Klein Oak Art Teacher Spreads Goodwill in the Philippines
Last November, Klein Oak Art Teacher Melanie Leslie traveled to the island of Cebu in the Philippines to propose a micro-enterprise project called “Hope and a Future” for the children of the town of Dumanjug to help fund education beyond the high school years.
To help Melanie in her goal of supporting education in Dumanjug, the Klein Oak National Art Honor Society raised enough money in their annual Empty Bowls Auction to award "Hope and a Future" $600 to kick off their project.
Through “Hope and a Future,” Melanie utilized recycled materials to build a vertical organic vegetable garden that students in Dumanjug will tend and market to individuals and businesses in their village and surrounding areas. Along the way, the children will receive support and assistance from adults committed to the program’s success.
Melanie shared some additional info on the project in a recent Q&A session.
Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and how you became involved with the “Hope and a Future” project.
A: I’m an art teacher at Klein Oak High School and have been here since 2011. Before that, I taught art courses at Houston Baptist University for 19 years. I have been active in Houston’s art community in many roles, including exhibiting and teaching workshops at art leagues and museums around the city. A single parent for many years, I have two children who are both graduates of Texas A&M. My family on my mom’s side were strong advocates of education, so it has always been a big priority.
My son was in the Army when 9/11 occurred, causing my daughter and me to become extremely concerned for his safety and well-being. That Christmas, we made a special point of reaching out to others through the Samaritan’s Purse Shoebox Project. This is how we met a family in Cebu, Philippines whose little boy, Jungie, received the box. Because he was so small, his father wrote a thank you note explaining that he had never had a toy before because of their poverty. This began a correspondence that has spanned more than 15 years.
Q: Tell us more about the project. What is it’s mission & purpose? How is it making a difference?
A: A few years ago, Jungie graduated from high school and had a dream of becoming a pilot. I became acutely aware that the children growing up on this under-resourced island had few if any opportunities to pursue an education beyond a public education. The idea of trying to save for college is not on their radar because they are fully focused on day-to-day survival.
I began trying to find ways to help Jungie finance his education so that, as the eldest sibling, he could make the same possible for his brothers and sisters. That is how “Hope and a Future” was born.
Q: How are you able to use this experience in your daily life, and with your students?
A: It makes me ever mindful of the wonderful opportunities students in America have, and makes me want to help kids in other places in the world have some of the same opportunities. I hope that by being a role model for causes such as this, I can instill in my students a sincere appreciation for what they have and a desire to invest in others who will benefit so much from a little care and kindness. I keep pictures of my “Philippine kids” in my room as a reminder that we can make a difference in someone else’s lives.