The scenic Sitio Oliva in Brgy. Dila, Bay, Laguna.
Screen grab from Ordinaryong Magsasaka
Oliva
NEW BEGINNINGS - Büm D. Tenorio Jr. (The Philippine Star) - July 31, 2020 - 12:00am

My UPLB Com Arts Soc “brod” Roy Padrid introduced me to Oliva via a five-minute, well-polished documentary that he and his friends made. A vast rice field filled the OBB frame like a patch of paradise in monochromes of green. A long shot of Mount Makiling was seen next, standing proudly with a veil of cloud right above its precipice, guarding the sitio of Oliva like a jealous lover or a protective sentinel. The scene cut to a tableau of children innocently playing in the field, running aimlessly on the paddies, with the sun on their backs, the wind on their faces, the soft blades of grass on their feet.

It was 2019. It was only last year.

Now, in the time of a health pandemic, the children are no longer in hordes when they roam the rice fields of Oliva, a sitio in barangay Dila in the town of Bay, Laguna. Their innocent faces are a canvas of uncertainty. Their concern: their education.

The 3,000 students of barangay Dila face challenges of online learning because most of them don’t own gadgets and Wi-Fi connection is almost non-existent.
Screen grab from Ordinaryong Magsasaka

How can poor children in a far-flung village get their fair share of quality education in the time of coronavirus? In the whole barangay of Dila, there are about 3,000 students whose fate in online education is at stake.

“Access to quality education was already an ongoing battle in the barrio long before the pandemic struck, and now, that need has never been more important. In our small community in the humble town of Bay, this challenge of fighting for universal access to education is in danger,” begins Roy, his voice breaking, his tone searching for help.

Roy, 22, is a graduating student at UP Los Baños taking up Communication Arts. On his own, he is somehow assured of a spot in his future. But he has a responsibility to fulfill in the lives of the youth in Oliva and the other sitios in Dila because he is also the Sangguniang Kabataan chairman of the barangay. Playing hero is far from his objective but he needs to rise to the occasion because the future of others is involved — the same future that the virus is ready to ravage.

He says, “This pandemic has hit our working families hard with the dilemma of prioritizing their children’s education or putting enough food on the table. With the financial insecurity experienced by these families, we understand how providing proper pen and paper — let alone a smartphone or a working computer — would be a great challenge against online learning. This truth, although devastating, is a reality for most families today. However, we believe that education should not just be for those who can afford these luxuries, but should be a right for everybody.”

Roy, young and idealistic, admits the future of the youth in his barrio is in danger. In Oliva, for example, where the access to electricity is highly unreliable, students face the problem of finding the best learning set up for them. For one, Roy explains, public transportation is yet to be available, and it would take about 20 to 30 minutes of walking just to reach the stiff pathway going to the main road.

The Sangguniang Kabataan Council of Dila, Bay, Laguna led by SK chair Roy Padrid (center) with (from left) SK members John Curibot and Sheena Parado and SK councilors Julie Tolentino, Princess Vidania, Jinky Talastasin and Kevin Bicoy.
Photo by Emmanuel Delarosa

Sitio Oliva in Purok 7 is more than 50 kilometers away from the town proper of Bay. Since the place is disconnected by a maze of rice fields and irrigated lands, it’s an oasis in the corner of a busy highway and nobody can bother the quiet, simple life offered by Sitio Oliva.

It is a community of only a hundred people who are mostly farmers. Roy says getting to Oliva is easy “if you are a farmer used to crossing narrow mud fields (pilapil) and walking in palm-wide irrigation barriers. Otherwise, you’ll be falling to waist-high water that is sticky like peanut butter mud.”

“Among other initiatives planned, one solution for this would be to set up a printing station in a strategic area in Oliva and other sitios in barangay Dila so students can connect with their teachers online and/or print their learning modules,” he says, assuring that health safety of students will always be in place.

While Laguna was on general community quarantine, the Sangguniang Kabataan of Dila launched “Project Karunungan sa Gitna ng COVID-19 Pandemic” on June 25, with the aim to augment the need for internet connectivity and bridge the gap of non-face-to-face learning in the community.

“However, this effort can only do so much, and we need the help of everybody to aid the learning of our youth in this pandemic. The ultimate plan and goal of the project is to set up Wi-Fi zones in strategic areas around Dila for learners to connect when studying online and numbers that they can call or message when they have inquiries about their lessons,” he says. He adds that an initial work with Globe is underway to augment the Wi-Fi signal in the barangay.

Roy also realizes that online learning necessitates access to technology and gadgets and the youth of Oliva and other sitios in Dila are wanting in those needs. He and the other youth leaders know they cannot do this alone — providing the gadgets and other needs for 3,000 students who will undergo distance learning come August.

“We look for donations of pre-loved smartphones, tablets and printers that can still be of use for learning of our indigent youth. This can make a big impact on their stake at online education,” Roy says.

Sitio Oliva and the rest of the students in barangay Dila are in Roy’s thoughts day and night. If he had resources, it would be easy to address the concerns. He only has his dreams for Dila for now. The barrio may be 50 kilometers away from the town proper of Bay but Roy, in his small attempts, bridges the distance.

(If you wish to help, e-mail barangaydila4033@gmail.com or visit the Facebook page of The Sangguniang Kabataan of Dila.)

(For your new beginnings, e-mail me at bumbaki@yahoo.com. I’m also on Twitter @bum_tenorio and Instagram @bumtenorio. Have a blessed weekend!)

MOUNT MAKILING OLIVA
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