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Iba na ang mga Bata Ngayon June 9, 2007

Posted by Janjan in All, Seriously now….
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Nota bene: This particular entry was written by my good friend Mia Borja, a former corporate princess of the business outsourcing world, thrust by responsibility and duty back to her hometown of Iligan, where she supports herself and her family by teaching at the Mindanao State University.  May this paint a real picture of the lives and hopes of our brothers and sisters in the province.

I remember saying that the first time I taught in a classroom. “Iba na ang mga bata ngayon.” I said it when I was barely 22. Now, four years later, I still find myself saying the same thing, but meaning it differently. So much differently.

One can easily blame the internet, free porn, SMS, Kris Aquino, or those questionable “stars” on Pinoy Big Brother. My classes this semester easily look like a reflection of that thought: 320 wide-eyed, horribly impressionable, amazingly troubled teens divided into 6 classes, all held in the most dilapidated (and certainly the hottest) buildings of the campus.

Yesterday was my university’s first day of school. I surveyed my classroom and I must say, it’s always an interesting sight. I teach no less than 40 students per room, and I usually expect the usual combination of Muslims, pretty private school girls, “astig” public school kids, punks, hip-hop boys, and some international/half-something kids.

But yesterday was a different yesterday.

I took a look at the sea of faces frantically fanning themselves in the lunchtime heat and thought that I would once again embark on an uphill climb; teaching these kids English they may never use, correcting pronunciation of words that they barely need, or conversation skills they will hastily put away at the end of the sem. So, resigned to that fact, I checked attendance and asked where these kids where from.

I was shocked to hear many of their stories. Only when I called attendance did I realize the harsh truth about what many of my kids really go through just to get an education. The usual introduction went like this:

“Hi, my name is Gail. I’m a graduate from ____ High School from Zamboanga del Norte. It takes me 24 hours to go there from here. I have to ride 5 buses to get to my home town.”

“Hello, my name is Steven. I’m a graduate of _____ and I am a scholar. My father was a policeman who got shot. My mother, I don’t know where she is. I am here with my 2 younger brothers, and I want to be an engineer someday.”

“Hi, my name is Lorreymae. I am a scholar here in Mindanao State University. My father sent me here, because he said it was like Ateneo.”

“My name is Jo Ruel…I live an hour from here but I have to live with my aunt here. I hope that you will not assign many xerox expenses ma’am, because I do not have enough money for the jeep sometimes.”

“Hi, I am Arbi, and I am a scholar. I walk here everyday. My mother, she is in Hong Kong but I have to be a scholar because she cannot give enough money for me and my three sisters.”

I knew from the beginning that my students, being in a public school, would usually come from the lower ends of the social spectrum. But as to how low, I would still be amazed. A 23-unit semester costs only 2000 pesos at most, and yet many of them still have to be scholars because 2000 is a figure that is still far too much for their families. There were almost a hundred students of mine who were literally from the mountains where they barely had electricity and where they had to carry baon in banana leaves to school. Some where from lumad tribes, who were forced to come down to the city by their elders because their lands had been taken from them. Some of them had seen armed conflict and had their barangays burned down. Some easily admitted to having friends in rogue extremist armies. Their parents sold calamansi and salt in the market. All of them had a story to tell.

These kids were the stuff I would only see in documentaries and ethnic spectacles.

Someone once told me that the Philippines was a rich country pretending to be poor. I could’ve slapped reality in his face today. The Philippines is not pretending to be anything. We are poor. We are very poor. If that person could have the balls to trade one day of his air-conditioned life for an hour in suffocating heat with my kids, maybe then he would never again gripe at the pseudo-mess his life was in. There are bigger decisions in life, much bigger than having the cafe latte or the mochaccino. Much bigger than which Havaianas to wear tomorrow. Much bigger than my broken heart.

One cannot look at these kids’ trusting eyes and say they were not shaken.

These kids make me ashamed of complaining about why I can’t go to Boracay next month, or why I can’t find my way back to the private corporate ladder. These kids show me the face of poverty everyday at 7:30 in the morning, lest I forget that the latest eyeshadow palette can easily pay for their entire semester’s tuition. Everytime I come across colleagues who have made a way better life for themselves in big cities while drinking martinis, I now have slowly stopped wishing I had their “fabulous, glamourous” existence.

These kids make me feel small, shallow, and hollow. How I wished I never had them in my class so I never would have to face the truth about poverty. How I wish I could ignore the brittle hair, the tattered shoes, the faded and oversized t-shirts they wore. Their struggles make my neurosis superficial; they make my quarterlife crisis seem luxurious.

Now I am branded with an inconvenient conscience and I am afraid.

As a public school teacher, I am afraid I cannot deliver. I am afraid that by September, that by next year, that in four years, their lives will still not be any different than today’s. That they will not be able to make ends meet; after all, poverty typically breeds poverty.

There is so much to fear, but fear is a luxury no one in my classroom can afford. If they can carry a bayong-full of clothes and topload on a jeep down to this university, then I could very well probably step up and teach them a thing or two about job interviews and how to carry a decent conversation.

Iba na talaga ang mga bata ngayon. They are poorer, hungrier, and much more disillusioned than before. But they are also tougher, more determined, and more eager to alleviate their lives because they know the cold truth: no one will help them do so. Not the government. Not the fancy charity events. Not NGO’s who brag about being “youth empowerment” and do not deliver. Not peace relief organizations that have yet to have something to show.

So they take it upon themselves to ride 5 buses and 3 habal-habals for 24 hours just to sit in infuriatingly hot classrooms where they might at least see a faint glimmer of hope. They are different.

They are amazing.

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