DAVAO CITY, Philippines — Some teachers in the country have to cross rivers and mountains just to be able to reach a community that has never seen a teacher or has not known education.
Among the few professionals who probably had dropped other job opportunities just to teach in far-flung communities is 28-year-old Ricky Balilid.
Balilid works as a teacher for Misfi Academy which has a campus in Sitio Muling in Barangay Gupitan, Kapalong in Davao del Norte. He is also the vice chairperson of the Alliance of Community Educators in Mindanao, a network of volunteer teachers in Lumad schools.
He is a B’laan who grew up in Sultan Kudarat and dreamt of managing a hotel someday. He is the eldest of eight children of both farmers who did not finish their education.
“I’m also the first in our family to finish college,” Balilid shared in an interview on Thursday, October 5 inside the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran compound here.
But the opportunity of working in an office has been out of Balilid’s plans when he chose to study Home Economics at the Cotabato Foundation of College and Technology.
Balilid was a scholar of Italian missionary Fr. Peter Geremia who is based in the Diocese of Kidapawan in North Cotabato.
Geremia is a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME) who has spent 36 years of service in Mindanao and is an advocate of Lumad’s rights, along with his fellow missionary, the late Fr. Fausto “Pops” Tentorio.
Balilid took up a course in Home Economics with Education as his major. He said he never realized how important his course was until he became a teacher in 2012.
“When I was assigned in Sitio Muling, that’s when I decided that I will help the indigenous people (IP) by becoming a teacher,” he said.
To reach the school, Balilid said they had to cross 42 rivers and walk for two days. He said he was only able to see his family once or twice a year in December.
“I first taught preschool and kindergarten. Back then, when we lack school supplies, we had to use clay rocks as chalk and banana leaves for papers,” he said.
At times he and his students would use wood charcoal to write on the leaves.
“It was a mess and the charcoal would smudge their faces then we will all have a bath in the river,” Balilid recounted.
But it was not all fun and play, as volunteer teachers like him had to endure harassment from a militia group in the community and the military who tag their school as run by the New People’s Army.
In 2015, Balilid and the other teachers of Misfi Academy were not allowed to proceed to the village by the Alamara, a paramilitary tribal group.
Balilid recounted they were surrounded and were warned to be tied up “like carabaos” if they proceed.
Since then, the school has temporarily held classes inside the evacuation center in UCCP Haran where Balilid currently teaches.
Balilid said five teachers have left the school already because of the threats.
He himself has thought of leaving the school when he misses his family.
However, he said whenever he sees the willingness of the IPs to learn, he realizes the need for him to continue teaching.
“When I hear them sing, and when I see some of them had to live here in the evacuation center just to learn, I know that they need more teachers like me,” he said.
He said they only ask respect from government officials to stop branding them as NPAs.
“We are only trying to fill the emptiness that the government cannot provide,” he said.
World Teachers’ Day
On Thursday, volunteer teachers like Balilid gathered at the Freedom Park in Roxas Avenue to celebrate World Teacher’s Day.
Balilid said they hope to show the public that no threat to education will make them stop teaching IP children, whom they say “need it the most.”
“Our schools are all recognized by the Department of Education, we are teachers and we love our students. That is one reason why we will continue to teach,” he said. (davaotoday.com)