IT WAS show and tell, in that order, for them to start teaching the children well. That’s how local folksingers marked their reunion last Arbor Day, with kids and teachers of the Longlong Elementary School in La Trinidad, Benguet.

They first asked retired agriculture teacher Ben Dimas to show them and the kids how to plant coffee seedlings on the sloping ground behind the school. Together, they planted 300 of the Arabica variety. They then washed up, tuned their guitars and, in an instant concert, told in song the substance of what they did with the kids.

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“You, who’re on the road, must have a code that you can live by,” chorused expatriates Conrad Marzan and Bryan Aliping with incoming La Trinidad mayor Greg Abalos, Benguet provincial health officer Steve Piok, lawyer Bubut Olarte, farmer Dick Oakes and journalists March Fianza and Alfred Dizon.

The kids took the drift, clapping to the rhythm of CSNY’s “Teach Your Children” with their teachers led by school principal Carmel Meris. With them were incoming Baguio councilors Peter Fianza and Phylian Weygan, forester Emil Damogo, nursery foreman Nestor de Guzman, former folk house managers Pok and Jimmy Chan, teacher Paeng Marzan, “balikbayan” John Allan Jr. and other guests helped the kids dig the plant holes.  

Conrad, who continues to mount concerts with other expats in Northern California for the sick here, arrived home recently with wife Pilar and son Nicolas. They came to visit his daughter Soliel and to meet, for the first time, Wolfgang, his 10-month old grandson.

 

“Let’s plant trees and then sing,” he said on his arrival. As he and Bryan used to with kids under the Eco-walk program at the Busol Watershed.

Alumni of the University of Baguio Science High had the same thing in mind. They wanted to help the kids of Longlong grow a coffee plantation. The project offered the alumni a way to honor Emmett Brown Asuncion, their former school director they swear taught them what they needed to know to be what they are now.  

The parents, teachers and community association of Longlong approved the project early this year. The annual harvest – and sale – of coffee beans, starting four to five years from now, would hopefully build a trust fund for the college education of their children.

That collective hope blends with what Asuncion did – using his teachers’ pay for student scholarships. It left him almost with nothing when he suffered a stroke, prompting his former students and university officials to foot his hospital bills and the funeral expenses after died early last September.

At the wake, Jan Bugante of Class ’97, recalled Emmett telling his batch that if they needed to remember him, it might as well be through a plant that grows. 

A week before Conrad and Bryan came home, a handful from UBSHS’s Class ’68 soft-launched the project, planting 100 seedlings with the kids. When he heard, incoming mayor Abalos, of Class ’76, followed it up, with his batch teaming up with Conrad’s group for Arbor Day.

Below the rows of seedlings, the group added a pine sapling that Nicolas hugged and carried down to serve like a sentinel tree watching over the coffee trees. It’s in memory of Alicia Castro, a Baguio girl who recently succumbed to cancer while raising her kids in Aruba. Her husband, folk musician Tom Castro, brought her home late May for the wake and burial. 

Freddie de Guzman, a Baguio boy living in Canada, heard of the initial effort. With dispatch, he sent P15,000 with the advice: “Please allot P5,000.00 to open a bank account for the project you mentioned (to start the ball rolling), P10,000 to patients needing  treatment and medications and the remaining P487 for your coffee.” 

Word on the fund’s arrival came as the lyrics wafted into the air: “Teach your children well/Their father’s hell did slowly go by/And feed them on your dreams/The one they pick, the one you’ll know by/ Don’t you ever ask them why/If they told you, you would cry/So just look at them and sigh/ And know they love you…”

The musicians then repaired to the home economics room for lunch, courtesy of a friend of Conrad. “He helps each time he hears of a good cause,” Conrad said.

Over coffee, the band agreed on an encore performance on July 10 at the Kalei’s Bar in La Trinidad. It will be for Longlong fourth grader Delson Lipawen, a farmer’s son afflicted with congenital heart defect.

Delson couldn’t plant but was thrilled hearing them belt out nursery rhymes. The sign of what’s wrong showed on his bluish lips and fingernails, like he had just munched a bowl of mulberries.

Outside the mess hall, forester Damogo and De Guzman studied a slope they thought ideal for terracing into a tree nursery, so the kids can later sell seedlings while waiting for their plantation to bear red berries.