AT AGE twenty, Gimar Alingig Reyes embodies selflessness in his pursuit to serve others through teaching. Even at a young age, Reyes has already reached out to others to fulfill his advocacy of providing education especially to the underprivileged in the country.
A graduate of Bachelor of Elementary Education at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan, Reyes already has a passionate thirst for teaching.
Reyes was awarded as one of the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines at the Heroes Hall of Malacañan Palace on February 9, 2017.
Much can be said about how Reyes ended up in the roster of the country's top students. Hailing from a farming community in Iponan village, he slowly built his life's goal to become an educator since his childhood years while watching his mother finish her studies to become a teacher whilst his father tilled their small-scale farm.
Because his parents were poor, Reyes' father decided to send his mother to school to get a degree.
At that time, their farm of seasonal crops could not give them much money to raise a family and because of the tight competition with other farmers in the market, Reyes' mother worked hard to get a degree in Education.
While his father would be out in the field, no one would be left to watch over young Reyes who at that time was only about six years old.
His mother decided to bring him to school every day. This is where Reyes' fascination for education started.
While other children of his age played outside, he spent these times listening to lectures in the school halls with her mother, peering into subjects and teachings that were way too advanced for him to ponder on.
"Sometimes, just so we can help my father in the family's expenses, my mother and I would sell packed peanuts, maruyas, or yemas to her clasmates. I would then help her pack these the night before," Reyes said.
Those days were one of the most defining moments of Reyes' life and up until now, when people ask him about his beginnings and what propelled him to be an educator, he would fondly go back to these days when his father would dedicate their farm's earnings to his mother's education.
It was, as he described, a collective effort of his family. When his mother graduated, she became a teacher at West City Central School and was able to help his father in the family's expenses since then.
His own academic career could be traced in key schools here in the city.
Reyes finished his elementary education at West City Central School and proceeded to high school at Misamis Oriental General Comprehensive High School (MOGCHS). Even since his early years of education, Reyes' has already been a good performer in school being a part of the science class of his batch keeping in mind the values of hard work, education, and gratitude that he learned from his parents' experience.
Upon entering college, Reyes became one of Cagayan de Oro City's college scholars. He chose to study at Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan. Like his mother, Reyes decided to take up Elementary Education so that he could realize his thrust to give education especially to those in need.
"I believe that the educators of today are highly belittled by many thinking that it is only a simple field and profession. I think that it is only by producing good and passionate teachers could we give a good future for the youth," Reyes explained.
Reyes considered his college experience as the ultimate ladder through which he was able to reach where he is today. He spoke of times when he could get lost in the crowd of rich kids ruling the hallways of Xavier University with their fancy clothing and gadgets, he never lost sight of what he came in the university for and the opportunity for education that was given to him.
"Back then, I was shy to eat at the canteen because I didn't want others to see my meal and compare it with theirs. I remember sneaking into the sixth floor of the library and ate there alone. I was caught once, and the librarian admonished me. But I told my reason — I had to study right after so I didn't have to go out anymore," he said.
However, he slowly embraced life inside the university and found group of friends and professors who are one with his vision.
In his second year, he volunteered for the Kristohanong Katilingban sa Pagpapakabana - Social Involvement Office (KKP-SIO), the social involvement arm of Xavier University. Within this group he was able to grasp a little of what really happening outside the school grounds by being involved in tutorial sessions, medical missions, and immersions among displaced victims of Sendong in Lumbia village.
Within his four-year stay under the Atenean academe which inculcates the Ignatian spirituality to do Magis or do more to be men and women for others, his learning has resolved his goal to educate and his passion to teach.
"I believe through my experiences that education should be an equalizer and it should not be limited to only a few privileged people. There are a lot of people out there who have something to fight for and if we hone them or simply teach them what they should know, lesser and lesser people would get taken advantaged," he said.
In his third year, along with his studies and his responsibilities in the various organizations he was affiliated with in the campus, Reyes also volunteered for the Jesuit Volunteers Philippines (JVP), the longest-running volunteer service program in the country which in turn brought him to higher grounds in his field. Going outside the usual class in the urban areas, Reyes faced with the task of educating people from rural areas where he was assigned by JVP.
Looking at his students in these areas, Reyes said that he was shocked at how far he would have to adjust from his traditional teaching methods just so he can educate people.
Under the shade of the mountain trees, or within available spaces in churches, or even amidst the roaring waves of seashores, Reyes shared his knowledge as a teacher.
Also, a part of what he does for JVP is to be in familial contact with his students, that is, to live within their communities, cook and share food with them, and learn the ways of their culture.
In his graduation last March 2016, Reyes was named cum laude and the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Education.
Right after this, he quickly packed his bags and dedicated himself as a full time volunteer teacher to the Agta Dumagat tribe and the community along the eastern coastal region in Luzon.
There, he continues his educational practice by teaching the native farmers of their rights in their own land and organic rice farming for their farms. He works with the Nuestra Señora de la Salvacion Parish on seminars and workshops.
Reyes, having been named as one of the outstanding students of his university had a good chance of being included in the Ten Outstanding Students of the Philippines of 2016.
This, his professors realized so they called him up while he was in the middle of his work in the province of Aurora and persuaded him to join.
About 300 students all over the country applied. Thirty were then selected which was then eventually finalized to 10.
The last time a student from Xavier-Ateneo de Cagayan was part of the final 10 was when the present Xavier University - Governance and Leadership Institute director Dixon Yasay represented the university in 1991.
While he was given one of the highest awards a Filipino youth could possibly attain, Reyes forwards that he could not take credit of this on his own.
"This award is not only because of my efforts as a student and educator but is also rooted from the support and trust by the people around me especially my parents, professors, and students," he said.
Now that he is back in his work in Aurora. Reyes takes on this journey in as an advocate for education. He further plans on taking part in non-government initiatives in helping the Indigenous Peoples and the marginalized.
Having been raised in a farm, Reyes knows the plight of the marginalized. "Middlemen take advantage of them. They are often belittled and fooled. This unjust structure struck me at my core and I am compelled to help them. I know them because I know the feeling of having less. That's why I wanted to give back what I have received from the opportunities that I have been granted."
Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on February 18, 2017.