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I have been doing community work for almost 20 years now, visiting public schools in both urban and very rural places all over the country to donate computers and set up internet connection. I have experienced riding a habal-habal in Lamitan, Basilan, pushing a boat to shore in waist-deep water for some 500 meters in Bantayan, Cebu, braving the open waters of Batanes with a 2-storey high wall of water framing our background, and many more ‘buwis-buhay’ but truly fulfilling moments just to safely bring our package of support to schools.
I’ve been doing my tour of the Philippines for two decades now but each new school I visit still leaves a mark. My experience visiting Trangka Elementary School in Maasin, Iloilo was no different.
I went with colleagues to this mountain school to deliver the School-in-a-Bag donated by Smart employees. The School-in-a-Bag is a portable digital classroom complete with gadgets, a solar panel and a battery housed in a huge backpack, much like the fast food delivery bags. It is meant to be used by public schools in remote areas that are rarely reached by support, much less technology, because they are usually very difficult to go to, and have no electricity.
Teachers and students in these kinds of schools travel long distances by foot or by boat or sometimes even by swimming just to get to the school every day. And most, if not all, students have never seen a laptop or a tablet that are staples in households in Manila.
Trangka Elementary School is located in the farthest barangay of Maasin in Iloilo. I was told that just beyond the watershed where many of the students live is already Antique province. To get to Trangka, we travelled for about an hour and 40 minutes by car to Dagami Elementary School, which was six kilometers away and was the last school still accessible by car.
From warnings we received, we expected to walk a muddy trail for another hour and a half because there were no roads and it had rained the night before. So from Dagami, we divided the contents of the 30-kilogram bag amongst ourselves and set off for Trangka. After crossing a small stream, we quickly realized that it was not just going to be muddy but it was also going to be an uphill hike for the entire six kilometers.
In true ‘tita’ form, my colleague and I opted to ride the ‘habal-habal’ since we knew it would take us forever to get to the school. While the ride was definitely shorter, it was also scarier because many times we nearly toppled over the thick mud. But the riders very skillfully navigated the trail up to the school.
Upon reaching the school, we were greeted by loud, upbeat music and cheery students and teachers all excited to receive the visitors from Smart. At that point I could not help but cry from overwhelming feelings of gratitude for having the opportunity to be there, awe at the resilience, devotion and drive of the teachers and students, and disbelief at the fact that they have to go through what I had gone through and more just to get to school every single day.
From the stories of the teachers, students who live in the watershed area even start walking to school beside mountain slopes at 4:30 in the morning just to get to school at 9:30 a.m. And they do this on empty stomachs and using worn-out shoes and slippers or even barefoot. And I complain about traffic while inside the car, being shielded from the elements especially during storms. What a way to put things into perspective.
During the turnover of the School-in-a-Bag the commitment of the entire community was so evident. The parents, teachers, and barangay officials were all present and gave heartwarming messages to the group and I just felt so blessed to be part of that.
This is why we do what we do, despite the challenges. It is because education is everyone’s business. It is because it really does take a village to raise a child. It is because we owe it to the teachers and students who sacrifice so much just to get an education. And it is because whatever little help we bring these schools means so much in potentially changing their lives for the better.
To date, we have deployed 46 bags to 75 hard-to-reach learning communities all over the country and the results have been amazing. Teachers have reported an increase in attendance and participation, an improvement in literacy, an increase in learning hours despite being off-grid, and an improvement in the achievement of learning targets.
They say talent is universal but opportunity is not and that is what the School-in-a-Bag provides the students – an opportunity to learn and to access knowledge and information, using technology, to improve their quality of life and the lives of their families.
I left the school feeling grateful, humbled, rejuvenated and even more inspired.
Interested in helping bring digital learning to more public schools in underserved communities? Follow and message the Smart Communities Facebook page.
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