Ipinaskil ni: sandraguinaldo | Agosto 28, 2007

The Children of Sindangan

I’ve done many stories throughout my career as a journalist but the story of Mildred touched my heart in ways that I can never really put into words. Sometimes, I can’t help but think – what if I was in her situation? I imagine myself in Mildred’s shoes, waking up very early every in the morning, leaving our family hut – located on a hill – and walking to school at the bottom of that hill. Actually, she doesn’t own any shoes but her rubber slippers are sturdy enough to walk the rough road for two hours, five days a week. Mildred is one of the students of Sindangan Elementary School in Macrohon, Southern Leyte — the number one public elementary school in the Philippines based on the results of the latest National Achievement Test (NAT). The Department of Education (DepEd) conducts the annual NAT to measure the readiness of grade six students for high school.

To get to Barangay Sindangan, I traveled for almost five hours by land from Tacloban airport. I was all set to film a documentary on the country’s best public elementary school. But when I saw the school, I was taken aback and I thought, “Am I at the right place?” Sindangan Elementary School has only about 10 classrooms for its more than 200 students. There’s a small library half-filled with English books donated by an American school. Two computers from Dep-Ed were still inside their boxes. School principal Virginia Cortina said the computers are useless unless the whole school’s electrical wiring is fixed. They, however, don’t have funds for this. Even the clinic, save for the wooden bed, was empty. I was deep in thought – still reeling from the initial shock of the school’s situation, when the laughter of children in a classroom caught my attention.

Grade six students, including Mildred, were playing a game in their Math class. Divided into groups, they were competing with one another to solve a mathematical problem. The winner gets stickers shaped like a star which are collected to show one’s achievement. “I want them to enjoy Math. They easily learn the lesson if I do it this way,” teacher Lea explained. Never mind, she said, if she uses her own money to buy materials in order to make her creative teaching aids. Aside from dedicated teachers, the school conducted Saturday review classes to prepare the students for the NAT. Parents offered their support by bringing merienda (snacks) to their children.

When class ended at 4 pm that day, I walked with Mildred and her friends who were on their way home. I was going to use her story as my case study for my documentary. It was a long walk but I enjoyed looking at the nipa houses that lined the road, their doors wide open as if welcoming strangers to their humble abode. Gardens displayed orchids and bougainville in full bloom. We even came across a farmer and his carabao (water buffalo) on their way home. An hour of walking on rough roads later, we finally reached Mildred’s house. She kissed her mother’s hand, changed into house clothes and started doing her homework. In the evening, Mildred helped her mother prepare dinner. While she gathers wood chips to light their small stove, her brother collected malunggay for dinner.

It was already dark when her father arrived home. “Umaakyat sya sa puno para kumuha ng niyog na ginagawang copra (He climbs coconut trees to pick out coconuts used to make copra.),” Mildred said of her father’s work. As we talked, I realized that even at a young age Mildred already has a deep appreciation of her family’s condition. “Mahirap. Umaakayat sya sa puno tapos kami nasa ibaba lang, para may pambaon kami. Minsan may baon ako, minsan wala (Life is hard. My father works hard so we can have some money to buy food when we go to school. Sometimes, we don’t get any allowance at all.),” she said while trying to control her tears. She has four siblings. Her eldest sister works as a maid in Cavite City while another sister is in high school, thanks to an aunt who pays for her education. A younger sister and her brother are in grade school. Mildred is aware of her family’s condition and she’s worried that her parents cannot afford to send her to high school. And with this thought, tears rolled down Mildred’s face. But the determination in her voice told me she’s not asking for pity. She then confided to me her plan to send herself to school. She knew that she needed a job to do this so she’s thinking of working as a maid. “Mag-wo-work ako, pero sa bahay lang, ayoko ng mabigat na trabaho,” she said bravely wiping away her tears and looking me straight in the eye. Already, Mildred is looking forward to the world outside their village. She intends to finish a course in education and become a teacher. “Sabi ng mga magulang ko, kapag hindi ako nag-aral, hanggang dito na lang ako. (My parents said if I don’t finish school, I’ll never get out of this kind of life.)”

The young girl dreams of buying things for her parents like a television and a refrigerator. She wants to see all her favorite food — noodles, vegetables and canned goods – served on the family’s table. These things we seem to take for granted, but to Mildred and her family, it’s like a feast. As if preparing for her future profession, Mildred and two other sixth graders wake up early to conduct Saturday morning classes. It’s their turn to teach the younger children in the community. The day care center was soon filled with kids aged three to seven, eager to learn their lessons — reading English words and counting numbers. The sixth graders, like real teachers, encourages dancing and singing in between the lessons so the children won’t get bored. An hour after the class began, I saw Mildred slipping out of the room. She went to a nearby sari-sari store to buy candies. She said the candies serve as incentive to keep the children coming to her class every Saturday. “Ito yung snack nila. Tinitipid ko ang baon ko para may pambili ako ng candy tuwing Sabado. (This is their snack. I save my allowance so I can buy candy for them every Saturday.)” Since she only had two pesos, she got to buy only three pieces of candies. I was shocked when she borrowed a knife and started chopping them to pieces. “Para kumasya (so, every kid will have a share),” she said smiling while I stared at her, speechless.

