By PATRICIA LOURDES VIRAY
Two trucks loaded with volunteers and school supplies trudged the dusty and bumpy path for almost two hours to reach its destination. As the trucks went up the mountains, the view of the whole town could be seen. A river indicated that they are getting near the isolated community.
The trip from the town proper of Mayantoc, Tarlac, also known as the summer capital of the said province, to Labney, a small community in the mountains of Mayantoc, took almost two hours. Trucks can cross the river to get to the community. Other than that, the only way to get there is by crossing a hanging bridge on foot. When it rains, transportation is not available for the people.
A non-profit organization known as the Black Pencil Project headed an outreach program in Labney Elementary School together with UP Sandiwa and the Tarlac Mountaineering Club. The school supplies that they delivered were just in time for the opening of classes this June.
The children were peeking inside the classroom while the school supplies were being prepared for distribution. Excitement could be seen on their faces, knowing that they were about to get something for free from these strangers from the city. They assembled in an instant in front of the stage as soon as the principal called their attention. The program was about to start.
Smiles crossed their innocent faces as soon as they received their school kits. Some children then ran to their parents to show what they got. The mountaineers prepared a snack for the children. They went home full and prepared for the opening of classes.
I am one of the members of UP Sandiwa, the official organization of UP Diliman students from Tarlac. We organized a fund-raising project earlier this year in order to hold an outreach program in our province. My organization is a socio-civic academic organization and we believe that as Iskolars ng Bayan (Scholars of the Nation) we should be serving our own hometown.
I have been living in Tarlac for all my life but it is only lately that I became aware of the situation of some of my fellow Tarlaquenos. I really am lucky to have studied in a private Catholic school and now in the country’s national university.
Having an elementary school in their community is convenient for the children of Labney but when they get to high school, they have to go down the mountains to get to school. They do not have a high school in Labney so they still have to go to the town proper. The Labney elementary teachers still come from the town proper and they stay in the mountain every weekdays and only get to go home during weekends.
The K to 12 policy was implemented this year and the Department of Education admitted that they are not prepared for this. Instead of adding two years in primary education, the government should have improved the quality of education first. Classrooms and teachers are not enough for the number of enrollees this year. The teachers were only trained a few weeks before the start of classes.
Even though elementary and high school education is free for the Labney children, their parents are still having a hard time to get them to school because life is really hard in the mountains. Continuing to college is not always an option for them after high school because they already have to work to help their family. Their childhood would have to end soon because of poverty.
As a student, going in outreach programs such as these is the only thing that I can do for them. It was a very long and tiring day for me but at the end of it all, I felt a sense of fulfillment because I knew that my efforts were not for nothing. I hope that by writing this entry I may be able to inspire others to help those in need even just in their own simple ways.