By Bisai Ya
Today we share to you a humbling story of a public school teacher in the Philippines who spends her weekends teaching vagrants, poor and unschooled youths. Through volunteer teaching, she gave them a new lease on life. This volunteerism spirit has made us realize that education is a key to eradicating poverty in any society.
I vividly remembered in high school, being educated in a premier ladies institution Colegio dela Inmaculada Concepcion in Cebu, we were taught by the Daughters of Charity sisters to embrace love for the poor and the less fortunate. It was after all a trait and value we learned from our original founders Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise De Marillac. Saint Vincent is the founding Saint of the Daughters of Saint Vincent de Paul.
Because of our constant exposure to charitable works by the DC sisters, we grew up appreciating how it is to be of service to less fortunate people. We would often go to remote slum areas and distribute our bundles of joy. One student club called Children of Mary (COM) in CIC Cebu would perform periodical stage performances for unschooled youths to learn about Christianity and the religious stories, in many Cebu slums.
Twenty-five years after my high school graduation, I came in contact with a classmate who is now a public school teacher coaching elementary students in Mandaue, Cebu. We lovingly refer to her as Teacher Emilin Cutanda-Isahac.
Embracing a noble profession, Emilin shared to us the joys and fulfillment of a being teacher who also does a lot of teaching volunteer works on weekends under the Alternative Learning System (ALS), a test program of the Department of Education. She shared to us her joys at volunteering works to out of school youths in Mandaue and the uphill journey of their group in meeting the challenges.
Emilin shares, “Alternative Learning System (ALS) is a test project of the Department of Education Region 7 and by official definition of ALS, it is a non-traditional learning delivery to out-of-school children, youth and adults who may either be indigenous people, rebel-returnees, those living in highly inaccessible areas, persons with disability, jobless adults, senior citizen, drop-outs and others like housemaids, drivers, garbage collectors, street cleaners, vendors not served by formal education due to poverty.”
“The ALS set up is very relaxed, wherein we teach our students valuable lessons not confined in classrooms so they don’t get intimidated. The venue is outside of the normal classroom, usually we conduct it in a barangay centre or maybe a church courtyard, a cockpit, under the shade of tree or any other areas where learning can take place in a relaxed ambience for the students,” continues Emilin.
Emilin, being a fulltime teacher for the DepEd, along with few other co-public school teachers agreed to volunteer a major part of their teaching time to teach out-of-school youths (OSY) in Cebu using the ALS Program. These sessions are usually held on weekends at various locations usually remote or slum areas where there is greater number of unschooled youths residing.
“The ALS program has proved to be fruitful in attracting many out of school youths because our manner of communication is comfortable. We talk to them face to face, we try to handle it in the most friendly manner where our students do not out rightly feel intimidated by fellow students even when in the presence of us teachers.
We allow them to come to class in their most convenient clothes that they usually wear daily without imposing them standard uniform requirements. They all come from poor families and we understand some of them don’t even have spare clothes to come to class. Some of them even come slipper-less because they could not afford to get one”, adds Emilin.
“Each ALS class is facilitated by many of DepEd’s mobile teachers, and ALS facilitators and instructors. However in our area in Mandaue we have few volunteers and we try to spread out so we can cover several areas and several students at the same time.”
“I am delighted that the ALS program became very appealing to poor students. In this program we have three major levels namely: Basic Literacy Program (BLP), Accreditation and Equivalency Program (A&E) and Informal Education Program.
There are youths out there who have been schooled previously but stopped due to economic or health reasons. These may be learners who have stopped school for sometime and did not obtain elementary, high school or even college or vocational degrees. Or they could already be overage, however with this system they can easily go back to school via this ALS program.
From basic Literacy program they can move on to the A&E level. When they pass the A&E for elementary or high school, that means that his/her level of understanding is equivalent to elementary or high school students who graduated from formal school. Passing the exam being administered by the Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS) then can accredit them.
