Human Spiders? not anymore!
Melanie L. Sison and Maricar Calubiran (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2013 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The 3.6-kilometer stretch of stone wall used to be a danger zone, especially for generations of students, who had to cling to the rough and spiky seawall to get to and from school, earning them the dubious moniker “Gagamba (spider) Kids.”

 

Today, they are no longer the source of attraction in the island barangay of Macatunao in Concepcion, Iloilo. The perilous path now has a foot bridge, and what was once a danger zone has now become a tourist attraction.

The transformation of the community is partly due to the intervention of Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), one of the core programs of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Through the cooperation of the residents, the local government unit, and Kalahi-CIDSS, the barangay foot trail and foot bridge project was finally realized by the community.

Three hundred of the children in barangay Macatunao are beneficiaries of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), another program of the DSWD. All of them share for the same dream: to be able to finish their education, get their diplomas, find jobs, and pluck their families from the sea of poverty.

School children from neighboring sitio Balabago had an even more difficult journey. They had to climb a steep hill, creep across the nature-sculpted rocks, and brave the raging waters to reach Bagotao Primary School and Tambaliza National High School in barangay Macatunao.

Fortunato Arlos Jr., 72, recalls how they would take that path in the morning and in the afternoon. When they were delayed at school, they were forced to climb the mountain just to avoid the danger zone, which got even more treacherous during high tide. He went on to share that he almost had a fatal accident while traversing the area on his way to Fernando Arlos Elementary School in barangay Tambaliza.

“My books and lunch box were drenched. I was clinging to the stone. I was lucky I did not break a bone,” he narrates in the local dialect Hiligaynon.

The problem of traveling from one part of the barangay to another has existed for so long that practically everyone who grew up in the village had at one time or another been a “gagamba kid.”

Like everyone else in the village, Vivian Dolor says she was a “spider girl” in her teenage years. She and her friends would cling to the cliff wall just to get to Bagotao Primary School. It was her daily routine until she completed her elementary education.

Vivian, 42, described how the edges of the stones were very sharp. “There are stones in other areas, but ours is different. You will get cuts if you step on them without wearing your slippers. It is also dangerous because you needed to climb up the mountain. There is also a deep part, which gets even deeper during high tide,” she says.

After finishing elementary and high school, Vivian went on to take a vocational course at the Computer College of the Visayas in Iloilo City. She subsequently worked in Hong Kong to help her siblings and parents.

She later returned to Concepcion, where she settled down and had a family. When she came back home, she heard about Kalahi-CIDSS, but did not pay attention to it. It was only in 2010 when it crossed her mind to help the community by volunteering in the project. She was chosen by the community to become the Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee (BSPMC) chair, the head of community volunteers in Kalahi-CIDSS.

Vivian vividly recalled the events of Oct. 14, 2010, when she and Ramie Padecio, another volunteer, went to the town for the two-day Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum (MIBF), one of the activities in Kalahi-CIDSS wherein residents in the municipality voted for which of the barangays’ proposed community projects would receive funding from the project. Even the typhoon could not stop them from going to the town to try to get their proposed foot path and bridge, which was chosen by barangay Macatunao as the community project that they would propose for funding from Kalahi-CIDSS.

Vivian and Ramie almost lost hope that they would get their proposed foot path and bridge when they found out they needed to have photos of the site, as they did not have the money to get the photos printed. Determined to solve the problem, Vivian pawned her wedding ring and used the P500 to have the photos developed and to prepare other materials for their barangay’s presentation. Ramie, a teacher at the Tambaliza National High School, gave the presentation in behalf of their barangay.

Their sacrifices and determination paid off when proposed foot trail and bridge amounting to P1.58 million was voted as one of the projects to receive funding from Kalahi-CIDSS.

Extraordinary acts of selflessness from ordinary people did not end with Vivian. Fortunato’s near-fatal accident and the daily sight he witnessed from his window pushed him to donate 200 meters of his property for the foot trail.

Fortunato says, “Why wouldn’t you help, when you can see that the path is very difficult, and you know children risk drowning every time they pass the shoreline to go to school?”

Other villagers also contributed portions of their daily wage to complete their village’s local counterpart contribution for their sub-project.

Thanks to the community’s combined efforts, they were finally able to get their foot path and foot bridge. Young and old alike are now able to pass safely through the area any time of the day, high tide or low tide.

T

he story was picked up by television show Rated K, in an episode entitled “Singsing for Schooling.”

Rated K was supposed to redeem the wedding ring as a surprise for Vivian during her interview in Manila. Since the television staff could not redeem the wedding ring without the receipt, they sought the help of Mayor Milliard Villanueva, and the pawnshop returned the wedding ring without any monetary consideration.

The “Singsing for Schooling” episode caught the attention of Rotary International 3790 in Angeles, Pampanga. They invited Vivian to their District Assembly so she could share her inspiring story. A cash gift was given to Vivian by RI 3790, which also shouldered her transportation expenses and provided an allowance to her husband and her son while she was away. Rotary International also donated flying discs for the village children of barangay Macatunao.

Although the foot bridge was intended primarily for ease of travel between sitios Bagotao and Balabago, the residents were pleased that it brought other benefits to their community, including making the former danger zone a tourist attraction.

The emerald waters and nature-sculptured rocks regularly draw tourists. The main attraction of the area, however, is the lumpatan. Located at the end  of the foot bridge, the lumpatan is used as dive-off point for those who want to try cliff jumping.

A distance away from the lumpatan is a drawing of two turtles etched on the stone wall, previously not appreciated by residents since they were more concerned about getting to their destination safely rather than appreciating the sights.

The construction of the foot bridge also opened opportunities for villagers to start small businesses. Some of the residents earn extra income by selling native delicacies to the visitors and fellow villagers.

Important as the construction of the foot trail with foot bridge has been to the people of barangay Macatunao,  even more valuable is the spirit of volunteerism and giving embedded in the people, including those from outside the community, as they learned the importance of working together for development.

BARANGAY BRIDGE COMMUNITY FOOT KALAHI MACATUNAO RATED K ROTARY INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL VIVIAN
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