Tue, Apr 28, 2009 - Page 1 News List

COMMUNITY COMPASS: FEATURE: Center helps Filipinos get ahead

HOME FROM HOME Roy and Heidi Villaluna offer their compatriots more than just help with software and networks, providing food and moral support

By Jenny W. Hsu  /  STAFF REPORTER

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For Imelda Constantino, practicing typing for hours on end in a cramped computer lab is her idea of a perfect Sunday.

With her eyes fixed on a computer monitor, the Filipina caregiver tried hard not to look down at her fingers as they danced across the keyboard while typing words as fast and accurately as she possibly could.

? am here because I know learning more about computers will help me in the future,?she said shyly, whipping her body around to get back to her typing.

Constantino is one of the 50 of overseas Filipino workers enrolled in E-PC, a data processing and computer literacy center established in 2003 by Roy and Heidi Villaluna, who said that knowing their compatriots are benefitting from the class is all the reward they need for the painstaking efforts of maintaining the center.

Roy is a project manager at the notebook division of one of Taiwan? best-known computer companies who speaks with a soft yet determined voice, especially when talking about the center.

?y wife and I just want to help our compatriots. This is something we can do to help them. These people are like family to us,?said the computer engineer.

Nestled in the heart of Little Manila off Zhongshan N Road in Taipei, the 30-plus ping (100m? second-floor center is located a block away from St Christopher? Church, a home away from home for many Filipinos.

The center is divided into three sections. In the back is a small makeshift mini mart full of Philippine treats and items. Next to it is a lecture area where Roy can often be seen standing in front of a white board scribbling down computer jargon.

Then the most popular hangout: the computer area, lined with 20 computers all assembled by Roy, bustling with eager students who can? wait to get on the Web cam to chat with their friends and families.

The center is open on Sundays from 8:30am to 6:30pm and offers an array of courses ranging from computer fundamentals to Windows to troubleshooting all for NT$1,800. The fee includes a lifetime EPC membership and unconditional hospitality from the Villalunas.

For those who can? pay, Roy smiled, shrugged his shoulders and said, ?hat? okay, what we really ask for is their dedication and sincerity. If they want to learn, then I will teach. They can pay whenever they can. If they can? pay, then never mind.?br />

?e really see them as our families. I always cook enough so anyone who doesn? have lunch or dinner is welcome to eat with us. Many of them also tell me about their troubles at work and I give them advice and encourage them not to give up,?said Heidi who holds a bachelor of science in information technology

Caregiver Norma Benevista, who has been coming to the center for two years and is learning about spreadsheets, said her dream was to open her own business when she gets home.

? know what I learn here will be very useful for me in the future to help me and my family,?she said.

Heidi said that a former student who has since returned to the Philippines had opened an Internet caf?in her home town. Several others, thanks to their computer knowledge, had found better jobs in Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong, she said.

The next step for the Villalunas, she said, was to follow the suggestion of Representative Antonio Basilio of the Manila Economic and Culture Office to organize a volunteer group with the skills to teach computer literacy to Filipinos who cannot travel to Taipei.

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