No learner left behind

FOR a public school student like Karlo Butaslac, who relies on internet cafes to connect to the virtual sphere, the shift of classes online due to the coronavirus pandemic is a huge challenge.

Under existing quarantine guidelines, the operation of internet cafes is still not allowed and this alone is already a big obstacle to join online classes for those who do not have their own devices and connection at home.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic continues to spread across the region with confirmed new cases almost daily, the Department of Education (DepEd) devised different plans to adjust to this ‘new normal’ of education.

Under the new normal, teachers will upload online modules and other assessment tasks for their students. Ideally, students are to access these materials for remote learning. But internet connection is a challenge to many students in Davao Region. Others just choose not to enroll anymore.

Karlo is a Grade 12 Arts, Design, and Literary Arts student at Davao City National High School whose family had been struggling financially even before the quarantine. His mother died when he was five and he and his two other siblings are left their father’s care. But life is difficult and a neighbor decided to adopt Karlo four years ago and finance his studies together with her three other biological children. She now works at a parlor in Doha, Qatar to continue supporting the kids’ educational needs.

“Dakong hagit siya kay naga struggle mi financially even nga naa sa abroad akong adoptive mother... Before pandemic medyo okay siya. Makabayad ko sa mga amutanan sa group projects. For now since wala pa magsugod ang klase, ginauna pa namo among daily needs ug ang rent bills (It has a big effect on us because we had been struggling financially even when my adopted mother works abroad. Before the pandemic, I can still pay for group projects. For now, since classes haven’t started yet, we need to prioritize our daily needs and bills,” Karlo shares.

Last month, when enrolment started, Karlo didn’t know what to do since his father’s phone relies on free data, and internet cafes were all closed. He asked help from his classmates through their class group chat on messenger and his teacher, Ria Valdez, volunteered to do his online enrolment.

Weeks after that, Ria messaged the Karlo that she will give him a phone to help him with his studies. Expecting just a second-hand phone, perhaps a spare of the teacher, Karlo was just surprised to receive a brand new phone.

And that’s when The Mitsa Project (TMP) was born.

“Our team is composed of Kyra Madrazo, Christine Barnuevo, and Clydin Marizze Panayaman. TMP has a #ShareAGadget donation drive for student beneficiaries who do not have the resources to attend online classes. We also have a module printing service for learners who need hard copies of learning modules especially those who cannot access the modules online,” Ria shares.

These high school friends were inspired to continue helping students like Karlo who they know are hesitant to continue their studies because of financial struggles.

Mitsa is a Tagalog word that translates to “a candle’s wick”, symbolic of the group’s goal of igniting hope for the children and sparking the spirit of volunteerism, not just between the four of them but their other volunteer partners as well.

“Our project aims to ignite hope for those students who cannot continue their education because of the Covid-19 crisis...Some even say that they do not have enough money to continue going to school because their parents lost their jobs. Therefore, our advocacy is #NoLearnerLeftBehind,” Ria added.

After helping out Karlo, they were continually inspired by other volunteers who had the same goal as them such as Eric Antenor of Paranaque who started his “Share a Laptop” donation drive and Davao City’s Malaya Genotiva volunteering to print free modules for those who need them. Eventually, TMP was also able to partner and help out Malaya’s cause.

The spirit of volunteerism

As they posted calls for donations and advertising their cause online, more and more volunteers came to help. As the TMP fondly calls them Kapwa-Mitsa, the spirit of volunteerism continues to flourish.

“I noticed for the past two weeks since TMP started our volunteers in printing and those who donated bond papers and school supplies are mostly students. It’s heartwarming to see students helping their fellow students in need. Like I always say, I hope people help each other get by in this pandemic,” Ria said.

Icon Elites Artist Management, a talent agency that hones the youth in singing, dancing, acting, and modeling has helped promote TMP’s advocacy on social media which helped them reach more people and donors. They also pledged to donate a printer and cash for new gadgets to the beneficiaries.

Amare Davao, a beauty product and mobile phone shop has also helped them with their cause as well as Errand Titas Davao, a local delivery service that volunteered to pick up and deliver donations without charge. People from Luzon and other places in Mindanao have also messaged TMP to help.

Through referrals, they were able to reach out to more students in the days that followed. They were able to provide gadgets to two students of Davao City National High School and Philippine Science High School. TMP was also able to provide school supplies to two families in Sitio Lubihan, Catalunan Grande, and 30 students in Tambobong National High School.

One of their most recent beneficiaries is the Matigsalug students from Marilog, a far-flung community in Davao City. They were referred by Mindanao Times editor-in-chief Amalia Bandiola to BahayPangarap founder Julieto Dalagma who initiated the “Isang Lapis at Papel Para sa Aking Tribu” campaign.

BahayPangarap is an initiative project for Indigenous Peoples High School Shelter for young people from their tribe who want to get an education in the city. They are located in Km. 12, Blissful Family Village, Indangan, Davao City. Before the pandemic, the project survives through different sources of income, as selling native and locally woven baskets. “Our community in SitioNangalid, Brgy. DatuSalumay, especially my family, would buy the native product materials for us to have the income to sustain the students in BahayPangarap until now,” Julieto shares.

Just like Karlo, the IP students back in their hometown have seen a brand new challenge with the online learning imposed by DepEd. Aside from internet connection problems, most of them do not have the resources to buy gadgets. Because of this, six new students enrolled in the city and were taken under the care of BahayPangarap just so they can continue with their education.

“We are so lucky because we met Mitsa Project who provided for the gadgets of the kids for online learning. We wish to continue their support as partners of the ‘No Learner Left Behind’ advocacy especially for us IPs,” said Julieto. Last Thursday, July 2, the four founders of TMP came together for the first time to hand in brand new phone donations to students of BahayPangarap.

Julieto took to Facebook his gratitude on behalf of the community. As an IP student once who struggled for his education, Julieto strongly believes that every learner should be guided towards proper education.

The future of Mitsa

As the four of them also have separate day jobs, Ria said TMP may be less active in the coming weeks but assured that their projects will not die and they continue to have yearly donation drives or community services.

For now, they are busy with their Project 500 where a group of young visual artists from Malayan Colleges of Mindanao and Ateneo de Davao University design stickers to be sold as sticker bundles. Half of the proceeds will go to the artists while the other half will be for the beneficiaries.

”This is our way of promoting local art as well by giving these young artists an avenue to show their craft. We may not be active in TMP by late July or by August but our advocacy will not end,” Ria said.

The Mitsa Project continues to accept cash donations and in-kind. Details are posted on their Facebook page.


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