Back to basics: Leaving notes, finding people

With the long work ahead of them, teachers and educators draw strength from each other

RUINS. The inside view of what was once a high school classroom in Hernani, Eastern Samar. Photo by Franz Lopez/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – It has been a week since typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) reduced towns to rubble. Said to be the strongest typhoon in history to hit land, much of Eastern Visayas bore the brunt, killing thousands and leaving tens of thousands homeless.

The first few days were marked by chaos and anarchy in Tacloban City, one of the badly-hit areas. With communications down and power out, the greatest challenge was to locate survivors in the province of Leyte. 

But Education Secretary Br Armin Luistro wanted to find his people first. (READ: Task: Locate teachers in disaster areas)

On Sunday, November 10, Department of Education (DepEd) Assistant Secretary Rey Laguda and the department’s disaster risk and reduction management team headed to the city to assess the situation from the ground.

They arrived Monday, November 11, to look for Leyte division heads and the director of Region VIII. Amid the chaos, the department wanted to make sure their organizational structure will continue to exist.

“Once the structure is down, no one will run the show, [with] no one to account for the employees,” Laguda told Rappler in a phone interview Thursday, November 14.

Finding RD

Laguda and his team arrived in Tacloban with a mission, but did not know what to expect. They hoped to stay in the city division office, but like many buildings still standing in the city, it housed evacuees despite being roofless.

The team divided into two groups. One group stayed in the division office to assist teachers and employees who will sign in, while the other went to Dulag, Leyte to check on DepEd Regional Director Luisa Yu.

“By the time we got there, she’s gone. She was alive, but she actually went to Tacloban – we missed her on the way. At least we know she’s okay,” Laguda said in a mix of English and Filipino. When they got back to Tacloban, they also received word that the schools division superintendent (SDS) of the city is alive.

On Tuesday, November 12, they moved their operations from the Tacloban division office to Leyte National High School. They had to leave in the office a note, written on Manila paper, informing teachers and employees to proceed to the school instead.

“[We told them] call in everyone you know, let’s organize ourselves,” Laguda said. Within the day, as more people were accounted for, they learned that the Leyte SDS is also alive.

One or two days after the typhoon, and without having heard the instruction of the Secretary, the Leyte superintendent already rented a motorcycle to go around the division.

Brigada Eskwela

Laguda, who was already in Cebu when Rappler talked to him, said being in Tacloban for 3 days “felt like a week,” but the duty to help rebuild comes first.

“You cannot even begin to imagine how difficult it is for them…Our teachers are also affected, physically. [They were] also asking for food, [and] some of them almost died,” he shared.

But despite their difficulties, he said people responded to them positively in manning operations. Some even wanted to start cleaning up schools already.

“[We told them] once you have accounted for the people and organized within the school, you can start cleaning up and working on the documents little by little. It’s like we’re doing Brigada Eskwela.”

Brigada Eskwela is a nationwide voluntary effort which encourages the participation of teachers, parents, and the community to do clean up and repairs in public schools.

“Our regional office in Region VIII, division offices in Tacloban, Leyte division, and even our Ormoc division are damaged. I saw several of our schools almost totally damaged,” he noted. (READ: Aftermath of Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan): What we know)

Next step

He said he avoided long stories with teachers because he “needed to be sane,” but he saw people getting strength from each other.

“Before I left, a teacher arrived [in the command center]. He saw his friend, and they embraced. No words. There’s an amount of trauma, and debriefing is needed, but in the end, maybe we just have to do something.”

After all, Luistro said, educators are the “sobering, calming effect” in this crisis. “I think the best way to get out of that state of helplessness is to do something,” Laguda added. (READ: Dear Teachers: Stand tall – not for ourselves, but for others)

Since the team arrived, roads have cleared up, and residents have already started cleaning. The department will be locating students next, and they are fully aware of the work ahead of them.

Mahaba pa ‘to (There’s a long way to go),” he said. –

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