DAVAO CITY, Philippines – An evacuation center where indigenous people who sought refuge in the city stay is not a usual place where retired teachers spend their time.But for a 71-year-old retired teacher, teaching children who fled from their homes in Talaingod and Kapalong Davao del Norte, due to militarization of their communities, is where she finds fulfillment.
She was once a teacher of Magallanes Elementary School for forty-one years, spending most of her time teaching her students the value of education to become what they wanted to be in the future.
Gloria Arcenas or Ma’am Gloria to her students continued her passion for teaching after her retirement in 2014. Before she became a volunteer for lumad children in the evacuation center of UCCP Haran Compound, she devoted her three years of free service as a volunteer teacher of Alternative Learning System (ALS) for out of school youth mostly children of banana plantation workers in Sto. Tomas Davao del Norte.
There, she does not only help the children to review but also ‘to reclaim their dreams’.
As a volunteer teacher for the Alternative Learning System, she did it for free.
The Alternative Learning System is a parallel learning system in the country that provides a practical option to the existing formal instruction. When one does not have or cannot access formal education in schools, ALS is an alternate or substitute.
“Teaching is not just a profession for us; it is our passion to guide our children to understand things, for them to have a better future in this cruel world,” said Ma’am Gloria smiling.
Her classroom in the evacuation camp is not similar to that ofher previous school. It is hot and crowded.
The classroom is made of coconut lumber and woven bamboo walling to divide the group of children per grade level. Its roofing is made of iron sheet donated by concerned individuals and organizations.
The children sit on improvised chairs and tables made by their parents who volunteered to help build the school. They have a mini library with books mostly from donations.
The place as Ma’am Gloria described is just a ‘simple but very important to the evacuees ‘ to continue their interrupted education.
Her students are not the typical children in the city.
On a normal day in school, her children have no uniform and shoes like most students. Their school materials are limited but ‘treasured’. During recess, lumad children usually go to their shanty to drink water or just play.
Most of them have difficulties understanding and speaking ‘bisaya’ making it difficult for Ma’am Gloria to give instructions and communicate with the children to ensure that they understand the subjects.
Her class is composed of Grade three and four children from morning to afternoon,
Ma’am Gloria’s class situation is no different from the other classes in the evacuation camp with only four volunteer teachers available.
She said the mixing of classes is due to the shortage of volunteer teachers in the evacuation camp with a population of more or less eighty children from kindergarten to grade six.
“We double our efforts because it is needed. These children are so eager to learn that’s why even if it’s difficult we could not stop and just say no. I personally understand why many choose to teach in public or private schools because they also have needs, but these children need our help more. We should be one of them in their plight,” said Ma’am Gloria
At her age, Ma’am Gloria do get sick a lot but she said it does not stop her from continuing her passion to help.
Attack on Teachers
As the country celebrates the National Teacher’s Month, many of those who have given their life and passion as volunteer teachers for the indigenous people in the mountains experienced harassment and even death.
September 2015, EmeritoSamarca director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV), a self-initiated school for the Lumad indigenous people was killed by members of a paramilitary group. He was found dead in one of the classrooms in the school compound in Han-ayan, Lianga, Surigao del Sur.
August this year, teachers and students of Salugpongan Ta ‘TanuIgkanogon Community Learning Center Incorporated (STTICLC) in SitioTibucag, BarangayDagohoy, Talaingod, Davao Del Norte were traumatized after the military conducted an aerial strike.
A series of aerial strikes just 500 meters from the school, shook school buildings and homes as one bomb after another hit the ground as the community was holding classes.
Jocelyn Samora, a volunteer teacher of Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc. for 11 years in her community in Cogonon, Trento was forced to “surrender” on March 4 this year, along with the members of the Parent Teachers Community Association (PTCA) after being tagged as supporters of the New People’s Army.
February this year, the Center for Lumad Advocacy and Services Inc. (CLANS) teacher Jolita Tolino was arrested at her home in Sitio Chiris, Barangay Sangay, Kalamansig town and charged with murder and frustrated murder along with several colleagues and community leaders. This was in relation to an armed encounter between communist rebels and Marines last year that left one soldier dead and nine others wounded. She remains detained at the police jail in Isulan town.
Data from Save our Schools Network in Southern Mindanao showef that there are around 230 volunteer teachers in the region who have been affected by recent attacks in communities and alternative schools such as forcible closure and red-tagging.
There were also 17 teachers and parents who were arrested and detained by state forces from 2016 to present.
Volunteer work, a noble profession
“I know, this is not what others imagine in their retirement but not for me. I am happy to serve others even in my own simple way” said Ma’am Gloria.
When asked if she worries about the threat most volunteer teachers experience in the community, Ma’am Gloria smiled and said; “Being a volunteer teacher is a noble profession. We give children a chance to dream and a chance to fulfill their dreams”.
At her age, Ma’am Gloria also wishes to see more volunteer teachers in the future to help those children in need.
Currently, the SOS Network- Smr started the ‘Tudlo Ta Ninyo’ program where students from different universities and colleges volunteer as weekend teachers.
This program runs as an integration of students to the children in ‘bakwit school’ as well as to know and understand better the struggle of the Lumads for their right to education, land, and right to self-determination.(davaotoday.com)