Over mountains and through rivers
David Refuncion and his co-teachers have to trek for hours to reach Mabini Elementary School in Samar to reach their grateful students.

Over mountains and through rivers

Jover Laurio (The Philippine Star) - February 16, 2020 - 12:00am

These teachers are the true heroes

Last September, my friend and I traveled to Calbayog City, Samar to turn over teacher’s kits to 250 public school teachers assigned in upland and coastland areas of Samar.

We served as a bridge between Team Pilipinas donors and our recipients. During our visit, we met modern heroes who shared stories that tugged at our hearts and made us realize that our teachers are overworked, underpaid and unappreciated.

David Refuncion teaches in Mabini Elementary School situated in a far-flung area of Samar together with seven other teachers assigned there. He travels 11 hours just to get to his students – 2 to 3 hours aboard a multicab, then a habal-habal and, finally, a boat – after which he would have to walk across rivers, rice fields and hills for another 6 to 8 hours.

Samar is a typhoon-prone area. During the rainy season their travel becomes longer and riskier because the water in the river rises and its current becomes strong. The mountains and rice fields they navigate become murky and slippery.

Adrian Benecario from Calilihan Elementary School has to regularly contend with landslides during his 5 to 6 hours of travel on foot to the hinterland. The location of his school is also far from the city.

Both young teachers are witness to how their students are living in abject poverty.

They have students who walk miles barefoot and are used to attending classes on empty stomachs. There are those who can’t afford to buy something as basic as paper and pencil, and just have to rely on the generosity of their classmates. There are those who use plastic grocery bags for their school bags. There are those who have to skip classes because their parents need an extra hand in the farm.

Just like David and Adrian, co-teachers Mary Jane Ebardone and Mariah Kim Oite have to travel through hazardous terrain everyday to reach Cag-anahaw Elementary School. The paths to their school can be steep and slippery, and one misstep can cause them to stumble down cliffs. Previously, they would reach their school by bamboo rafting for four hours, climbing four mountains and crossing a treacherous river that snakes around the mountains. But since the river has gotten shallow due to landslides, they now have to walk all the way to the barrio where they teach.

On Dec. 28, 2018, the barrio was wiped out by Typhoon Usman. Their school, that sits atop a plateau, was one of the few structures that survived the catastrophe. The floodwaters, though, still reached the roof of the covered court. The students could not go to school because they needed to be with their families to help in picking up the pieces of their shattered lives. It was a sad Christmas for the community.

Ricky Balat, a teacher in a satellite school in Guin-ansan, Almagro Samar Island, has to deal with other challenges that come with teaching in a remote area. Although there a school in the central town in Almagro, those in far-flung areas have to make do with holding classes inside churches or improvised classrooms.

During the months of August and September, known for being the season of habagat or the southwest monsoon, the islands get more isolated from the rest of the city because no boat dares to head to the open sea. During this season, there is scarcely any food. Sometimes their students will come to school without breakfast because there is no food on the table.

Teachers themselves bring supplies to their respective schools. They buy paper and pencils using their own money so that their students can use them in class. Life is hard so the priority of the parents is food on the table, not school supplies.

When Kaisa Para Sa  Kaunlaran volunteers went to Calbayog last year to distribute early Christmas gifts for students and teachers at four public schools, imagine the happiness of the entire community.

The school supplies, slippers, medicine kits and the solar lamps were a big help to them. The teachers said it was like Christmas in November for their kids. The outreach project inspired them to be better teachers to the community.

These teachers are our modern day heroes. Despite the low salary and many challenges, they still try to help their students.

When we asked them what they wanted for Christmas, none of them requested anything for themselves. Instead they told us that the needs of their students should comes first. Slippers, school supplies, medicines, clothes, classrooms and playgrounds.

No matter how difficult their job, they continue teaching, because that is their calling and they love the community. This is heroism.


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