Going the Distance
A teacher from Kibungan, Benguet reveals the challenges and joys of teaching in a remote mountain area.
The first time I went there, I had to trek for 12 hours. I got sick afterwards. I was vomiting! It was due to a combination of factors: the heat and over fatigue, and then it rained,” relates 22 year-old Daisy Allay about her assignment to the Bekes Barrio School in Tacadang, Kibungan. Bekes is the farthest sitio of the municipality, located at the boundary of Ilocos Sur and Benguet.
The municipality of Kibungan is some 62 kilometers north of Baguio City. It is a mountainous area, with lush forests and mighty waterfalls. It is sometimes referred to as the “Swiss Alps of the Philippines.” However, most of the barangays can only be reached on foot. It is so high up that some areas can experience temperatures of zero degrees Celsius.
“I didn’t expect the trail going there to be so difficult! It’s very steep—almost 90 degrees! Footholds were merely carved into the rocks. It’s very slippery during the rainy season, and very dangerous. That’s also when there are many leeches!” Daisy says. But the trek on the way there was not the only challenge to this young teacher.
“There is no electricity in Bekes. People use car batteries in case those who have cell phones need to charge them,” she says. “There are solar panels in the school, with just enough energy to provide light to the classrooms.” This makes for a very simple life.
Most of the school’s population belongs to the Ibaloi tribe. Their way of life is based on the land. Each household grows rice and vegetables for its own consumption. But because there is no road leading to markets like La Trinidad and Baguio, they are not able to make money out of the produce.
Daisy has 35 students in her grade 3 class. “They have no school uniform. No ID. It’s a barrio school after all. But it’s sad because some of the students, ‘di man lang nagpapalit ng damit. Only two of them have slippers.”
Right now, there are 148 students enrolled in the school, from grades 1 to 6— save for one grade level. “There is no grade 4 class because we lack a teacher. If there was another teacher, then someone could handle that class and we could offer all grade levels.
“We also lack funding, so we decided to sacrifice the grade 1 level next year. Anyway, there is a daycare center in the area,” Daisy shares.
After graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from the Benguet State University in 2005, Daisy became a substitute teacher in a school at the provincial capital of La Trinidad, Benguet. She taught there for three months. Later on, she volunteered as a teacher at the Kibungan Central School.
In June 2004, her appointment as elementary school teacher was approved. Initially, she took a post at the Kibungan Central School, which was near her home at the Poblacion of Kibungan. However, after two weeks, she found out that a teacher had retired, and as a result, she had to be transferred to Bekes. “According to DepEd rules, new teachers are assigned to the farther locations,” says Daisy. So by the end of June, she shared a cottage, constructed by the barrio parents, with the rest of the teachers of the Bekes Barrio School.
Petite and frail-looking Daisy has several responsibilities because she has been assigned as Teacher-in-Charge. “I have to make reports and go to the Kibungan Central School at the Poblacion every end of the month to attend meetings,” she says. This task is a great challenge for her. Since there is no electric current in the area, there is no computer either. All they have is a rickety, old, broken typewriter.
The problem with living so far from home is the loneliness she experiences. With no friends or family members close by, she has grown close to the teachers and parents in the community.
“Naiisip ko minsan, mas maganda ‘yung ibang trabaho,” Daisy, who received a state scholarship, admits. “I didn’t know you could take up nursing under that. I didn’t find out until after I had already graduated.” This does not mean that she is seriously entertaining a career change, however.
Daisy started taking her masters degree last summer as well. However, the remoteness of her location and her schedule prevent her from taking classes during the school year.
Making the most of things
Daisy finds satisfaction and fulfillment in teaching her pupils. “Compared to the students at the Central School, mas mababait sila. They are more obedient and industrious. They are not exposed to television, so they don’t have distractions.” Her students’ diligence inspires Daisy. “Life is hard, so they persevere in their studies.”
Daisy’s heart is so touched by the children that she has taken it upon herself to solicit from friends and relatives for their needs. She ticks off her mental list: “They need clothing, medical assistance, slippers, toothbrushes, and nail cutters.” For this, she goes to faraway La Trinidad and Baguio, a trip that takes around four hours by public transport, to claim donations on her pupils’ behalf.
Although resources are scarce, Daisy has also organized the Journalism Club. “It will be a good preparation for them for high school, to learn to research and interview.” But it is not easy without a computer, printer, or copy machine. Sometimes, they get discouraged because there is no funding from the school or their parents. “We can’t expect any more financial support from them. After all, life is difficult. But we try to make all activities local, so that we will not incur too many expenses.” Daisy is enjoying this extra-curricular activity though. She even plans to introduce other activities next year such as scouting.
When asked if she thinks she will stay long, she responds with a shy smile characteristic of her tribe, and a short “Oo naman.” She has found joy and fulfillment in her new home. “I like that there’s a continuity of learning. While my pupils are learning from me, I also develop, because I need to read and do research to teach them well. You deal with different personalities and you have to try to understand each of them.”
Daisy believes that as a teacher, she must always strive for self-improvement. “I try to acquire more skills during summer vacation or my vacant time because a teacher must be well-rounded. It’s important to develop and improve yourself. Also, you have to be prepared to sacrifice part of your salary for the benefit of your pupils.” And Daisy Allay definitely knows the value of self-sacrifice.