A visit to our satellite school in Naga
Richard along with our school president Ireen Ingles and volunteer teacher Nikki spend a day at our satellite school in Naga.
It turns out to be a 3 hour journey comprising two bus rides to reach our school nestled in the hills of Central Cebu. We are stuck in a huge early morning traffic jam for the first part of the journey but once we reach Naga and turn inland the traffic eases. We get off the bus in the barangay of Uling, walk a few yards up the road and then down a steep slope. Our school house comes into view and we hear the sounds of children’s voices. We have missed the opening prayer and the singing of the Lupang Hinirang (the national anthem) so when we arrive the children are already in study mode. Teacher Malyn is teaching them Filipino language today and the focus is on sounds beginning with the letter H.
We introduce ourselves to the children and they in turn introduce themselves. There are six children in the class, five of whom are scholars. All of them, four boys and two girls are five years old. After spending some time with the children, I go outside to join Ireen who is talking to the adults who accompanied the children to school today. Two of the children’s mothers are present along with one grandmother and one aunt.
Ireen and I engage in conversation with these women to know more about their lives. We discover that the fathers of the children work as factory workers or as security guards earning the minimum wage of 300 pesos ($5.50) a day. Only Ivan-Rhey of this morning’s five pupils has a working mother.
I return to the classroom to find the children are doing their writing exercises with specific emphasis on words beginning with H. I am delighted to see that the children are holding their pencils correctly and I commend Teacher Malyn for that. She tells me that she remembers me explaining the tripod grip to the children a few years ago when she started out with us as a teacher in our main school branch in Cebu.
The morning class ends at 11am with the children singing along to a goodbye song on YouTube and then it is time for them to go home. They will be back tomorrow. Yuki’s mother tells me that her daughter is so excited to go to school every day that she is already dressed and ready by 6am daily!
The lunch break
We have a couple of hours between the morning and afternoon sessions so we have time to talk amongst ourselves. We discuss doing a clean-up of the area - a lot of plastics can be seen littering the pathway down to the school. Perhaps, the parents and guardians could conduct a big clean-up as their counterpart for the scholarships the children are receiving. This is also a way of imparting values in the children.
Teacher Malyn has prepared a nice lunch for us - rice and fried eggplant mixed with garlic and onions. We are all quite hungry as given the early start, we had not had breakfast. After lunch, I take a nap on the sofa only to be awakened by the sounds of children arriving for the afternoon class.
The afternoon class
There are five children in the afternoon class, all scholars. After the introductions, there is a kids praise song, then the singing of the national anthem and then the ‘energiser’ which is a Youtube action song to give the pupils a spring in their step and make them alert before the start of the class.
Meanwhile, outside the classroom, the sun has come out and the parents and guardians are seated on the lawn in the shade of a tarpaulin. Three of the children’s mothers are present as well as one big sister and one grandmother. I ask them to introduce themselves and give us the name of their child. My ice-breaker question comes next - what will you be having for supper this evening? They all come up with different answers unlike this morning’s group who all said they would be having inununan, a popular fish and vegetable soup with vinegar which can last for several meals.
Getting to know the parents and guardians
It is when I ask the women to tell us about their dreams in life that Ireen and I discover that beneath their cheerful demeanour lie some tough life experiences. I am taken aback when Celedonia, the granny of Sofia, states that her dream is for her family to be able to eat three times a day. When I follow up with a question on what her husband’s job is, I am shocked to learn that he is serving a life term in Manila’s New Bilibid prison for raping their own daughter when she was 11 years old. This is years ago now and thankfully there is a happy ending - Stephanie went on to marry and have children; she and her family live on the island of Palawan.
It is the youngest in our midst, 18 year old Jay Rose’s turn to speak next and I discover that besides her being the big sister of Erika Mae, she is also the mother of a two year daughter! This makes Erika Mae a very young auntie at just 5 years old.
The next to speak is Robelyn who had earlier stated that she would be having rice corn and moringa for supper this evening. Robelyn has a simple dream to be healthy; when I ask her to expand on that, she replies that she has a very high cholesterol count from eating too many eggs and processed food in the past.
Robelyn has a complicated story to tell. She has four children, the eldest of whom was fathered by her husband who was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 2006 - he was just 20 years old. The father of her other three children is working as a welder in Manila and only gets to come home twice a year. He sends her a remittance of 3,000 pesos ($55) every week to cover hers and her four children’s needs but half the amount goes to buying the medication to lower her cholesterol.
The two other mothers here are both named Rhea so I shall distinguish between them by referring to them as the mothers of Blair and Elmer.
Blair’s mother is a relative of Celedonia’s and her dream is to have a house of their own. Her husband is working in Cebu as a welder and only comes home at weekends. His net wage is 250 pesos ($4.50) per day after the deduction of meal costs and his dorm fee. His job is contractual so when he is not hired in Cebu, he rides a habal-habal in the hills around the barangay to earn some income from taking passengers on his motorcycle to their homes from the main road. He and his family are squatting in a house shared with Celedonia and her siblings.
As for Elmer’s mother, It transpires that she is pregnant; she will give birth to her fourth child in March, 2023. Her husband is a truck boy so he is often away doing deliveries in far away places. Rhea intrigues me when she tells me that she has to cross a river when she brings Elmer to school. I ask her to take us to the river so that we can see it for ourselves. She says she will carry Elmer on her back across the river when the flow is strong and even carry him through the ferns that border the path that leads to the school.
In the classroom
By the time we get back from the river, the class is drawing to a close so I venture back to the classroom to spend some more time with the children. They are doing a writing exercise and I ask Teacher Malyn if I can be the one to check their work. All the children write very well. Blair however is confusing his u’s and n’s so I trace these letters out for him and he makes the corrections.
The class ends at 3pm with a goodbye action song from YouTube. The children put their school materials in their back packs and it is time to say goodbye. A few of them give us a final wave as they walk up the hill past the orange cosmos flowers. A few moments later, I notice a look of concern on Teacher Malyn’s face and I soon realise why. The herdsman is coming back from a walk with his goats and Malyn is fearful that they will stray off the path and trample over the flowers. Thankfully, all is well.
A few minutes later, we are all heading up the hill to the main road to catch a bus heading to Cebu city and who should we see when we reach the road but our pupils Erika-Mae, Blair and Sofia and their respective mothers and grandmother! They are all seated in a multicab awaiting departure. I grab my camera to take one final photo of their smiling faces just before they leave.
It will be another hour before our bus arrives. We are fortunate as it turns out to be an aircon bus. We have an uneventful ride back to Cebu. It has been a great day out.