By LYN RAMO
TANAY, Rizal — As expected on a Monday, little Dumagat schoolchildren hurriedly prepared and left their homes to grab a better seat in school.
They did not head for the Nayon Elementary School, though, because “the teacher is not yet there.” Instead, they filled the one-room community center which was built from funds donated by the United Methodist Church. The children referred to this building as their “school.”
With eyes focused on the “teachers” who are members of a singing activist group Kumasa Rizal, the children of Ilaya ng Nayon in Barangay Sta. Ines here learn new ways of interpreting kindergarten songs such as “Bahay Kubo” (Nipa Hut) and “Paa, Tuhod, Balikat, Ulo” (My toes, Knees, Shoulder and Head).
It was raining and the “school” also had to accommodate the adults of Ilaya ng Nayon so it was jampacked with people. The children were giggling at the slightest joke and teasing each other to fight boredom while the adults were in a meeting.
Lope dela Cruz, Katribu Partylist chairman for Rizal and also chieftain of Sitio Nayon, urged the visiting group, especially the youth, to return as teachers in Ilaya ng Nayon. “We are in dire need of teachers who would teach these children what they ought to be learning,” he said.
Most Dumagat families could not send their children to school. Most adults failed to scrape through even the primary level.
“It is enough that they learn to read and write,” a mother said when asked why her 14-year old daughter quit school after Grade One.
At the root of this situation is the extreme poverty afflicting most families. “There is no money to pay for school needs” is another woman’s reason for not being able to send her nine children to school beyond the primary level.
Most have to share in doing household chores and working for an income. Only 17, Gary, not his real name, and other children in Barangay Daraitan, also in Tanay, had to lug a long lumber from a distant forest in Sitio Sari in Barangay Lumutan in General Nakar, Quezon, to where traders would meet him. He has been doing this work for three to four years now.
Gary and his three siblings did not finish elementary schooling. He and his sister, who got married at 17, finished Grade Three. Two younger ones quit school after Grade One.
It is common to find here very small children aged five to eight who are not in school, and teenagers who are still in Grade Five or Six.
Teachers in Nayon Elementary School come from and live in other barangays in Tanay. They usually go home on weekends and return in time for classes on Mondays. During the rainy season when the river swells, they could not travel weekly because the road to Nayon criss-crosses the Lanatin River several times.
For teaching in such a hazardous assignment, teachers here get a hazard and safety pay of P2,000 every three months.
Visiting “teachers” only had songs, stories and games to teach the children who stayed put during the mercy mission of Katribu Partylist and Rizal-based human rights groups Karapatan and Network Opposed to Laiban Dam.
Before the end of the mercy mission, everyone was humming either the “On Potok na Ayenade” or the “Dam-dam-dam-dam-dam-dararam, ang dambuhalang dam.” Both became the theme songs for this encounter with Dumagat children.
They were also singing “Bahay-kubo, talagang munti” (My truly tiny nipa hut) with gusto, showing their appreciation to the alternative literacy they acquired from their visiting “teachers.” (Bulatlat.com)