POVERTY and abundance. Two opposing words yet equally real to one school that looks like a nipa hut if not in its faded name posted unperturbed in one corner of the amakan-designed wall.
While Barangay Dahican is known on its stunning crescent-shaped white sand coastline facing the Pacific Ocean, a silent but crowded elementary public school lies in the middle of the urban poor.
Don Luis Rabat Sr. Memorial School extension school is located in the urban poor of Sitio Maitum in Guangguang in the City of Mati, Davao Oriental. The school houses 252 pupils from Grades 1 to 3 and each of them desires to finish elementary.
About 106 Grade 1 pupils, 76 Grade 2 pupils, and 70 Grade 3 pupils all divided into two sections per grade level share the three rooms made of kalakat or amakan. There are enough wooden chairs, green blackboard and the three rooms are divided with a movable wood.
Three regular teachers and other local school board-paid teachers are assigned in the area to ensure the learning of these students. They do learn but what they use to achieve quality education is scarce.
One teacher said some of the pupils do not go to school because they have nothing to use; no paper, no pencil, nothing at all.
All these pupils could bring is their self, their drive to learn, and their spirit to achieve what they would want to become when they grow old. But are all these enough for a six-year old who want to go to a school where, like children of his age, enjoy the presence of adequate school supplies and baon or allowance?
Barangay captain Danny Acera said that he fought for the establishment of the extension school with the approval of the local government and the Department of Education. He said some parents decided not to send their young children to school anymore because the main Don Luis Rabat Sr. Memorial School is too far which consequently adds to the dropout and school leaver rate in the country.
“The main school is about two kilometers away from the place,” Dashiel Indelible Jr., the tourism officer, said.
This is the reason why Acera advocated to the founding of the school three years ago. He witnessed how small children piteously walk the rough roads with towering coconut trees to reach the school. He feared of their safety and the loss of their willingness to go to school.
The school was indeed built to shelter school children whose parents’ main source of income is “manginhas” or getting seashells and other edible sea foods during low tide.
The City Tourism office declared that there are about 30 to 50 families in the urban poor area. Their income is insufficient to provide all the basic needs of their children and this is one of the reasons why sometimes pupils do not go to school.
Niña Baño, a resident, said that most of the students skip meals and some just go home from school when they feel hungry. The teachers, on the other hand, allow them as they witness the plight of the pupils every day.
Baño, who has a Grade 2 son, said that his son Alex wants to become a priest. When she asked what he will do once he is ordained, Alex simply said he would buy a new Bible and food for the family.
But aside from poverty, the school also faces its own ordeal. The thatched roofing of the school leaks when it rains. One pupil even laughed remembering how his teacher was trickled with raindrops while holding a class.
Far from being a concrete establishment, the residents still feel blessed as they were not affected by the recent typhoon. They could just imagine how the school and their homes would look like if they were among those devastated.
Some pupils have a small bag with a piece of pencil and notebook inside; others just have their simple smile and their own stories to tell. You cannot see some of them wearing school shoes like other children of their age. Majority are wearing worn-out slippers protecting their calloused feet.
Though these pupils endure poverty in an early age, they still live with high hopes and noble dreams.
Ginesel, whose parents are separated and only lives with her grandfather, has the burning desire to become a teacher someday. She is happy that she is still able to go to school and she wants to teach children like her in the future.
Ten-year old Jason who is only in Grade 1 said he will never get tired going to school. He wants to be a policeman so he could help his parents whose income is through fishing and doing laundry.
Third grader Andi wants to become a seaman sharing his innocent but pure thoughts for his parents. “Pag matigulang na akong mama og papa, ako na magtrabaho para sa ila,” he said with a smile.
Alex, Ginesel, Jason, and Andi are just among the 252 pupils who exude hope and joy despite trials and hunger. They are the living proof of this undying quote: Poverty is not a hindrance to success.
The third year Mass Communication students of Ateneo de Davao University gave school supplies composed of pencil, notebook, paper, crayon, eraser, sharpener, ruler, and water plastic jug placed in an envelope to each of the 252 pupils. These students saved a sufficient amount of money through their Project FAD (Five a Day) where they saved five pesos a day from their allowance.
This is part of their community exposure as student-journalists and their way of saying they are indeed men and women for others living out the mission ad majorem Dei gloriam or for the greater glory of God.
The pupils were so excited to receive their new school supplies and most of them averred their gratitude. Marcy, a grade two pupil, said with a smile “karon lang ko nagka-notebook balik”.
Marcy who only holds five pesos a day allowance buys biscuits to sustain her with all the activities in school. For her, the envelope full of school supplies is more than a gift from heaven.
These pupils have been the recipients of other generous donors but all their resources and supplies are still very limited.
These pupils whose lives are ignited with hope need support from all the members of society. Twenty years from now, one of them could probably be one of the few who would stand up to fight for our country, teach the next generation, guide the youth, or bring honor to our country.
These children who have come to understand poverty need generous souls to relieve them from another load of burdens. These children who have come to live in abundance despite distress need kind hearts to keep them alive while they reach for their dreams.
Poverty and abundance. Two opposing words lived by innocent school children of amakan-designed extension school of Don Luis Rabat Sr. Memorial School. When reality bites, it is either we touch their lives or they touch ours.