Back in the classroom, Mildred distributed the candies to her “students” who eagerly ate them. But the candies were not enough, leaving two kids sad – almost to tears. I can’t find the words to explain how I felt when I saw that. Put yourself in their shoes and imagine yourself as a kid again, with a candy in your hand and a burning desire to share it with other kids. Imagine yourself splitting the candy to several pieces just so everyone will have a share of what you have. Perhaps, it takes less than a minute to melt that tiny piece in your mouth…leaving you wondering what a candy really tastes like. I realized we, who are fortunate enough, take too many things for granted. The children of Sindangan taught me to appreciate life’s little blessings – that I didn’t have to walk that long to get to school…that I didn’t have to worry about my education…that I had candies for myself and my playmates. POSTCRIPT: Following the airing of the documentary “Iskul Ko No.1” which focused on the children of Sindangan Elementary School, Pinoys started contributing to help the students and their school. Donations may be coursed through World Vision, an international NGO. Simply log on to www.worldvision.org.ph and tell them your intention to help the children of Sindangan Elementary School in Macrohon, Southern Leyte.

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Responses

  1. i don’t know what to say. Nahihiya ako sa sarili ko.

    Nung nag aaral ako, puro reklamo ako pag kulang ang pera ko, at pag hindi mapagbigyan ang mga wishes ko.

    Tapos itong mga batang ito, naglalakad ng mahigit dalawang oras makapasok lang. Walang baon. Walang sapatos.

    Nakaka-guilty talaga.

    Oh well. Life.

  2. I read this article in utter amazement. I was in Sindangan October of 07 for a period of 12 days.

    1st. It is about a 90 min van drive along a cost highway 2 lane from the Dipolog Airport on the Island of Mindanao. The roads around Sindangan are paved and are in pretty good repair. There are but very few people who cook with wood chips in a stove, most have a two burner bottle gas stove. There are some Nippa Huts in the rural areas, they are of fine construction. Are the people here poor? Oh my yes. Most wear sandals and rubber flip flops because it is hot, can be humid and they are cheap, but an ocean breeze is pretty common.

    Now is there a school of that name on Leyte, maybe.

    So after the authors visit. What did she do to improve the lives of anyone there

  3. This is one of the most moving stories I’ve read, and for that, thanks so much to you, Sandra. These children deserve all the help we can give them. I intend to pay them a visit this March, give something that they may find useful, perhaps, in addition to what World Vision is already providing them. And I really wish to meet Mildred. I need to personally thank her and let her know that I genuinely look up to her.

  4. joel, were you able to visit the sindangan kids last march?
    just to update you guys, the kids graduated last march. the kids i interviewed are now entering high school because of the help of many filipinos whose lives they touched with their stories.
    will be posting the graduation photos of the kids soon.

  5. dave, sorry for the late response.
    im still amazed at how people react to the story of these kids. right after our station (gma network) aired the documentary, we got countless calls from people who wanted to send them to school or give them shoes and candies.
    this was the reason why our documentary program (i-witness) had to partner with world vision. we want to help by keeping them in school and its not an easy task.
    im glad to report to you that they have recently enrolled in a high school near their village through the help of donors. to find out how you can help, just visit the world vision website and say you want to donate to the children of sindangan. im worried that there are more kids not featured in our show that need help. thanks dave!

  6. Hi Sandra!

    Sorry as I was able to read your message just now. Yup! My friend and I were able to go to Sindangan to visit the school for a couple of days. It was the perfect time, actually, since we paid them a visit right on their graduation day! We distributed all the gifts after the program. Medyo maulan nga eh pero ok lang. I met all of them! Teacher Leah (though she’s already transfered to Alfaro), Mildred, Abigail, Ma’am Virginia, and of course, Ma’am Eugene (who was generous enough to welcome us in her home).

    I still have contact with Ms. Leah as she’s overseeing Ruben Maitem’s schooling. We were able to gather enough funds so we decided to use the money to help him with his high school education. I plan to go back there next year to have a update.

    Ms. Leah told me that you were both given an award by La Salle just recently. Congratulations! I really wanted to go Manila Pen to congratulate you both personally but I’m really swamped with work these days.

    There’s so much to be said, Sandra, and you have no idea how grateful I am to you for being the bridge that helped embark on this journey leading to the realization of one of my bigger dreams. I sent out thank you cards to all my friends who shared, and I want you to have one, too. If you won’t mind sana to send me your email add so I can send it to you. Mine’s Joel.Peralta@db.com.

    Here pala are the links to my blogs and photos on my Sindangan life experience. Please feel free to view them if you have time.

    http://jopearl.multiply.com/journal/item/24
    http://jopearl.multiply.com/journal/item/23
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/99726428@N00/page3/

  7. And I almost forgot…I visited your blog again in hopes of finding another school for the second installment of this project (which I hope would continue for as long as it’s needed). You see, the company I’m working for is already considering to support it! (Yey!) They’re asking me for a brilliant proposal to include among our corporate social responsibility programs. I watched your docu entitled, “Iskulelat”, and I thought at that time that it would be the perfect follow up to Sindangan. But then again, I started to have reservations with regard to safety because of clan wars. I’m hoping you still have a few other schools to suggest, Ma’am Sandra. I’d be very obliged.

    Thanks much and god speed!

  8. hi sandra…kagabi ko lang napanood ng buo ang dokyu..ang galing!


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