"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, October 7, 2013

Bridges Without Rivers and Rivers Without Bridges

In Manila, there are bridges where there are no rivers, here, we have a river but no bridge. "Ang Maynila may mga tulay, walang ilog. Kami may ilog, walang tulay," lamented a leader of the Matigsalog tribe, Nardo Bayugan, when interviewed by Kelly Austria, a public relations professional and entrepreneur and blog author of Kelly's Trails. The Matigsalog tribe lives in sitio Pegalongan which is about 7 hours from Davao City in southern Philippines. The 7 hour trip includes two hours by bus, followed by an hour on an improvised motorcycle, and four hours of trekking through the mountains. The trip includes crossing two rivers, Simod and Davao. Where people cross, the rivers are sometimes chest deep and the current is strong enough to sweep away an adult. Pupils and teachers cross Davao river to attend school. Pegalongan according to folklore was a place where light was seen after a great flood. These days, there is indeed light, a light that shines from a community that longs for education. From this place comes one of the brightest spots in Philippine basic education, Randy Halasan, the head teacher of Pegalongan elementary school. 

Image captured from A Tribute to Teachers Facebook page
A Tribute to Teachers writes:
To reach his students in Pegalongan Elementary School, he travels 2 hours by bus, another hour on 'habal-habal', then another 3 to 4 hours of trekking. The latter includes the having to cross two rivers, one of which has waters reaching chest deep. One such crossing almost cost him his life years back. "Kung education lang talaga ang focus, kulang. Kahit gaano ka pa kagaling magturo, kahit gaano ka pa kagaling mag visual aid, kahit anong technology ipakita mo, pero kung ang mga tao gutom, kung ang mga bata gutom, wala." This is the belief of Mr. Halasan and the reason why he is so passionate about eliminating poverty and improving the lives of the Pegalongans.
He helped them form a farmers' cooperative, acquire a rice and corn mill, and get seeds of durable crops. Also, his efforts made it possible for the tribe to have their own high school in the community so that students can continue their basic education without having to travel far.
Halasan clearly recognizes how poverty harms education. He totally understands that focusing on education alone - considering only the teaching style and resources will not work if the schoolchildren are starving. Poverty must be addressed first. And for education to work, solutions mitigating poverty are required, The nutrition, safety and well-being of children need to be met before education can work.

Randy Halasan has been recently recognized by the Bato Balani Foundation and Diwa Learning Systems. Dona Z. Pazzibugan of the Philippine Daily inquirer in her article, "Teacher Randy: Community’s bridge where there is none", mentions what Halasan's dreams are and his top concern is:
Halasan has gone over and beyond the call of duty as the young teacher has become a respected person in the community who is sought for advice and consulted on community matters. 
He ticks off his next goals for the community: to connect with NGOs to get some horses and carabaos to aid the farmers in farming, to get rice and corn threshers, and with concerned groups who could help put up a technical-vocational school in the community. 
He also dreams that other basic services would reach the community, including Internet connection. 
“It is my dream for the children to get to watch NatGeo (National Geographic channel), for them to be able to see what life is like in Africa, that I will be able to show them these,” he said.

But the most urgent item on his wish list, he continually stressed, is a hanging bridge to cross the Sinod and Davao Rivers. 
When he came to Manila this week for only the second time in his life as one of the four recipients of this year’s the Many Faces of the Teacher Award, Halasan knew what his “purpose” was. 
“They told me, ‘When you’re already in Manila, don’t forget about the hanging bridge.’ That hanging bridge is my purpose,” he said.
In Manila, there are bridges where there are no rivers, here, we have a river but no bridge....







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