sa inyo ang naninigarilyo? (Does anybody here know how
to smoke a cigarette?)” teacher Mary Grace Caberte asked
her grade 6 students in Monsale Elementary School in Basay,
Negros Oriental. A little girl stood up and pointed at her
classmate behind her. All eyes were fixed on the tallest,
biggest and obviously the oldest student in the class. The
boy shook his head a bit as if saying - “Here we go
again”. He, however, took no offense.
Reden Ambo looks like a giant, silently guarding the younger
children in the class. He just returned to school after a
two-year absence. He dropped out after completing grade 5
to help his parents earn a living.
says he belongs to a family of farmers and fishermen. “Gusto
sa akong mga ginikanan na magparehas na lang ako sa akong
mga igsuon (My parents expect me to be like my older brothers).”
He is the seventh in a family of ten. His older brothers and
sisters did not give importance to education. Several opted
to work while others got married early.
absence from school fashioned a man out of Reden, hardened
by substandard living conditions. At nights, he would sail
out to the sea fishing. At daytime, he would take care of
his pigs at the back of their house. He would sell his livestock
in the market after six months. Not continuing his studies
crossed his mind once. “May kita na ako para sa akong
adlaw-adlaw na gastusanan (I was, after all, earning a living
for my daily subsistence).”
cast this thought away, reminding himself that he wanted more
in life. Seeing how his older siblings fare now kept Reden
on his toes. He became more determined to go back to school.
He saved a little amount of money for his schooling.
kong mahimong pulis (I want to be a policeman).” An
irony it may seem especially when one learns that Monsale
used to be highly infested with rebels.
desire to go back to school found a voice in the “Balik
Aral” (Back-to-School) program of the Department of
Education. The Balik-Aral program encourages older children
and even adults to go back to school.
Reden went back to school.
Like an ancient monastery, Monsale Elementary School is situated
between the tides of South China Sea and the mountainous ranges
of Negros Oriental. It is along the provincial road connecting
the provinces of Negros Oriental and Occidental.
area was once a portion of a farm land. Hence when it rains,
the school ground gets easily flooded, submerging the playground
in front of the school building. Behind the building is a
small fishpond where gabi and kangkong leaves abound. These
vegetables are used by parents for the school’s feeding
Mary Grace says that Reden is still slightly groping his way
in class. “He may not be excelling at the moment but
he is doing well,” she says. She says that Reden is
quite reserved. He is a gentle giant, one who does not muscle
his way around. He is the class’ friendly “Kuya”
(older brother) who oftentimes mediates when quarrels occur
to college would mean going to the center of Dumaguete, 121
kilometers away from his place. Even Reden’s teachers
seldom visit Dumaguete. “Layo ka-ayo (Very far),”
exclaims Mary Grace.
is willing to go the distance.
of the Child Friendly School System (CFSS) in Monsale Elementary
School reinforces Reden’s aspiration to pursue college
education after knowing from his teachers that education is
one of the rights of every Filipino.
is a key feature of UNICEF’s work in the Philippines.
A child-friendly school encourages the participation of all
children in the community. Regardless of age, sex, belief,
and income status, children are welcome to go to school and
complete primary education. Teachers and school heads too
put children first and practice teaching methods that recognize
different learning styles.
provides technical assistance in improving classroom lessons
and management, access to safe drinking water and sanitation
facilities, and facilitating genuine children’s participation
in school concerns.
Reden’s greatest fear is to fall within the cycle of
poverty in his family. His biggest challenge in life is how
to break this cycle and start a new one for himself and his
kong makab-ot ang akong maayong kaugma-on (I want to have
a good future),” says Reden.
back to school, for him, was already a giant step.