CARDONA, RIZAL – Along the fringes of the province of Rizal quietly sits a school that has been serving as a home for over 800 students and 33 faculty and staff. This home has stood tall since 1994, amidst what one woman would come to witness to be its recent series of heartbreaking conditions.
A look inside its walls would reveal windows too broken to shield students from the rain and the heat, benches that threatened to split apart when seated upon, and a roof made merely of tarpaulin. Although a learning haven, this school posed some physical dangers to students. Situated within untamed greenery, the school sometimes catches little snakes that find their way in. The pathway used most by children to walk towards their school is without a roof and enclosure, forcing them to tread carefully, especially amidst torrential rain.
It never had to be like this.
Being a public learning institution, government funds could easily remedy the structural dangers plaguing this school. However, most of the province of Cardona had come to know that public funds are often held too tightly within the grasp of political inefficiency to be used. It is a sad reality that this school has also come to know and accept.
But if there’s a lesson that it embodies, that would be the lesson of resilience.
Instead of shutting down from the weight of its struggles, it knows how to stand strong.
Perhaps that is what endured this school and this community to a woman made exactly of the same brand of resilience.
Her name is Melisa Santos Reyes.
A mother of three, she looks after all her children by herself.
“I am a widow who is currently at the hardest stage of my life,” she says, “because my husband has recently died last November 3, 2016 due to cancer.”
It was in the middle of an out-of-town training for CheckMySchool (CMS) in Cebu City when she got the news about his illness.
Photo: Melissa together with other area coordinators and CMS secretariat.
“As a member of the Municipal Planning Development Council and a co-signatory at one of DILG’s Bottom-Up Budgeting Program, I had been invited to attend a meeting with the ANSA Foundation,” she narrates.
“I became interested when they spoke of education, their advocacy and their mission-vision. It got me thinking about how the government is supposed to look out equally for everyone and how, despite that, problems in some areas are still behind in terms of resolution,” she shares.
“Then and there, I decided to become a volunteer and help in executing the program of CMS,” she says proudly.
Melisa had gone to Cebu, wide-eyed with fellow volunteer Emily Sanchez Matias, picturing an adventure. A number of questions, revolving around the general state of the greater world, the public sector education in particular, was swarming in her head – yearning to be answered. It was a social awakening brewing within Melisa.
However, that would be interrupted a few days into training, when she would receive a call from her son.
“The doctor found that my husband had Stage 4 cancer of the lungs,” she says dejectedly.
It felt like the rug pulled from under her.
Melisa was torn between cutting short her training and flying back to Rizal for her husband. But he had immediately made the decision for her.
“He told me to stay, to complete my training,” Melisa says with a strained smile, “because my world should not revolve around him, he said.”
Moving with a heavy heart, Melisa found herself staying but dragging her feet to training.
There had been a number of urges to flee, but she remained, anchored by the words of her ill but courageous husband.
A grief-stricken but determined Melisa soon met the community of Catalino Salazar National High School (CSNHS). It was there that she found a place that struggled, as she did, with something that seemed beyond its control.
“It was heartbreaking to see the state CSNHS was in,” she says. “It doesn’t make sense for the school to be in so much neglect. It’s situated so near Manila, the seat of civilization, and yet it looks like it’s been left behind in development.”
Photo: One of the classrooms in Catalino Salazar National High School.
“All this,” Melisa says of CSNHS, “just because of politics.”
According to her, it was the local politics in Cardona that lead to CSNHS’ decline in conditions. Inefficiency in politics was also believed by locals to be the main reason. But unlike most people from Cardona and CSNHS, Melisa believed something could be done about this problem.
“When I learned that there were allocated funds for the school, I immediately made an appointment with the council and committee of education, and our supervisor, Mr. Tirso Arambullo. A promise was soon made to resolve the problems of CSNHS,” she shares.
Setting aside her grief for a greater cause, Melisa buckled down and resolved to see this promise fulfilled.
“I went back and forth between stakeholders every day for almost two weeks, and my efforts bore fruit: the most pressing problem of the school – the dangerous pathway – was repaired,” she recounts with a smile.
“The BUB funds for the school had also soon been released. With the help of CMS member Wilson Villones, CSNHS now has a proper classroom and pathway,” she continues.
Far from the dismal state it found itself in, the CSNHS community now enjoys better facilities, and most importantly, a better access to funds it has always been entitled to.
Though straddled with a structural and seemingly insurmountable challenge, the school, with the help of CMS and Melisa, was able to transcend its struggles and come out of it as a better institution and a better community.
Melisa herself felt a transformation within her.
“A job I never thought I could handle, I was able to see through. Thanks to CMS, I learned that I could be strong. CMS has served as my therapy for the sadness I had felt back in my early volunteer days.
“I’m grateful for CMS because it not only helped me through the sadness I had felt, but it also molded me into a better person – critical of societal issues and proactive in their resolution,” concludes Melisa.
Contributed by: Melisa Santos Reyes
Edited by: Kimberly Arriola