A community in Kapangan, Benguet, shows that real concern for the future and concerted effort can result in modern day miracles.
It was a miracle!” is how Prof. Jimmy Fong, NGO representative of the Laginia-Anton Inc., describes the school that the community in Barangay Taba-ao, Kapangan, Benguet, was able to put up together. The Laginia-Anton clan spearheaded efforts to build a high school in their community—in a span of only six months.
Taking baby steps
In the past, students from Taba-ao who wanted to pursue secondary education had to stay at a boarding house or with relatives in Lomon, where the two high schools, St. Teresita’s High School and Kapangan National High School, were located. Those students whose families could afford it, studied at the provincial capital in La Trinidad, or in Baguio City. But the costs of lodging, transportation, and food could become prohibitive.
On September 30, 2006, an informal meeting was held at the Laginia-Anton Center. Some 53 parents, whose children were part of the graduating class of the Tabaao Elementary School, were in attendance, as were some of the teachers. “We computed the expenses that they would eventually incur. To go to high school at Lomon, each child had to spend P20 for transportation every day—plus school supplies and the like.” That’s already very hefty for this mostly-agricultural community.
Taking the expenses into consideration, they decided that they wanted, for their children’s sake, to establish a high school in their community. Nothing too ambitious, “we planned to borrow a classroom from the Taba-ao Elementary School for the freshman class,” says Prof. Fong. Most of them also agreed to pool their resources and regularly contribute to pay the salary of the teachers that need to be hired. They also pledged to, later on, donate more of their resources and labor to build classrooms on lands that had already been donated for educational purposes by generous residents. “We were determined to have the school opened by June 2007,” Prof. Fong relates. They then submitted a proposal for the high school, endorsed by the barangay council, to the Local School Board of Kapangan.
Inspiring a community
Kapangan is located 38 kilometers away from Baguio City. To get there, you either ride a bus or jeepney, or drive for about two hours on relatively rough terrain. The majestic Mt. Dakiwagan stands stalwart, as if standing guard over the town. From Taba-ao, its outline looks like an almost-perfect cone.
This is home to an NGO that is, according to Prof. Fong, “a consolidation of community service efforts and other philanthropy work of individual members of the clan, to give back to the community.” Laginia-Anton Inc. had been providing scholarships for students of their hometown Taba-ao since 1979. “In the beginning, they granted scholarships to the top graduating elementary student only. In recent years, they have been granting scholarships to the upper half of the graduating class,” says Prof. Fong. That meant 20 to 25 students for whom they paid tuition and matriculation fees to study at St. Teresita’s, the Catholic High School some five kilometers away. “But in effect, that meant that the other half of the class would not be able to go to high school at all. Very few, if any, went on to the Kapangan National High School,” relays Mrs. Josefa Salinas, president of Laginia-Anton.
The idea of establishing a high school in their community entered Mrs. Salinas’ mind two years ago. The parents of a young girl who would have qualified for a scholarship approached her. “Umiiyak sila. Magaling ‘yung bata, but they could not afford the transportation expenses to go to the school,” she recalls. “So I thought: how about others who cannot afford to send their children to school despite the scholarship?”
Mrs. Salinas relays the present difficulty the pupils from Taba-ao have to undertake to attend high school: “The children have to leave their homes very early to catch the jeep that will take them to school, and then they get home from school very late, at 6 pm. Sometimes, because of typhoon and strong rains, they miss their classes.” The problems of distance and transportation, not helped by the terrain and weather, recurred year after year. That triggered Mrs. Salinas to think, “if we have the school here, and it would be cheaper for all, then maybe we can provide free education for everyone, instead of just a few students.”
