FILIPINO legend tells the story of Maria Makiling,
a powerful deity who protected a bountiful mountain and the
water basins nearby. The mortals enjoyed the blessings of
Maria Makiling. But later, they began to abuse the rich natural
resources. In a rage, Maria Makiling punished the mortals.
Soon, they could no longer get food from the forest. They
lost their source of drinking water. They sought Maria Makiling
and asked for forgiveness. Maria Makiling granted them pardon
and gave back what she took from them.
The story of Maria
Makiling has many versions. In one, she is a fairy who falls
in love with a mortal prince. In another, she is the protector
of mountains and rivers. The latter is the story that English
teacher Generosa Estrada, 43, uses in her class when she talks
of caring for natural resources like the forests, wildlife,
and water systems.
Estrada has been
teaching for 10 years now at the Zillovia Elementary School
. She used to live in Butuan City but her family moved to
this barangay in the municipality of Talacogon in
the province of Agusan del Sur when her husband, Gaudencio,
became chief accountant at the local plant of the Provident
Tree Farm, Incorporated (PTFI). PTFI is involved in commercial
tree plantation, rattan plantation, and manufacture of match
splints. Agusan del Sur is in the northeastern region of Mindanao
The transfer from
urban to rural living surprised Estrada. "I was horrified
at the state of the school when I came here in 1993," admits
Estrada. "The children were 'barriotic'." The word is a slang
for all things rural and backward.
Her pupils had
no uniforms. They would go to school unkempt. "They were slow
to respond to my lessons," says Estrada. But what really struck
her was the lack of appropriate hygiene and sanitation habits
among the schoolchildren.
Estrada would soon
discover that this was a direct result of the absence of a
proper water and sanitation system in this remote village.
The school had a manual water pump station but the supply
was not enough for the whole school.
Children like Michael
Mutia, 11, had to go to houses across the school to fetch
water. A usual spot was the pump station in the yard of Antonio
Moredo, a retired soldier. "Sometimes, the children would
get a bit rowdy but we did not want to prevent them from getting
water for their school use," says Moredo.
Moredo and his
family could only resort to the posting of a sign that reads:
"Keep quiet. Keep the area clean."
the task of fetching water. He lives in Purok 5.
(A purok is a cluster of households. Zillovia has
eight clusters.) He used to wake up early to fetch water from
another cluster for their household use. Sometimes, he had
to do the same thing in school. " Halos hindi na ako lumaki
dahil sa aking pagod ng pag-iigib ng tubig (My growth
got stunted due to the chore of fetching water daily)," says
would go to a shallow well located at the back of the school.
Grade five pupil, Rizalyn Saavedra, 10, recalls when she almost
fell into the well. It was her turn to fetch water for her
grade two class. Students were crowding around the well. She
tried to squeeze her way in when somebody accidentally stepped
on her foot. She lost her balance and nearly fell into the
" Buti na lang
at nahawakan ako ng ibang mga bata (Luckily, the other
children were able to take hold of me)," says Saavedra.
from P&G and UNICEF
the students of the Zillovia Elementary School laugh heartily
at their misadventures while fetching water for their school
use. They no longer carry gallons of water from pump stations
outside the school. Water flows steadily now from faucets
in every classroom. This after the United Nations Children's
Fund (UNICEF) provided funds in 1999 for the improvement of
the community's water reservoir tank that would supply running
water to every classroom. With the assistance of Procter and
Gamble-Philippines (P&G), UNICEF also funded the construction
of three classroom toilets of the Zillovia Elementary School
, a pilot site of the Child-Friendly School System (CFSS).
UNICEF has been
promoting the CFSS concept as an integral component of the
Child-Friendly Movement. The movement aims to put children
at the center of the development agenda. Through the Fifth
Country Programme for Children (CPC V), UNICEF has entered
into a cooperation of agreement with the Philippine government
to make concrete the vision for children of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
with the Department of Education and local government units,
for the creation of conducive learning environments for Filipino
children. Thus, a child-friendly school is child-centered,
inclusive, non-discriminatory, health-promoting, and protective.
In short, it is a school that promotes and protects the rights
with access to safe drinking water and sanitary toilets is
a major strategy in making a school child-friendly. Estrada
and her colleagues have noticed how this has changed their
school. "Children go to school early. Our classes start on
time. Children are no longer burdened to fetch water. They
do not have to run home when they need to relieve themselves,"
The water and sanitation
(WatSan) project mobilized the community leaders to generate
funds to extend water supply and sanitation facilities from
an initial three classrooms to a total of 17. This project
also led to the organization of the Zillovia Water Supply
and Sanitation System Association (ZIWASSA). The group was
instrumental in expanding distribution of water supply to
other households in four major clusters through the construction
of Level III type of sourcing. This means that water can be
distributed through pipes and faucets.
of hygiene and proper sanitation practices is no longer a
difficult assignment for teachers of the Zillovia Elementary
School . "How could you teach them to wash their hands, when
there was no water to speak of in the first place?" points
out school principal Elnar Balayo, 39.
Balayo was recently
transferred to the Zillovia Elementary School . He used to
head a community school in another Talacogon barangay
called Marbon where water is also a problem. Balayo
reports that he has not heard of serious diarrheal cases among
children as compared with the situation of children in Marbon.
in water-borne infections
midwife Rina Torralba, 33, claims that cases of diarrhea
among children had steadily decreased. Torralba credits the
improvement of the community's water and sanitation system
and mothers' enhanced management of childhood illnesses.
talaga ang tubig lalo na sa pag-aalaga ng mga batang nagkakasakit
(Water is essential especially when caring for sick
children)," says Tortor, who is fondly dubbed as Miss Tubig
(Miss Water). "I usually advise patients to increase
their intake of fluids."
At the Zillovia
Elementary School , lessons on proper hygiene and sanitation
practices are integrated in Science classes. The proper disposal
of human waste, for example, is discussed in the study of
human excretory system. Balayo further believes that the habit
of washing hands has to be instilled in children in their
early years. Kindergarten teacher Joy
Colarat, 42, takes on this task eagerly.
that, at the opening of the school year, she prods her students
who are aged four to five years old to wash their hands before
and after eating and after using the classroom toilet. The
habit becomes second nature to the children as the school
year wears on.
In most classrooms
in the Zillovia Elementary School , pictorial posters on proper
hygiene and sanitation practices are pasted near wash areas
and on toilet walls. Lessons on water and sanitation progress
from the habitual washing of hands and regular bathing to
the management of natural eco-systems like watersheds and
bodies of water.
Stories like that
of Maria Makiling resonate with concrete lessons on the importance
of water in people's lives. In her English class, Estrada
asks her students what happens when a community has no source
of clean water. Her grade six students raise their hands and
This is, after
all, a story that they know by heart.