The ALS program in the Cebu District has produced excellent graduates like Ana M. Diores, a magna cum laude graduate of Bachelor of Pre-Elementary Education at the Cebu Institute of Technology and Kristine Y. Martinez, a magna cum laude graduate of the University of San Carlos with a degree on Library and Information Science.
Emilin said that the ALS program is doing well “because it has been talked about in the barangays where many poor families reside and many of them could not afford to send their children to formal school even to public school. The ALS has allowed us to get inside their homes and has given the poor parents and families hope of continuing education even when life for them has become much harder in view of the global economy and the looming recession spirit”.
She expressed gratitude to the ommunity charity group “Bisayababe” who also appointed her as one of their online facebook page admin. Bisayababe members has been instrumental in facilitating some of our needed teaching resources like projector screen so we don’t need to write our lessons in manila paper or cartolinas which gets wet during typhoon or rainy seasons“.
“A member donor donated a laptop so we can create our lessons plans without having to write them manually. With laptops we are able to pass and easily send digital lessons plans to every teacher via email and digital means. It makes our life much easier and hassle-free.”
“In 2011 a bisayababe donor who wish to remain anonymous came forward and donated a wall projector for us so we can accommodate more students in one class. This equipment helped us in our major classes and gatherings and introduced our learners to using IT technology products inour classes.”
“On important occasion when we would need to attend seminar for ALS volunteers which is usually held in Manila, we in Cebu gets to attend because our donors assisted us by helping pay for our seminar fees and plane fares. This is such a huge help on our part since we do not enjoy subsidy from the government body for these expenses and requisites. Our benevolent sponsors and donors are the ones that fire us up to continue doing our teaching volunteer works.”
“Early this year when our latest batch of ALS learners graduated, we had a simple ceremony and again our loving donors contributed cash so we could buy simple rubber shoes and white tshirts for their graduation uniforms. Oh you should see the happiness in their faces as they march on stage to be recognized for their achievement. It is such bliss to see them look so happy and hungry to learn more.”
We were so touched by what Teacher Emilin has shared with us. She and some of her co-volunteer teachers are wishing that many would assist them propagating the program inorder to offer affordable and easy education even to the poorest of the poor.
“Even if we don’t have proper learning sites, our learners are happy to be taught even in old or vacated warehouses. They are just too happy too happy to learn. They are happiest when they are able to hold pen or pencils in their hands and able to write a complete sentence, even of their grammar needs a lot of improvement.”
“These learners are happiest too when they are able to read sentences or paragraph without interruptions. Our visual aids are the usual manila papers cut and pasted on blackboards painstakingly prepared by teachers or sometimes borrowed from school or books from the public library. We could not afford to buy books, so we end up begging for old books from students in private or public schools. We use to lend them to learners to take home so they have something to review and learn at home.”
“We try our best to reward their families too with incentives like a kilo of rice if they allow their kids to attend or not miss a class. Some parents of our learners would prefer their kids to go out working in the streets rather than attend classes since these kids are made as breadwinners of their families. We try to persuade parents to send their kids to our classes and in return we give them a kilo of rice or some viands that the kids can take home to their families to eat.”
“We also look after their spiritual welfare by making them attend Recollection session where they are taught about religion and faith and at the same time to know more about their spiritual side and growth,” shares Emilin.
As a parting shot, we asked Emilin what would be their group’s wish list from possible donors known to OSM! and she gladly says:
“We need additional laptops for our other volunteer teachers. Raincoats for our students, shoes, slippers. Our current salaries do not allow us the capability to buy from our own pockets. Oftentimes our manila papers get spoiled through constant pasting and use and we always run out of materials especially when we go in separate groups to different barangays or poor camps. A laptop would allow us to prepare our materials quicker than usual and also projector (even second hand will gladly do) would allow us to conduct learning to many students especially when we are teaching to more than 20 students at a time,” she said.
To know more about ALS and Teacher Emilin and her group, please visit the website www.wix.com/bisayababe/bisayababe.