Realizing a dream
At the meeting of the Local School Board in January of 2007, the proposal of the people of Taba-ao was raised. Representatives of public high schools in attendance were asked which would consider making the proposed high school its extension. Mariano S. Alodos, Ed. D., Vocational School Administrator II, administrator of the Gov. Bado Dangwa Agro-Industrial School Balakbak, Kapangan, four kilometers away, immediately indicated that they wanted to ‘adopt’ the soon-to-be-opened school. This meant that the curriculum to be offered at the extension would be the same as GBDAIS—which includes vocational classes. When the students graduate, they will receive two diplomas: a high school diploma and vocational course diploma.
Dr. Alodos committed three of their teachers and other materials. He also attended to the processing of the paper work to get approval of the proposal from the Department of Education. He assigned GBDAIS faculty and Taba-ao resident Dr. Cherrelene A. Comom as Teacher-in-Charge.
Good news travels fast, and when this piece of news reached residents of Taba-ao and nearby barangays, from the expected 40 students from the Taba-ao Elementary School, the number of enrollees ballooned to 89! According to Dr. Comom, “We were only expecting one section but we had to open another one to accommodate all of them!” This also meant that more teachers and classrooms were needed.
The Ugnayang Pahinungod of the University of the Philippines, through the Gurong Pahinungod (GP) program sent three volunteers to Taba-ao: Andres Domogo, Kristine Gacad, and Sacha Weygan. A few more rooms, which were not being used, were allocated by the Taba-ao Elementary School for GBDAIS-Taba-ao Extension use. The community came together to repair and repaint them. “When they considered one room ‘condemned’, we resurrected it,” narrates Prof. Fong. On June 4, 2007, the official first day of school, the DepEd-Cordillera granted approval of the extension.
Facing challenges ahead
The parents of the GBDAIS-Extension students do not need to pay tuition and matriculation fees, only P315 for miscellaneous fees. Laginia-Anton Inc. provides the salaries of the three teachers (the allowance of the GP volunteers are provided by UP) and other resources and facilities, including use of the clan’s extensive library.
Still, they are far from being fully equipped, but they have made do with their resources. Dr. Comom relates how, during the Intrams, “the pupils had to go to a different barangay’s basketball court because there is no court in Taba-ao. For track and field, they run the length of the Amburayan Bridge.” They share use of the elementary school, such as running up and down the stone steps for Physical Education classes and holding assembly at the school grounds after the elementary students. They also share the rest rooms.
When asked what materials the school still needs, Dr. Comom ticks off a long list: our own building, computers, science equipment, sports equipment, industrial tools, agricultural equipment, electrical supplies, audio visual equipment, and kitchen supplies.
Before the end of the school year, the community had to face a new challenge: finding resources to accommodate the now 87 students who will be in second year high school come June 2008.
“We have no funding yet, but we are soliciting for the first high school building. The plans are already prepared,” relays Prof. Fong. Through a Contract of Usufruct, a 5,000sqm lot within the Tabaao Elementary School campus has been delineated for construction of the new building. It will consist of two floors with a total of six rooms and comfort rooms.
“The goal is to finish at least three classrooms by June to accommodate the students,” adds Prof. Fong. And with the community’s determination and concerted effort, there is no doubt that their dream will soon become a reality.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS
Inspired? Your community can pool together to make things happen, too—whether it’s to build a school or any other worthwhile endeavor.
1. GOT TO HAVE FAITH. “We believed that we could make it happen,” says Prof. Jimmy Fong. However daunting the task, there’s a lot to be said for leaving no room for doubt when you’re pursuing an important goal.
2. PERSEVERANCE PAYS. Of course, a positive mindset should be accompanied by unwavering effort. Even when you encounter challenges, you must push on. Prof. Fong always says, “Don’t quit!”
3. EVERYBODY NOW. Dr Comom says, “Hindi mahirap para sa amin kasi may suporta, especially from the Taba-ao Parents, Teachers, and Community Association and Laginia-Anton. They have the will and the resources to help us.”
4. SHARE. Dr. Comom acknowledges the value and power of community spirit: “There was a wave of sharing—sharing of resources, of knowledge, of time and energy. Every one contributed.”