In search of Good Teachers

August 14, 2013 Voluntourism

One of the annual PR projects I look forward to is The Many Faces of the Teacher of Bato Balani Foundation and Diwa Learning Systems.  I find it an honor to be able to meet and interview teachers who have really inspiring stories. 

Weeks before the Tribute to Teachers, an annual gathering of teachers where The Many Faces of the Teachers honorees are presented, I am called to do a profile of each teacher for our communication program.  

This year, I am more privileged because I was assigned to go and interview candidates for the search. From the 12 finalists, the final 4 honorees will be selected.  

Eight teachers were assigned to me so I traveled to Baguio City, Dumaguete City, General Santos City, Davao City and Iloilo City.

All of the teachers I interviewed were truly inspiring but one really touched me to the core.  Maybe, it was because we have the same passion, and that is serving children who live in the mountains.

Getting the Assignment

Davao City was not an area assigned to me.  However, when the staff from Bato Balani Foundation found out that Teacher Randy works in the mountain, they requested me to take this interview.  They knew I was a fan of hiking.

Of course I agreed.  A year ago, I met two inspiring teachers who work in the same district of Davao City.  They were Teachers Brimbhot Eyas and Bryan Carreon. 

So, I grabbed the opportunity to visit the district where they work.  I decided to just take a bus from General Santos City to Davao City.

The possibly not so friendly mountain dwellers

The night before I flew to Mindanao, I had drinks with one of the editors of Davao City and I told him about the area assigned to me.  He warned me that there are rebels in the area.  I was alarmed.  

I have been mountain climbing for years but that was the first time I would be climbing without people I know or trust.  The foundation did offer me a companion but I decided I would rather do it alone than climb with a young and inexperienced hiker.  

The foundation was also assured that it was a safe area.

Meeting Teacher Randy Halasan

We decided to meet at Ecoland to take the bus to Marilog District.   Our meeting time was 9:00 AM but Teacher Randy arrived late.  It was excusable because Teacher Randy is always in the mountains so he took advantage of the time he was in the city to file reports.  

The ride took more than an hour because of the traffic in Davao City.  Our first stop was the district superintendent's office.  Teacher Randy had to file reports and I took advantage of the time to interview people in the district.

We finished lunch time, took a quick lunch then rode a van to the jump-off site.

There we took a habal-habal.  Teacher Randy sat at the back of the driver and then me after.  It was my first time to ride a habal-habal installed with wooden planks.  Those were to accommodate other passengers but we just used the extension for our things.

It was about a 10 kilometer ride on a super rough road.   It was scary but since the experience is new, I appreciated it.  It helped that we had a good, sweeping view of the mountains.

An hour later, we arrived at Patag, which is a very unusual name for a mountainous area.  We rested for a while then started our trek to Sitio Pegalongan.  It was already past 4PM.

Trekking to Pegalongan 

I enjoyed the descent to the first river.  I was told it was going to be an easy three hour trek so I was not worried about the time.  It was a relaxed walk and Teacher Randy entertained me with his stories about the village.  I was also busy taking photos for my documentation. 

I was in my usual hiking garb -- a bandana, long sleeves trekking polo, convertible trekking pants, wool socks and hi-cut trekking shoes.  So, I had pretty comfortable attire.

Really, the first hour was a walk in the park.  Everything was so cool, until I saw the first river.  

Normally, when we cross rivers, we have our safety gear.   

Well, that time, we had none.   

Sinod river was about thigh deep.  The current was strong and so I had to be assisted by Teacher Randy and the PTA President of Pegalongan Elementary School, Padales Mabasag.  

After crossing the river, I requested a few minute rest break for me to regain my composure.  The other Pegalongan residents who were on their way home rested with us.  

After about five minutes, one of the teachers with us, Dexter Separa, pointed to me the spot where a rebel was found dead about two weeks before.  That scared me a bit but it was either I continue walking to the sitio or climb back up to Patag.  I was already, in my mind, about 1/3 of the journey.  

I continued.

From the river, we climbed up Mt. Bangkilan.  It was actually a good time to hike.  The weather was cool.  We had at least an hour before sunset.  It was tiring but I already got my groove.  

Teacher Dexter Gadia (yes, there are two Teacher Dexters) told me I was on silent mode.  They expected me to be constantly complaining and requesting for a rest.  I actually wanted to rest more often but I also wanted to reach Sitio Pegalongan early.

