After Filipino dance troupe El Gamma Penumbra’s victory in Asia’s Got Talent comes another international recognition for the Philippines – this time in the field of public service. The United Nations bestowed the prestigious Public Service Award on the Mandaluyong City government for its Project Therapy, Education, Assimilation of Children with Handicap (TEACH). In a letter to Mandaluyong City Mayor Benhur Abalos, the UN announced that the city has been adjudged winner of the 2015 United Nations Public Service Award in the category of “improving the delivery of public service.” Stefania Senese, UN governance and public administration officer, said Mandaluyong landed in second place after three stages of rigid screening of 30,000 programs from various countries.

“Your institution’s outstanding achievement has demonstrated excellence in serving the public interest,” Senese said. The most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service is being rewarded to institutions with creative achievements and contributions to a more effective and responsible public administration in countries worldwide. Senese said the awarding ceremony for the 22 winning institutions from various countries in Africa, Europe and North America, Latin America, Caribbean, Western Asia and AsiaPacific will be held in Colombia from June 23 to 26. Abalos is flying to Colombia on June 23 to attend the UN Public Service Forum Day and Awards to accept the award.

The UN Public Service Forum Day and Awards is being held annually since 2003 in an effort to focus global attention on the importance of governance and public administration for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. According to the UN, this year’s awardees demonstrated “how innovative public service delivery approaches add value to the society.”

Abalos started implementing Project TEACH in 2007, with the help of Archie David, a Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) awardee and owner of SPED school Independent Living Learning Center. Through Project TEACH, David and special education (SPED) teachers hired by the Mandaluyong city government provide free physical, occupational and speech therapy to children with special needs from poor families residing in the city. SPED tutorials and bridging programs are being given to children with special needs to prepare them for possible formal education in public schools. David said Project TEACH has so far benefited 636 special children, 142 of whom are being “mainstreamed” or included in regular classes.

Teachers and parents are also part of the preparation to ensure successful integration. According to David, a session for occupational and speech therapy would cost parents P600 while tuition ranges from P100,000 to P150,000 annually. He said middle income and poor families cannot afford the high cost of sending children with special needs to therapy and special schools.

But in Project TEACH, the city government provides free therapy, special education and other services. Even those who cannot go the Lingap Karunungan Center located along Martinez street are given home care services. Local government health workers conduct surveillance and screening to identify those with disabilities, and later refer them to the health center for proper diagnosis.

Under Project TEACH, the Mandaluyong city government also extends free pre-vocational skills training to adolescents in preparation for future vocational courses. In the initial implementation of Project TEACH, only a small portion of the budget came from the city government. Non-governmental organizations and other institutions like the University of Sto. Tomas and University of the Philippines supported the program. But now, Mandaluyong City is shouldering the budget of the program. Abalos has also crafted a city ordinance allocating a yearly budget for the project to ensure its continued implementation even after his term expires in June 2016.

He said a building for Project TEACH is being constructed near the Lingap Karunungan Center. Through Project TEACH, Abalos hopes that Mandaluyong City can inspire other local government units and private organizations to establish similar programs in their respective communities. “By showcasing and sharing our best practices, particularly Project TEACH, it will be replicated throughout the country to maximize the potentials of children with special needs. After all, the future of our nation rests on the youth,” Abalos said. He said the municipalities of Carmona, Cavite; Dipolog City in Zamboanga del Norte; Naga City; Iloilo; Ilocos, and Pasay City have put up their own community-based rehabilitation programs after being inspired by Project TEACH.

Even other countries like Laos, Vietnam, Mongolia and East Timor have inquired about the project, while the University of Toronto has expressed plans to send interns to the city to learn more about it. However, Abalos lamented that their SPED teachers and therapists are not well paid, prompting most of them to seek greener pastures abroad. A SPED teacher who has been with Project TEACH for seven years said she is receiving P23,000 monthly salary. Abalos said he will try to address the problem with the help of Congress.