By RONALD GUSTILO
When i visited the evacuation center of the residents of Barangay Tamac, I had a specific reason: to visit the elementary school for the evacuees. I do not know how they will be able to have regular classes in an evacuation center. Being a “city boy”, the idea of a prolonged stay in evacuation was abstract to me. In my experience, evacuation centers are for short-term stays usually until a flood subsides. But this one is different.
The community of Barangay Tamac is located in Villaviciosa, Abra. From Baguio City, it will be a five-hour ride to Bangued, the town center of Abra province. Then, you will take a jeepney to Barangay Dalit, in Pilar town of Abra. From Dalit, you can either walk or ride a motorcycle, depending on the situation.
A KASTAN staff took me to Barangay Dalit via motorcycle from Bangued, which only took us more or less one hour. There, we were fetched by Teacher Solomon Martes, my colleague in the Alliance of Concerned Teachers and an evacuee as well. We will be riding his motorcycle all the way up to the evacuation center. Rain caught us on our way to the site, which made our trip difficult. We had to leave the motorcycle along the way, and then just fetch it the next day because it was almost impossible for us to push it all the way up the road, which is almost a 45-degree slope. We just walked all the way to the evacuation center. It took us three hours from Barangay Dalit.
Before the landslide, they had an elementary school building, which catered to more than a hundred pupils from kinder to grade six. I was told that after the evacuation, the community made makeshift classrooms from bamboo and tents. A religious group, through the local government of Villaviciosa town, donated tents. The Department of Education gave two large tents as well.
From the tent that I will be staying in, the makeshift school is only a few hundred meters away. I was stunned at the sight of the school. It did not have any walls. It had dividers between classrooms though but the roof was just the tent. Since it was a Sunday, nobody was there. I learned from the evacuees that the students will be having a parade for world teachers day. The students are making flaglets and placards for the parade and I can hear the parents tell the students that they should write “Taasan ang sweldo ng mga guro” (Salary Increase for teachers). I was not surprised that this community is so much aware of the plight of our teachers since Teacher Solomon was living there as well. He did a good job in pushing for the needs of our dear teachers.
The next day, I paid a visit to the teachers of Tamac. In the elementary school, there were six of them, one for each grade level. All of them are evacuees as well. I was introduced to the head teacher, Teacher Juanita Santiago-Garcia. She then invited me to join their small program later in the day. I then visited the day care center, which was at the back of our tent. I was told that the teacher was sick but she still held her classes. I was welcomed there as well by the teacher and the pupils. After greeting her, I asked her why she still held her classes despite being sick. To which she replied “Wala namang ibang day care teacher dito. Sayang ang araw na di matututo ang mga bata. Kahit ganito ang kalagayan namin, dapat may matutunan parin sila” (“We don’t have other day care teachers here. We do not want to waste the day. Even if we experience these hardships, the children must still learn something.”)
During the program, some students performed a skit depicting a typical classroom scene without a teacher. Students were playing loudly and the classroom was a mess. Then came the teacher. All of a sudden, the classroom was quiet. It was tidy too. The students were also sitting properly. It shows how strict the teacher is. But it also shows that she is respected by the students.
When I asked one of the pupils what does he want to be when he grows up, he said he wanted to be a teacher. I asked him why, to which he replied: “Gusto ko din magturo sa mga bata para lalaki silang may alam. Kahit maliit ang sweldo, basta makatulong” (I also wanted to teach the children so that they will grow up smart. Nevermind the low salary, I just want to help”.) Suddenly, I felt something pinching me in my heart. A young child, barely in his teenage years, understanding the plight of the teachers. I was stunned for a few seconds, trying to think what am I supposed to ask next. I never got to ask anything else.
A profession made out of sacrifices
When I was asking teacher Juanita, “if a presidentiable will arrive in Tamac, what will be the teachers asking from them?” she said, “I would like them to prioritize the reconstruction of our school. We are willing to have our salary increase as second priority as long as they will be able to rebuild our school.” When I told her that both should be prioritized at the same time, she told me that the children need to have good quality education. “Without a school building, they are always distracted. And now that the K to 12 program will be implemented, how can we catch up without our much needed facilities?” She wondered allowed.
Despite the situation, the teachers are still very optimistic that they will be achieving what they have always wanted not just for Tamac elementary school but for all schools: Adequate facilities and a just salary for teachers. “We do not know what is in store for us here. But we would like to believe that maybe, something better is awaiting us here in our new location.”
The teachers know that the fruits of their sacrifices will be reaped soon, when their students will finish their schooling and will be the next leaders of the community. # nordis.net