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PIA Press Release

Feature: Private school in the highlands

By Russtum G. Pelima

Kiamba, Sarangani (28 July) -- With high spirits of volunteerism and the heart to help poor schoolchildren, volunteer employees from Smart Communications, Inc. (Smart), with its Read-to-be-Smart Adopt-a-School Program, had to climb a mountain with boxes of books and school bags.

Tired and exhausted at the middle of the all-uphill trek, the volunteers wondered how could they ever make their way back to their helpless vehicles in the afternoon.

But seeing the village schoolchildren of Falel Community Elementary School waving their hands and shouting at the other end of the Tamadang bridge to meet them, all their troubles went away.

They regained strength, and when they reached the school at the top of the mountain, the volunteers found more reasons to help the school community.

The children's happy smiles were now obvious - for 13 years, it is first time assistance like this had reached them.

The school overlooks the town, the forested lowlands, beautiful greeneries of Kiamba rice fields, and the Celebes Sea.

But Falel Community School a private school - bore pains and challenges of years in existence. It was originally established by the Santa Cruz Mission in 1995 but had forgotten it after a year. So United States' Partners for First People funded the school with maximum of $500 per month for volunteer teachers and school supplies for the Tboli kids.

For all these and more of painfully providing nonetheless education to the children, is a mean friend and school head Juanito Sampan, who stood up for the school and recounted his meaningful years here.

"Parang imposible (It was almost impossible)," Sampan said. "Pero nagawa namin."

The children had to walk two kilometers and a half to reach the school every day, some of them in bare foot. "Three years after we started, the school had actually no books. We just teach them reading and writing the best way we can," the school head said.

"When Smart arrived, I know the parents and the children were very happy. I saw it in their faces. It's the first time that help reaches our community," Sampan added.

Haydee Bernabe and the Smart volunteer employees brought with them general references books and manuals for the teachers for Grades I to VI and story books for the Grade I pupils. A reading corner donated by Smart is furnished with a book shelf, reading table and stools too.

The land where the school was built was donated by now barangay captain Rudy Tagum. The school utilizes only two of the seven-hectare land donation.

The school has one main structure with three classrooms where teachers combine two grade levels in each room. A makeshift building made of kalakat (fixed bamboo stripes) is used for Grade I pupils.

It holds 82 village pupils. So the school head can't help but smile seeing the children wearing their Read-to-be-Smart t-shirts and schoolbags in uniform, for the first time.

"It's not surprising that some of these children cannot read. They were even amazed opening the picture books, see and touch with their own hands these books at the reading corner," Sampan pointed out.

In July 22, at the turnover of Smart's reading corner to nearby Badtasan Primary School, another Tboli community, Mayor Rom Falgui thanked Smart and said the local government is doing its best to upgrade and intensify the learning of children.

"Importante gyud kayo ang pagtudlo sa mga tao (It is really important that we should strengthen our human resources)," he said.

The local government, with Synergeia Foundation, launched the Comprehensive Learning Assistance and Support for Schoolers by Mayor Rom (CLASSROM) last July 4. CLASSROM aims to gain support for quality education from the community especially the parents.

"Education is one of our flagship programs and we have the commitment to help," said Atty. Maria Jane Paredes, Smart Public Affairs Manager for Visayas and Mindanao.

Volunteer employees in General Santos City will have scheduled visits to conduct reading and story-telling sessions to the children.

"Poverty is not a hindrance to education," Paredes stressed.

Kiamba National High School and Kiamba Central Elementary School are also recipients of Smart school program.

In Kiamba, Falel Community School has the lowest reading comprehension and the Badtasan Primary School has the lowest participation in terms of enrolment.

Next to the Blaan, the Tbolis are the second largest indigenous group in Sarangani.

Falel is part of Barangay Tamadang where the native term was taken from marang, an exotic fruit that once abundantly grew in the place. (PIO Sarangani/PIA SarGen) [top]

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