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SANTIAGO, Iligan City –The gates of the Iligan City East High School are ankle-deep in wet mud. They were thrown open by the school’s watchmen in the early evening of Dec. 17, 2011, just as logs and piles of rubbish began smashing over the walls. The gates still stand, even if much of this small village does not.
Reynilta Alferez is the head of this school of 501 students. She is not certain how many will not be coming back.
She says she may be the only member of the school staff whose home was not devastated by the floods. Her family lives far away, on higher ground. On the night of the storm, she was at a Christmas party for teachers at the Iligan City High School. The party ended at 10 pm, and she says it was the late hour that made it easier for the teachers to cope with the waters that surged through the city at midnight. Unlike many in the city, they were not awakened in their beds by floodwaters.
She received call after call from panicked teachers who had clambered up roofs and reported rising waters.
“Sana matulungan sila, sana may macontact na rescuer na pwede ma rescue yug mga relatives nila na nandun na daw sa taas ng bubong ng mga bahay. Pero wala talaga akong magawa kasi lahat ng phone ay busy. So ginawa ko na lang, inadvisan ko sila na kung ano ang dapat gawin, prayers, ganun, kasi wala nang ibang magagawa.”
Of the 18 teachers under her supervision, one lost a home, but all survived. Among the students, two dead bodies have been recovered. 10 more are reported missing. Many of them come from Bayug island, a small finger of land where more than a hundred are reported lost and missing.
“Until now, yung mga parents nila ay hindi kayang tanggapin na wala na talaga ang mga anak nila. So until now, ang report pa rin ay ‘missing.’”
She went to the school the next day on a motorcycle, no vehicle could get past the mud. There was water and mud inside the computer laboratory and in classrooms. The doors were jammed shut; garbage was stuffed through openings.
Iligan City East High School is built between the seashore and a garbage dump, where small children dig through fields and fields of neon plastic. The city dump was there long before the school was built, and Reynilta says it was a mistake to even build the school.
Every day since the storm, Reynilta has made the rounds of evacuation centers with other teachers to visit students.
“Every time you go to the evacuation centers, you need to hug the children. You have to bring fruit, or maybe candy or chocolate, to make them feel lighter for a little bit.”
There is an overflow of food in the relief centers. Reynilta laughs, when she talks about young children saying they are grateful for Sendong—it is their first chance to eat corned beef.
What is needed, she says, are not clothes or food. Planks, roofs, nails, building materials are vital. Tents, she says, should be built for single families for some attempt at privacy, not tents where three or four families are forced to live their daily lives in close confinement.
She is half-serious when she jokes. “When Maria turns to Marco in the night, who knows if it’s really Marco?”
Opening of classes
Reynilta says classes will open on Monday, Jan. 3, 2012, but the Santiago school is still unable. Classrooms are still carpeted in mud and rubbish. Although there are promises of funding from the division offices of the Department of Education, there is still none forthcoming. For the moment, it is Reynilta and her staff of teachers who are funding the cleaning and allowances of student volunteers. Even watchman III Willard Granados, who lost seven of his relatives to the floods, has been spending for the snacks of the teenagers who have been mucking out the classrooms.
It’s not much that he’s doing, he says. And the children need to be fed.
The books and school records are gone, but classes will commence. Teachers will cook for students—“Because they’ve been eating out of cans for weeks”—and there will be counseling for those who have lost much.
For now, Reynilta is grateful. Her pockets are not yet emptied, and for as long as she and her teachers have anything to spare, the school in the middle of the Santiago dumpsite will keep its gates open for the boys and girls who need to learn. – Rappler.com
Photos by John Javellana.