In the biting coldness of the early morning, public school teachers in the remote villages in Marilog district, endure years of untold hardship and sacrifices just to teach children in indigenous communities.
Among the dozens of teachers who have done extraordinary the feats is 37-year-old Randy Halasan, who was awarded the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay award in 2014, the award-giving body named after President Ramon Magsaysay. The award giving body is touted as Asia’s equivalent of the Nobel Peace Prize. Annually, the award-giving body awards individuals or organizations in Asia who have done outstanding contributions in Government Service, Public Service, Community Leadership, Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts, Peace and International Understanding and Emergent Leadership.
In a phone interview with this columnist on the occasion of World Teachers Day, Halasan recounts wading the waist-deep frigid river water, sometimes going as high as his neck, crossing the swollen river as part of his 14- kilometer journey to get to his school in Pegalongan, a remote hinterland village, inhabited by diverse ethnic people, mostly Matigsalug.
Halasan said giving the poor children a chance to change their family’s dire condition through education is what gives him the motivation to continue teaching in the remote village for the past ten years.
“No one gets rich in becoming a teacher, but the love for helping an impoverished community and children is what kept me going,” he said.
Halasan helped organize a farmers organization on the remote areas in order to help the parents of the children improve their livelihood which in turn can help provide for the needs of their children.
Halasan, after winning the award, went back to his old school and helped in the construction of the bridge, so that children and teachers no longer have to endure the same ordeal he went through.
Halasan has been appointed as Commissioner for the Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor.
He said there are a lot of efforts that need to be done to address the plight of teachers and the marginalized students.
He said education infrastructure, access roads to these remote villages and more teachers are needed to cater to the needs of the children.
He said his teaching experience taught him many lessons, but what brought him joy is that ‘you become a part of these children’s dream.”
Melvin Gozo, another teacher assigned in Marilog district said he, too, had endured wading in the rampaging Davao river in his 21 kilometer journey going to Gumitan school, where he teaches multi-grade from 1 to 6.
Gozo has been a public teacher for the past eight years. Recently, through the help of the Department of Education, he helped establish a new school in Cabangbang.
Tears and joys being a teacher
My dear aunt Flor C. Amaneo,73, has been teaching in Datu Salumay, also in Marilog district for the past 21 years. Almost her entire career life has been devoted to this community where she has many fond memories. Sometimes, recalling events still breaks her heart.
She remembers many of her poor students missing classes because they haven’t had a meal when they left their houses or going to school without baon or packed meal.
“You really will take pity, I sometimes see some of my students going to school hungry because their eyes would be wide open, perhaps because of an empty stomach and the effort of walking long distance just to be in school.”
Or even if they have baon, the student would be too embarrassed if they show to their classmates that what he brought is a stinking fish paste on top of a cup-sized rice or boiled root crops.
The student would instead go outside the classroom and partake his lunch under the tree to avoid scrutiny and bully from his classmates.
She said there are students who for a long time had not gone to school. So she had to visit them at their village to find out the reason. To her lament, it always boils down to dire financial concerns of the family.
“So we have to convince the parents not to allow their children to skip their class,” she said.
Teacher Flor recalls a heartbreaking story that she hopes will be an important lesson to teachers on how to handle a horrifying experience their students may encounter.
One of her grade school student, a 7-year-old, was assaulted by an adult in their neighborhood.
She was bribed by the suspect with a guava fruit to come with him to a nearby makeshift wooden church, where the grisly crime took place.
Teacher Flor visited her student at the hospital upon learning the news., “I could not recognize her face and her jaw was dislocated and badly bruised, and we just hugged each other,” teacher Flor said, tears rolling down her cheeks. The suspect was arrested and the child fortunately recovered well.
Teacher Flor made a motherly initiative to look after the welfare of the traumatized child. She approached her co-teachers in their school, who became the girl’s new set of teachers to approach the child with utmost care and love. The girl’s new teachers also did a great job in telling her classmates to avoid talking about the incident in order for her to move on with her life.
Even after retirement in 2016, teacher Flor does her own initiative by sponsoring the tuition fee of more than 30 poor students in the hope that one day, they too can make a difference and improve the condition of their community.
“Many of these students I have for the past 21 years are professionals now. I have students who are now nurses, social workers, policeman, overseas workers and there are many who also took up the teaching profession,” she said.
“These are the tears and joys being a teacher. I can say I did enjoy my life as a teacher,” the mother to six children and a grandmother of six said.
On this occasion of World Teachers Day, we pay tribute and salute to the teachers in our lives and the many unsung heroes who continue to inspire the young generation to make this world a better place to live through their teaching vocation despite tremendous odds and sacrifice. (The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)