“Welcome to the end of the world,” says Henning Blegvad and laugh, as we get out of his car in Cadingli-an village. We are outside the town Oton close to Iloilo on the Island of Panay Island in the Philippines. On either side of the muddy and bumpy road there are nothing but rice fields framed by majestic mountains in the horizon. The tiny buildings in the village seem to be competing about which one in the most warn out. Apart from the but the village’s primary school.
Thanks to Henning Blegvad, an 80-year-old Danish musician, who has been living in Cadingli-an village for about 20 years with his Philippine wife Melanie, 500 children today have the fines primary school in the area. And they even have two young Danish students from Jydsk Pædagog-seminarium, Sussanne Høy (23) and Nicole Eskildsen (22) who take care of children with special needs.
The idea and the money to reconstruct the village school came from another Dane, “Lars Vexø”. As a friend of Henning Blegvad he came to visit the Philippines. “We had showed him most of the island, but he kept insisting, that there had to be something he had not seen”. Henning then decided to show him the school where his wife’s sister is teaching.“
At that time the buildings of the school were falling apart, there were no chairs or tables, or teaching materials so the children were sitting on the ground in way to small and warn down rooms, ” Henning Blegvad explain. “On the way back to our house Lars Vexø asked me how much I though it would cost to fix the school. I really thought he was joking.”
But Lars Vexø was not joking. He arranged with Henning Blegvad to donate around two million pesos (DKK ca. 242.000) to the reconstruction of the school. The condition was, that Henning Blegvad had to administer the renovation work personally, and make sure the school was ready for inauguration on Lars Vexø’s birthday. That gave Henning Blegvad just four month.
“I have constructed many hotels and houses in my life, so I made all the drawings myself and decided which buildings we could keep and which to tore down. That was almost all of them,” says Henning Blegvad. “Corruption is a huge problem in the Philippines so I had to arrange everything myself. I didn’t trust anyone with my money.”
Together with 23 workers Henning Blegvad started ordering materials and constructing new buildings for the school. Apart from new class rooms Henning also designed and assembly hall with a basket field in the middle. Henning and the 23 workers has a lot of help from several volunteers.
“People kept coming from out of nowhere to help us. Some of them were parents who had all their children in the school. It was really nice, but we realised that we had to feed all these people, which was with a big project as well. ” Henning’s wife Melanie who grew up in Cardingli-an went to town everyday to by rice and cook for all the workers and the volunteers. Some of the woman and children were helping her to bring food out to the worker.
“We worked from seven in the morning to seven at night. At the end of everyday I went home and made a plan about what to work on the following day and how to arrange the work, while Melanie took care of the accountancy. But soon Henning realised that the money from Lars Vexø was not sufficient.
“I had sleepless nights when I realised that there was not enough money. I couldn’t just tell the villagers that I was building a school out there and then not finish it. But my sister had just died, so there was some money from her.”
Melanie donated about 80.000 Pesos (DKK 10.000) which payed for the door to the school. “So when you enter the school it says “donated by Malanie Blegvad” in the gate,” says Henning with a smile.
Henning Blegvad also managed to get some help from the local authorities.
“The Ministry of Education is supposed to give materials and books for the village schools. But they have never given anything,” he says. At least not until Henning Belgvad went to Iloilo and put his foot down.
“I went in to the Ministry of Education in Iloilo and told them that we were reconstructing their school with our own money, and that we needed them to support us instead of putting the money in their own pockets.” And his helped. “Then they gave us a lot of chairs and books. The governor gave us 200.000 pesos and the congressman a 100.000 Pesos. But the mayor at that time just suggested that we should give all the money to her. Then she would take care of it all.”
The vice mayor at the time Vincente B. Flores send a huge truck full of spaghetti and coffee for the workers. ”His support really meant a lot to me. It was good to feel that someone from the authorities was appreciating our work. This was what gave me the power to finish it,” says Henning.
Vincente B. Flores is today the mayor of Oton. He highly appreciates Henning Blegvad work. “We are very lucky to have a man like Henning in our area,” says Vincente B. Flores. “We wish that we could restore the other schools in the areas as well, but we only have a limited budget from the government in Manila, and we just cannot afford it, ” he explains.
When Lars Vexø came back for the inauguration of the school on his birthday the 7th of march 2006 everything was finished. “He especially liked, that we have named the assembly hall Lars Vexø gym,” Henning sais. Several government official and the congressman participated in the inauguration of the school, which is now famous throughout the are.
“It is an incredible relief to finally have done something in my life which is important,” says Henning Blegvad. Not that his long life so far has been uneventful. Educated as a classical pianist he has been given concerts all over the world, and lived in several counties. As a jazz pianist he has been playing with prominent Danish musicians such as the Tenor Saxophonist Jesper Thilo released several albums.
“But the renovation of the school in Cadingli An is the one thing in my life I have done which I am the most satisfied with,” he finishes.
For more information about the shcool please see http://www.poulino.dk/