 areas in the Isabela and Cagayan provinces. We identified 100 children in each area to participate in the program for a total of 1,500 children.

The goals of the program are to provide interesting activities for children during the summer season; to increase awareness of parents (farmers and farm workers), teachers, and community leaders on child labor prevention in selected agricultural areas; and to improve the quality of children’s health and education by using sports equipment, musical instruments and reading materials.

The program was first conceptualized by Universal in 2013 and then implemented in 2014, when we sponsored a summer school program in six of the communities. In 2015, we expanded the scope of the project to 15 communities and gave the program its name. Philip Morris International provided full funding in 2014 and partial funding in 2015, and Universal will provide full funding in 2016.

We consulted with the school and community leaders to determine what activities the children would enjoy. Once we established the activities (music, reading, and sports), we organized a team of Universal employees and hired additional project staff to implement the programs. At each school, we hired one head project trainer and two assistant trainers to teach, as well as one coordinator to monitor the project—check attendance, prepare reports, and monitor the daily activities of the students and teachers. We purchased the materials and equipment for sports, music, and reading and distributed them to the schools.

The criteria for choosing the first 100 students in each area included age (7 to 13 years old, as we found this age to be the most vulnerable); whether the child was the son or daughter of a tobacco farmer or worker; and whether the child was from a low-income family.

The program runs from April to mid-May. Sports activities include volleyball, badminton, sepak takraw, chess and table tennis. Music lessons include the drum and the lyre. Reading materials are provided for the students to read in between the sports or music lessons. Morning and afternoon snacks are provided, which highly motivated the kids to attend.

At the conclusion of the summer school program in May 2015, an event was held to showcase what the children had learned. The music students performed with their drum or lyre and a sports competition was also held. All students received a certificate of participation and outstanding students also received medals. Those who completed at least 80 percent of the program also received a backpack with school supplies.

Many of the students have expressed appreciation for the program. They said they enjoyed learning to play music and made more friends. Feedback from teachers and participants showed that the skills learned will also be helpful in the future.

One student said, “I am a son of a farmer and the eldest of six children. As the eldest, I used to help my hard working parents in the farm work after my classes or during weekends. When we are informed that we are one of the beneficiaries of the Let’s PLAY Program this summer vacation, we were very happy not because we can escape from our chores but we are also excited to learn something new. Being a part of the Drum and Lyre group and playing the base drum, even if it’s a little heavy, gives me a lot of fun. I did not only learn but I felt really happy to have such a unique experience.”

Another student said, “As part of this community, we are very lucky for having this program to gain not only a wonderful experience but to develop our skills and to exercise our rights as youth citizens of our country. We thank all the people behind this program especially our sponsors who has good hearts and generous hands. May the Lord give them also the blessings and protection so that they can continue helping others especially children like me. At this moment, our hearts were filled with joy and happiness for we experience a meaningful and fruitful summer. We really thank the Lord for the Let’s PLAY Program.”

Another student added, “What we learned this summer is a memorable experience to our lives. As a child, we have once again proved and felt our rights and freedom. Our rights to play and to be free really fulfilled this summer vacation. It was made even better with a free morning and afternoon snack. So, we thank our parents for allowing us to join this program, our teachers who patiently took care of us and most importantly, our Sponsors, because without them this program will not be possible. We hope that next year, there would still be the same activity for our school. Thank you very much!”

Feedback from the program showed that there were no incidences of child labor in the areas of the summer school activities. Therefore, we found that the program is an effective tool in preventing child labor, and we look forward to continuing the program in the future.