After more than an hour of straight ascent, we reached what they call their bus stop or our major rest stop.  From that point, we would be descending to the village so I decided to take my time enjoying the view.  The moon was starting to peek.  It was a full moon.

The trail down was challenging and very slippery.  I had to be assisted often.  I also took the opportunity to ask Teacher Randy more questions, which started with the history of Pegalongan.

I was told that after a great flood, the locals saw light shine from the area so they named it Pegalongan.  He also told me about the first settlers.  He said we would meet his sons.  Then, he told me about the tribal warriors, that they merged with the military forces, which created the citizen army to fight the rebels.  He followed that there were plans to stage a protest because of some issues but he had to request them to postpone it because of my visit.

Wooaahhh!!!  Deep breaths.  Focus on the trail.  That was what I told myself.  I survived so many mountains.  This would be one of them.

So, after more than an hour of trekking, we reached another river - Davao River.

So, Sinod River, which was thigh deep, got me scared.  The Davao River was chest deep.  It was also not calm.  Its waters were raging.  It was crazy.  But, there was also no turning back.

More locals came to assist us.  They asked me to just hold on to them and to watch out for logs on the riverbed.  The logs were from the illegal loggers in Bukidnon.  

So, at 7:30 PM, on a full moon, I crossed Davao River with no safety equipment.  It was a very intense leg exercise.  It required a lot of control and we cannot stop even for just a second to rest.  Mt. Halcon's Dulangan River was no match.

Reaching Sitio Pegalongan

Sitio Pegalongan is located across the river.  It is home to the Matigsalog cultural group.  

It was already dark so we headed straight to the home of the teachers' adopted family.  There were so many welcoming smiles and greetings.  It was actually overwhelming.  It felt like graduation.

We had dinner then we rested.

The following day, I was up early.  It was drizzling and I was worried about the trail.  It would be more slippery.  Good thing it stopped raining at about 7AM.  

Teacher Randy asked me if I wanted to meet some of his students.  They just came from a long trek and just crossed the river.  

These students risk their lives everyday just to get an education. 

One of the tribal leaders Nardo Bayugan told me "Ang Maynila may mga tulay, walang ilog. Kami may ilog, walang tulay."

That is a very sad reality and very true.  

In my years of mountain climbing, meeting and helping children in the mountains, this was one of the most heartbreaking.  

We continued going around the village and I started interviewing people, including the tribal leaders.

They agreed with one thing, Teacher Randy is such a blessing to the village.  

For Teacher Randy, education is not enough.  How can he educate if his students are hungry?  So, he guided the people, asked them to organize, linked them to different organizations and got them seeds, a rice mill, a high school and new classrooms.

When Teacher Randy first arrived at Pegalongan, they were only planting root crops and corn.  

They now have vegetable gardens, nurseries for durable crops and are recipients of the current administration's greening program.

Teacher Randy has been teaching in Pegalongan for six years now.  He can be assigned somewhere else, somewhere easier, somewhere closer to civilization, but he chose to stay here.  Other Teachers came and went.  Teacher Randy stayed.

I saw the school's log book, even during summer months, Teacher Randy was here helping.

No wonder, he is a very respected member of the community.  Even in tribal affairs, he is consulted.

He also helped the school get new classrooms and worked on having a high school there in Pegalongan. His graduates stopped schooling after elementary because of the distance of the high school. 

Now, they can continue their studies. Teacher Randy is even looking at a vocational school for Pegalongan.

Leaving Pegalongan

My real purpose in visiting Pegalongan was to interview Teacher Randy.  My personal intention was to get inspired.  I accomplished both.

The trek back to our jump off point was more difficult.  The sun was up.  It was scorching hot.  It was like going through a washing machine (Davao River) then drier (mountains).  The ascent was more than the descent.  I had to cross the rivers again.  My clothes were damp.  I smelled.


But, this is one of the adventures I am most proud of.  I did it alone.  I did it for myself.  I did it for teachers.  I did it for people to know.  

My hope now is for Teacher Randy to win.  The other teachers I interviewed are equally deserving but if Teacher Randy wins, the whole community will benefit.  More people will know about this Matigsalog cultural community.  More people will know about their need for a hanging bridge.  More people will be inspired.  

But, I am not a judge of the competition.  The best I can do is just present his story well.  With God's help, I can.

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