Teacher Sam handing out some IamSAM ballers to the gleeful Aeta children of Pampanga.
Filipina educator and international lecturer Rayla Melchor Santos received the prestigious Global Education Motivators (GEM) Award for 2013-2014 for her advocacy on the empowerment of children in schools under the I Am SAM Foundation.Santos co-founded the I am SAM foundation in 2010 following her mother Merci Melchor’s long years of advocacy to help abused women and children to be aware of their rights and be able to rebuild lives after suffering from various forms of abuse.
The teachings of the I am SAM foundation are based on two fundamental UN treaties- the Universal Declaration on Human Rights (UDHR) and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Their flagship program, IamSAM Prevent-to-Empower Protocol (PEP), was created to teach children and women the values of self worth and uniqueness, respect and responsibility for self and for others.
SAM stands for Shakers and Movers whose campaign was launched in 28 public elementary and high schools in Muntinlupa City. A similar campaign will soon be launched in all 38 public elementary and high schools in Makati City.
Shakers And Movers, according to Santos, is a person that makes things happen, anchored on the belief that one takes full responsibility for his/her own evolution as a person.
Afton Beutler of Mother’s Legacy, Bill Yotive of UN Global Teaching & Learning Project, Rayla Melcho Santos of I am SAM Foundation and Ellen Firestone of Youth for Human Rights at the UN HQ on April 4, 2014.
Wayne Jacoby, president of Philadelphia based GEM Inc. surprised Santos by presenting her the Global Educator Award at the 9th annual United Nations Teachers Conference on Human Rights and Peace held last April 4 at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Jacoby said Santos and the I am SAM Foundation have been successful in “making its mark in helping and protecting the world’s children.”
“I have seen you expand from the Philippines and now working with teachers and children in Canada, China, United States and Taiwan. It is important for you to bring your message back to the UN,” said Jacoby in his letter of invitation to Santos.
Now fondly called by her students and fellow teachers as Teacher SAM, Santos said she “feels honored to have received the prestigious award from GEM that has a long history of affiliation with the UN.
She did not realize that her advocacy would be recognized at the UN Teachers Conference on Human Rights and Peace event.
“It was a moving experience to receive such a prestigious award from GEM which is a partner of the UN in promoting human & child rights and peace at the global education level,” said Santos.
GEM is a Philadelphia-based non-government organization founded by a group of educators in 1981 to put a global perspective in all aspects of learning.
The NGO started working with the UN Department of Public Information in 1986 and received the prestigious UN Peace Messenger Award in 1989 for its work on behalf of UN promoting world peace and human rights.
For Santos, empowering a child with awareness of her inherent rights has a far reaching impact to grow as fulfilled individual.
“Self-worth is the greatest tool we can give a child,” she said.
Inner strength and the realization that every child is special, precious and unique is deeply expounded and made easy to understand in the campaigns of the I Am SAM Foundation.
Santos said every child should realize the meaning of two powerful Tibetan words: “Tashi deley” which means ‘I honor the greatness in you’. Each child should recognize the greatness in himself/herself and the greatness in each other.
When teaching this as an official greeting of the foundation said in schools where the IamSAM works with, Santos recalled one high student shared his amazement, “How can two words mean so much and do so much upliftment!”
The foundation provides schools covered by its campaign some educational posters written in Filipino that state: “I am special, unique and precious because I am a human being.” The message encapsulates the soul of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The campaign message further expounded in succeeding banners that carry the messages: “I am special, unique and precious because I am a child”; and, “And because I am a unique, special and precious, no one can abuse me, even my parents.”
Santos said the banners capture the whole message of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. She pointed out that is necessary to teach against abuse because of the staggering incidences of violence in schools. The focus of the IamSAM protocol is the development of self-worth and the restoration of human dignity.
Santos believes that it is important to spread the values of self-worth to children as it has far reaching impact in their development as respectful, responsible and compassionate persons and citizens.
She says schools should not just be a place for academic excellence, but a safe ground for children to develop inner strength.
The I Am SAM Foundation also honors guidance counselors who are often neglected in their critical role of protecting the rights of children while at school. She said various forms of abuse happen in schools, particularly through bullying and teacher abuse against students.
Santos fell in love with the teaching profession and children when she worked as a pre-school director of the Family School of Manhattan in New York.
She pursued advanced studies and training on early childhood education in the United States and London and later became the head of the Institute for Child Advancement in Magallanes, Makati City.
She set up her own preschool, Center for Little Learners in her Mom’s house and also co-wrote beginning reading books with her mom, who also illustrated these. She founded Stonyhurst School and used CSR (corporate social responsibility) to build its first building.
Her stint as global educator inspired her to partner with the Calvert School of Maryland to set up the McKinley Hill International School and Academy for Children in Batangas.
The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in the United Kingdom cited the McKinley Hill International School as one of the UNICEF UK Rights Respecting Schools outside the UK in November 2011 when Santos was invited to speak at the UNICEF UK Conference for Rights Respecting Schools in London.
IamSAM hosts two annual UN conferences convened by GEM. These are the UN Teacher Conference on Human Rights and Peace and the UN Student Leadership Conference on Development.
Santos felt the need to engage her fellow Filipino teachers in the UN initiatives of teaching human rights and peace and involve Filipino students on global issues with veritable global institutions like the UN.
This has helped Filipino educators and students interact with their global partners while in the Philippines.
Last year, she also spoke to a global audience of civil-society groups organized by the United Nations in Geneva where she tackled the foundation’s advocacy which has led to serious consideration and current discussion for IamSAM in Africa.
Santos says every teacher has a special passion to fulfill, that is seeing a child grow in love and peace and achieve her dreams.