Former OFW pays it forward #28StoriesofGiving

Michael Rebuyas - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The upper hall of Emilio Jacinto Elementary School, with the echoing din of student activity and teachers’ lectures, may have been just a regular classroom if it weren’t for the objects that, to the passing observer’s eye, seem vaguely out of place.

Here, the smell of rubbing alcohol, liniment and talc hangs in the air, and newspaper pages litter the classroom floor – a testament to the unorthodox learning environment its teachers have made it out to be.

The classroom is never empty for most of the day, except when students have to shuttle to their other classes, or when they take breaks.

Here students sit hunkered on the floor, their eyes transfixed on the burly man sitting before them. He speaks with a booming voice – commanding yet warm, with his students gravitating towards him with rapt concentration.

Their eyes dart towards the man’s fingers, following each motion with hawk-eyed precision as he shows them how and when to push and pull the muscles in one’s arms, back, shoulders and legs.

The man’s name is Primitivo Lumibao.

Primitivo, or Premi, as he prefers to be called, sits in front – an image of stoic concentration – focused only on the task before him. His fingers seemingly dance as he demonstrates the intricacies of the art he has embraced a long time ago – an art that he has since come to share with others.

Some time ago, he used to work in the Middle East as an overseas Filipino worker specializing in advertising signage. Life was good, he says. He provided for his family and all was well.

Premi says his family wasn’t rich, but what they had was enough.

As he was concluding his overseas stint, Premi was sent to India by his employer to enroll in a physical therapy course. Looking to pay his blessings forward and falling in love with his newfound craft, he returned to the country and vowed to give back.

Every day for eight years running, he has come to schools in Manila’s 1st and 2nd districts, volunteering for the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS). He teaches students – mostly housewives looking for ways to augment their income – the art of making fingers dance across skin.

“I’ve been to different schools in the 1st and 2nd districts of Manila. I’ve taught as a volunteer at almost all schools in the area,” Premi says, pegging the number of students he has had at 500.

Premi has passion, his students say, conducting classes despite being short on cash and food, just so he could be with his students and continue sharing the lessons he has now dedicated his life to.

As Premi himself admits, volunteering is hard. In fact, he gets by with a pittance – barely enough to cover his meals and transportation costs – but he considers the work as more than enough reward.

“I have devoted myself to being an ALS volunteer. The reward I want is to eventually see my students make something good of themselves,” Premi says.

Premi says he did not expect to become a volunteer. It may not have been his first love, but God willing, he says it will be his last. He is nearing retirement age, and although he does not want to stop, Premi has accepted the fact that soon enough he will have to.

His students have their own lives now, he says. Some have left for abroad, others are now finishing school, and some have put up their own businesses. And for that, he is happy, especially for those he managed to wean away from vice or unsavory backgrounds.

This is why Premi calls for organizations such as The Philippine STAR, through its #28storiesofgiving initiative, to provide support to the Department of Education’s Bureau of Alternative System and assist the marginalized and disadvantaged become productive members of society.

Premi says it’s hard to let go of volunteerism, and despite having his own set of misgivings – lack of support, materials and the like – he remains positive. He says he is glad he volunteered.

Premi says all that he is holding on to is that somehow, someone would take up the mantle and take a similar chance.

For comments and suggestions to #28storiesofgiving, email [email protected], follow @philippinestar on Twitter or visit The Philippine Star’s page on Facebook.


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