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A Helping Hand, A Humanitarian Heart



In celebration of International Day of Education last Friday, Jan. 24, we are highlighting young Filipinos who are disrupting the local education sector. Eleanor Pinugu is the executive director and co-founder of Mano Amiga Philippines.

“As a former scholar, I am very passionate about creating educational opportunities for underprivileged students because I personally experienced how transformative my own education was. Apart from that, the education sector constantly faces a myriad of challenges [that] make it an incredibly fertile space for creating new and innovative solutions.”

While serving as a youth missionary in Mexico, Eleanor Pinugu came across the Mano Amiga (which translates to “helping hands” in English) social entrepreneurship model that empowers low-income families through high-quality education and community development programs. She jumped at the opportunity to replicate it here in the Philippines, recalling her own personal experiences as a scholar, and looking to pay it forward to young people lacking opportunities and access to quality education.

Over the next couple of years, Pinugu and her team adapted the Mano Amiga model to work in the Philippine setting, adding their own innovations, getting feedback from seasoned educators and entrepreneurs on both the business and educational model.


From a K to 12 school that provided scholarships to students from low-income families, Pinugu expanded to develop a social enterprise program to support their families and the school. The Bistro Café provides skills training and a sustainable livelihood for the communities Mano Amiga serves, with 100 percent of the profits going towards a scholarship fund.

Looking ahead, Pinugu added, “We are focused on amping up our efforts on three main pillars: socio-emotional learning, digital learning, and STEM innovations in the classroom. Our goal is to continue to scale our reach and impact by sharing our expertise and best practices through nationwide teacher training programs and education summits that would enable us to show how these innovations could be done and localized in a low-cost setting.”

Despite already giving so much back to the community, in 2017, Pinugu co-founded She Talks Asia with Bianca Gonzalez, Sarah Meier-Heredia, Izadora Calzado, and Victoria Herera. The She Talks Asia group spark local and global conversations on issues of women empowerment through social media, summits, and various other platforms

“From my experience of setting up Mano Amiga, I learned the importance of having a good team,” says Pinugu, “I’m very fortunate to have co-founders in She Talk Asia who complement my strengths, and who are equally passionate about women empowerment.”


Beyond two helping hands, Pinugu has a proper, humanitarian heart, always looking to expand the scope of the philanthropic and social work she involves herself in. From education in the classroom setting for young Filipinos, to livelihood programs for their families, to empowerment online and beyond, she sees where people are in need and goes the extra mile.

What are the biggest obstacles you have faced in growing Mano Amiga Philippines?

“The biggest challenge we’ve faced was in 2012 when we had to find a new location for the school. The original facilities we were using were only a temporary model unit, which soon became too small and unfit for the kind of educational environment we envisioned for our students. We had a very short window of time to build a new campus because we were going to lose our permit to operate if we weren’t able to move in time.

I remember feeling like an impostor because, ironically, it was also during the time when Mano Amiga’s education model and social enterprise approach started gaining a lot of recognition and awards both in the Philippines and overseas. I felt we didn’t deserve the accolades because our future was so uncertain.”

How did you, or do you plan to, overcome them?

“I decided to just be transparent with our challenge. On social media, we humbly announced that we would have to close down if we were unable to find a new home for the school, and appealed to the public for their support. The Mano Amiga trustees and I met with as many people as possible to share our cause. We did different fundraisers [including] garage sales, brunch parties, [and] yoga marathons. I even asked a celebrity friend to join Deal or No Deal and to donate his winnings for the campus.

Thankfully, a combination of hard work, lots of prayers, and the generosity of so many different individuals and corporations enabled us to raise enough funds to purchase a property, and build the Phase 1 of the new Mano Amiga campus.

While this was a very difficult time for me, both physically and emotionally, I see so many grades and beautiful lessons that came out of it. The setbacks purified mine and my team’s intentions for working on the project. It taught us the power of perseverance and resilience in the face of setback, and more importantly, it humbled all of us.”

Since 2008, Mano Amiga Philippines has provided 1,000 scholarships to students from low-income families, while also supporting families and communities through their development programs, and they continue to grow. The Mano Amiga school is in Parañaque City.

If you are interested in supporting Mano Amiga, either by volunteering, donating to their foundation, or enrolling a child, go to their website:

Source: Manila Bulletin

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