Contributed by Ramel Palapo
Some of the 200 pupils of Guntong Elementary School in Midsayap, North Cotabato.
I have been volunteering for CheckMySchool (CMS) since its inception in 2011. Now, I am one of the coordinators in North Cotabato, assigned in the municipality of Midsayap, covering 45 schools.
Most of the schools are really hard to reach for various reasons. Some are located on the mountainous part of the province, while some are in far flung barangays that we can only reach by boat. One of these schools is Guntong Elementary School located in a remote village where poor Muslim families live.
Pupils of Guntong ES used to cross the river on a boat, steered by their own principal, Lucman Nacob. This was their daily commute to school for nine years as they only had one boat at that time. In 2017, I coordinated with Yellow Boat Foundation and they donated 50 boats for Guntong ES. Now, parents share the task of bringing the pupils to school.
Mr. Lucman Nacob walks around the school he’s been serving as a principal.
There are also schools in our province that are most difficult to access because they are situated in the conflict zones. Sometimes, teachers and pupils are caught in between bullets of the military and armed men. The sound of guns being fired as they get down to the ground became a usual scenario for the children. This makes it difficult for them to study and for us, as coordinators, to help them.
But I believe in the saying, ‘If there’s a will, there’s a way”. We were able to reach and gather issues from these schools and not long after, I received death threats through text messages. My mother begged me to stop. I was scared too, but the thought of the innocent children who have been living under the same fear somehow made me brave.
Malingao Elementary School was one of the schools with security issue to which we responded by calling the attention of the local government of Midsayap, as well as the Philippine National Police. Since then, they have been deploying a number of our uniformed men which lessened the presence of local rebel groups.
Sad to say, not every story had a happy ending. There were schools that we failed to assist because of unstable peace and order in our region.
CMS Coordinator Ramel Palapo gathering issues of the public schools in the municipality of Midsayap, North Cotabato.
What I love most about CMS is its advocacy which, over the years, became my own. It’s very challenging and very fulfilling at the same time. Every solved issue is an inspiration for me to keep going.
I’ve been praying for a partnership with the organizations we’ve been working with for years now in order for CMS to have sustainable operations in North Cotabato. My goal is to encourage out-of-school youth to come back to school or to them find an alternative way of learning, at least.
I am also hoping to meet more people who have the passion for development work and volunteering for the betterment of our educational system. It can really make a big difference if we would commit our time in helping our community realize how important education is so that our country would prosper. Our children are our future leaders. We should teach them that books and pens– not guns– are our most potent tool to combat poverty and injustice.
If there’s any issue, problem or anything that you think needs improvement in your school, let us know if CMS can help. Go to http://www.checkmyschool.org/cms-can-help/.