The long road to education
MANILA, Philippines – During a visit to an Aeta school in Tarlac, we learned that toughness can be defined beyond physical strength.
Toughness is the strength of rural school teachers who spend their days in schools so remote, it’s difficult even to get a hold of the most basic of school supplies — chalk, pens, and papers that we often take for granted. School teachers, who, even when underpaid and overworked, persevere to educate those who wish to be educated.
Toughness is the strength of students who wake before sunrise to make the long tread across dirt and stone in dilapidated slippers to learn, even when their school can’t offer them enough books or notebooks. Students who, even when sleepy and tired, persevere uphill towards a life enlightened by learning.
Toughness is the strength of people who look upon the future with optimism; who keep treading on even when times are rough.
Early on December 6, Rappler’s MovePH team loaded a Ford Ranger FX-4 with textbooks and slippers for 200 students. We are headed to Sitio Burog Elementary School, an Aeta school in Bamban, Tarlac, where we learned through local movers that students badly needed new books and slippers.
The drive to Tarlac from the concrete roads of Manila is straightforward. The highway is littered with cars and flanked by large gas stations filled with restaurants, coffee shops, and bustling tourists down for a bathroom break.
As we neared our destination, cars turned into tricycles and habal-habals, gas stations turned into sari-sari stores, and long highways turned to rough dirt roads. Alongside our drive are groups of young Aeta children, plodding under the noonday sun on their way to school. It had rained the night before, so the road was muddy.
“Everyday we walk to school; and the road is slippery with mud when it’s rainy season,” says Mercy Cabiong David, one of the teachers at Sitio Burog Elementary School. “Usually it’s ok. If it isn’t muddy, tricycles can pass through, but if it’s muddy, you need to walk."
The Aeta compound is located at the top of a hill. As we parked the pickup, we were greeted by the sight of a small complex of houses, a basketball court, and the single-floor classrooms of the school located at the top. There are piglets and goats roaming across the grounds, and a handful of older Aeta locals and naked toddlers idling about.
The children gather around us as we unload our haul and make our way towards the school. They are all clad in hand-me-downs and slippers, or are otherwise barefoot. They are excited at our arrival and offer to carry our load. This is the first thing you learn about these people.
“It’s more enjoyable to teach at remote areas because the people here are very supportive and very appreciative,” says Liwanag, another teacher at the school. “They appreciate simple things and they’re not hard to talk too. They’re super jolly, and it’s really fun to teach here.”
There are 3 classrooms in this school, and the classes held are multi-grade or combination classes. Mercy teaches grades 5 and 6.
She has been a teacher for more than 30 years. She spent five of these years at San Martin Elementary School, 25 at the local school in the town, and is now going on six months at Sitio Burog Elementary School.
We asked Mercy why it is she perseveres to teach at the Aeta school, when she could have better compensation at the more convenient town school downhill.
“Teaching is a commitment. The type that it’s your own will to help people. You’re concerned for the community; you’re concerned about the people around you. Whoever needs help are the ones that should be helped," Mercy said
The children, Mercy notes, are very kind. They are not difficult to talk to, and they listen to their elders. The biggest challenge, she feels, is that they think very lowly of themselves. She hopes that one day, the children can face people and not feel embarrassed or ashamed of who they are.
Made for walking
The students lined up in the central area of the school, waiting for their turn to receive brand new slippers. They were shy at first, but soon the court is filled with giggles and laughter.
Many of the Aeta children live along the the mountainside. Every day, they make the long, hot trudge uphill just to get to school. Sometimes, there is only one teacher, so there would be no class at all.
In spite of this, Erika Cosne, one of the students, said: “I’m proud because even though things are like this, we are still happy. Even though we’re on a mountain, even though we’re poor, we continue our studies.”
The long road
The teachers and children of Sitio Burog Elementary School exemplify toughness – the willingness to take the hard road in pursuit of a better life. Aetas believe they can uplift themselves through education. For them, it’s worth the long journey.
Our trip is summarized best by something Erika said: “Even though the road is tough, we continue our studies so we can finish.” – Rappler.com
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