For whom the bell tolls
By Nilo A. Yacat
UNICEF helps schools around the Philippines to be better equipped with facilities and learning materials to foster children's education.
The Americans retaliated days later, grazed the town to the ground, killed women and children, and took as prize the town’s historic bells.
But for children like John Joshua Canciller, 10, only the ringing of the school bell is worth fighting for. Joshua is a grade four student at the village school of Barangay San Miguel. He likes going to school and is in charge of ringing the school bell to start the day, call for a break, and prepare to go back home.`
“I like school a lot,” Joshua says. He enjoys his lessons in English and Math and is an elected officer of the student body government. “I just wish that our school will be improved.”
Although the town of Balangiga is full of stories of freedom fighters and imperial soldiers, Joshua and many other children like him fight a seemingly unending battle against illiteracy, malnutrition, and skin infection.
Lying a few feet below river level, the school gets flooded almost every week, after a heavy downpour. Flooding may reach knee-deep, forcing students to traipse rickety wood planks or, worse, trudge through murky waters.
“Many of our pupils suffer from ‘atas’,” school head Arnold Lucero said. “Atas” is a skin infection characterized by boils and rashes. Grade six student Edgardo Mahusay, 12, gets teased by other students for the infection.
“The itch is getting worse,” Edgardo said. “But the only way for me to reach my classroom is through the water, so I have no choice but to wade through the water.”
A better drainage system is the only solution to the incessant flooding in San Miguel Elementary School. But there is no budget for the construction of this system.
Public elementary schools in the Philippines have long been dealing with the lack of teachers, classrooms, and textbooks. But the situation becomes more alarming when the environment poses risks on the health and well-being of children.
UNICEF urges the Philippine government to transform schools into child-friendly learning spaces where children are at the center of a school development program. In child-friendly schools, the access of students and teachers to learning materials and equipment is improved. Teachers and school heads are trained to be more student-focused. The access to safe drinking water and sanitary toilets is addressed. Boys and girls are given equal chances to discover their strengths and use their competencies.
“If we have some funds to spare, we will use it to buy textbooks and learning materials,” Mr. Lucero said. On the average, three students share one textbook at San Miguel Elementary School. But the school sorely lacks textbooks on Philippine history. “We have only one copy of the history textbook which a teacher uses for a class of 50 students.”
And the irony of it all does not escape Mr. Lucero. “Our town’s past is written as a major part of the history of the Philippines. But we don’t even have the books to read about it.”
Despite the flooding and having to share textbooks, Joshua beams with the hope of writing a better history for himself. “I want to finish my studies,” Joshua said. In the meantime, he goes about doing his share for the school. “Keep the school bell ringing.”
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Children First Newsletter (Q4 2009 Issue)
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