(I was asked to write this, in lieu of a report for South Korea, relating to my experiences teaching the kids of Alawon. I was then appointed as the JTS Mindanao Communication Officer)


I will be honest, the first minute I was in front of Alawon’s children, I wish I could run away. After all my best intentions and well-laid plans, I found myself at a lost as to what to say. But it wasn’t because I just walked 18 kilometers to get to their classroom to teach; or that I just spent all my energy with the bamboo bell that disrupted the quiet calmness of the community, just because there is no other way I can call the kids from a mile away to school.

Maybe it’s because of the children’s expectant faces and the sight of tiny hands clutching worn-out plastic filled with unused notebooks. Or maybe because, in the first place, what do you teach a class with kids that range from 3 to 16 years old?

The vast variety of maturity level of my students did not make them all together different from each other. This is apparent in what they do not know:

I made use of the chart on Filipino fruits, more than half of it they have never seen in their lives. I referred to another chart that the JTS gave about Filipino Games, but they stared at it without recognition.

I ask them if they’ve heard of Math. Blank looks.

I asked them if they know what a color is. More blank looks.

I got stones to teach them addition and subtraction, the little kids played with it. I asked them if they know the game “The boat is sinking” so that they can get acquainted to numbers, they do not even know what a boat is (barko, baroto, bangka – these are all types of boats in Visayan but these all sound foreign to them).

When I proceeded with an alternative game anyway, two little girls cried because they do not know how to play. When I also called someone to the front to introduce herself, she was so scared to be put in the spotlight, she promptly cried too. In fact, the class started with a loud wailing, as a flustered 10-year old brought in with her, her apparently unwilling baby sister.

However, as the minutes ticked by, the initial discomfort wore out as I make faces, laugh out loud, sing and even dance to get the children engaged in what I was teaching. We went over the Filipino alphabet, some music, math, a couple of games and a story illustrated on the ground because there wasn’t any chalk, marking pen or any other visual aid. The kids are very cooperative, I think they gave me a little credit for being from JTS. Most of them, or at least those with the louder voices, can count from 1 to a hundred and recite the alphabet.

Amidst all of these going on, there was never a time that I got everybody to listen to me. For in a class of from 3 to 16 years old, you can also notice the stark differences among them right away - the little kids just want to play while the older ones want to learn.

I couldn’t blame the teens who stayed at the back and politely looked out of the window. I can see them very interested when I started to teach about Math and English. Sadly, expounding more on these subjects end up with majority of the class left gaping at me as if I was talking gibberish. There was a 16-year old girl, Charity, the eldest daughter of Lito Limocay (the Sitio President), who knows more than everyone else. I think this was the girl that I heard the teacher was enraged with, she happened to had studied in Capihan previously. Arvel, another son of Lito and also one which aroused the teacher’s temper, was best in adding up numbers. I can see why these kids where singled out, maybe they got bored with the class.

This only brought me to remember why I was there in the first place, instead of the teacher who was assigned by the Department of Education. While I was struggling to get the kids under control, I couldn’t help but think what a brave soul a teacher is, especially one that in such a distant place as Alawon. After spending two hours and half with the children, I literally slumped with exhaustion.

Unfortunately, the teacher is a sad story.


Religion has always been a sensitive topic which sparked a lot of conflict all over the world. And somewhere as far and as isolated as Alawon is no exemption.

The teacher is Catholic. Lito’s religion, as well as most of his immediate neighbors’, is Baptist. To Lito’s words, the teacher is under sala (sin) now because she degraded their religion. He said that she said: “ang mga Baptist tapulan ug bugok” (Baptist are lazy and dumb), among other things.

According to the traditions of the community, if one is under sala, then he or she is an outcast. This sala, can only be removed if there is an appropriate pay, such as three chickens.


According to the teacher, she said: Mga Baptist man unta mo, nganong inun-ana man mo? (You are Baptist but why are you like that?) She addressed this statement mostly to Lito’s kids and some of their friends (who happen to be Baptists), because they were allegedly the most unruly and often disrupts the class. She said she will never go back to the community again because she is afraid.


While I was teaching the class that was deserted by their teacher, I was personally touched when a mother delivered her son right to his seat in front. This is one of the instances that I can say that the community really wanted their children to go to school.

On our way back to low land, we passed by a man named Sarino. He was carrying some bamboos and his daughter is with him, leading the way (we also previously passed by an old lady carrying around 50 kilos of vegetables on her head with her daughter also with her. Seeing the treacherous cliffs and roads of Alawon, I guess no native can be careful enough.)

Sarino said that the community is sad that the teacher has left. They were promised that the teacher will be back after the All Saints and All Soul’s Day Holiday and were all so excited to have a teacher back in the school.

I told him there is a problem with the teacher and the community and that they will meet at the Brangay Hall this coming Sunday to settle the issue between the two parties.

He was silent for awhile, in deep thought, and then quietly said, he heard nothing about it. He went further, “I’ve heard that it’s only the Limocay family that the teacher is against with. There are many of us in the community that has nothing to do with it... I just sit in my kitchen, inside my house, afraid to go out because I might be able to say something bad. I don’t want conflict with my own neighbor…”

After that encounter, I recall the time when we interviewed the Datu (tribal chieftain) of the community about the issue. The wife of Lito also happens to be there. She was pointing a finger at his back, saying that the Datu should not be the one to be asked about the teacher and why she left, because he was never there and he has nothing to do with the matter (the Datu live across another river from the school area.) I was thinking that maybe, as dictated by geography and religion, there are also a lot of other families than the Datu’s, who has nothing to do with the matter.


It’s sad that the children’s education have to be the brunt end of the adult’s misunderstanding. Religion or not, the school’s purpose for having been erected in the community, has to go on. But there are some lessons that badly need to be learned.

After experiencing what it is like to teach briefly in Alawon myself, I think it will be better that the kids have to be instructed separately by their level of maturity. This entails that there will be more teachers assigned to Alawon, or at least, that the teacher may have some assistants. Perhaps training a couple of housewives to assist, especially with the daycares, will do. If we can deploy a couple of skilled carpenters to teach the men, I’m sure that the women can also learn from a teacher. Besides, in such an intimate community as this, to get the parents involved in whatever activity there is in the school is very crucial.

Second, to avoid further unnecessary conflicts, the teacher must be introduced to the general community and be fully briefed about it prior to the teaching period. All measures to achieve a level of understanding needed to have them co-exist with the children’s future in mind must be taken.

Third, Alawon would certainly come as a culture shock to anybody, even from somebody who came from the same province. Alawon is a special case especially with the sheer distance of the community. Even the eldest son of Lito says that after living there for all his life, he’s still not used to how far Alawon is. The teacher’s needs must be well taken care of so that she can be productive. This means books are needed, chalk, more visual aids as well as personal needs, and anything else that will make her teaching more efficient.

When we arrived at the community center where the school is, there were only three siblings in the area, they where staring at the ground, digging it for a past time. Some other kids were in the site of the bridge construction, especially three of Lito’s daughters. According to them, they go there everyday to collect firewood. When we went home again, most of the older boys in the community are in the bridge construction site also, climbing up dangerously on the unfinished bridge posts. As I see one kid tending the cow, while I was having a class, it occurred to me that these kids need to do something more and learn more in their young life.

Before we left Sarino, he told us that it I his sincere hope that there will be a teacher for the school. If none, he wishes that JTS can provide. After all, he said, it is because of the JTS that there is a school - he’s then hoping that it will also be because of JTS that the school will be of use.


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