Teacher Michelle: ‘Mother’ to 100 children in Antipolo highlands
It’s hard enough to be a mother to one kid, let alone a hundred.
Teacher Michelle Arevalo serves as mother to 123 students, mostly from indigenous tribes, at Libis Elementary School in the mountains of Antipolo, Rizal. It is an arduous job that not many teachers are willing to take.
“Every year we have faculty members who ask to be transferred to other schools. No one can blame them,” she says.
Arevalo and her fellow teachers leave their family homes in the city center on Monday mornings, and cross rivers and rough roads to reach the school. There they would sleep and work for the next five days. They see their respective families only on weekends.
“During the rainy season, vehicles cannot pass. So, we have to walk for hours in the rain. Our students face those challenges too. And not all of them have boots, raincoats, and umbrellas,” Arevalo shares.
Out of concern for the students, whom she individually calls “anak,” Arevalo takes her three teenage daughters’ old clothes, shoes, and bags, and distributes these to her pupils.
She does not stop there. As the school’s teacher-in-charge, Arevalo created a Facebook account called “Bless Libis” to ask for help from kindhearted individuals and organizations. “Kinapalan ko na talaga ang mukha ko. Hindi naman masamang manghingi basta para sa ikabubuti ng mga bata. Para naman maiangat ang estado nila at maitaas ang confidence nila. Para di nila isipin na lagi silang kaawa-awa.”
One of those who responded to the call for help was PLDT mobile unit Smart Communications, which donated a School-in-a-Bag to Libis Elementary School. This is a big backpack containing a laptop, tablets, TV, a solar panel with batteries, pocket Wi-Fi, and educational content. The donation package also includes teacher training and yearlong monitoring.
“The School-in-a-Bag has been a big help to us. The children are not afraid to touch gadgets anymore. Akala nila nung una, sasabog. Iiyak-iyak sila dahil sa nerbyos. I would tell them, ‘Mga anak, hindi kayo habambuhay dito sa kabundukan. Mabuti yan para pag napunta kayo sa bayan, di kayo inosente,’” Arevalo says.
“Now they are more excited to go to school. They are proud of our school, sosyal na daw kami.”
Other organizations and individuals have donated items such as boots, umbrellas, school supplies, groceries, and toys.
“Nanghingi din ako ng mga banig, kumot, at toiletries. I also think of their situation at home. Kung puwede lang ihingi sila ng bubong, gagawin ko,” she says.
Gathering donations is a difficult job that Arevalo has voluntarily shouldered on top of her main tasks.
“Our classes start at 7 a.m. so I have to be up at 4 a.m. In the morning I teach five classes. In the afternoon I do school management work. I do office work, observe teachers, check lesson plans, and organize activities. Sometimes I would be called for a meeting at the city center. I would walk three hours to get there. If I’m lucky, a garbage or construction truck would let me hitch a ride. Kung wala, e di tumbling. At least, nakaka-sexy maglakad,” she says.
Despite the challenges, Arevalo has stayed in the job for four years. “Hindi ko maiwan yung school sa ganitong sitwasyon kung walang papalit na willing magtiis. Sinong magkakawang-gawa at magbibigay ng concern? Kawawa ang mga bata.”
She adds that while her life is hard, it is also very fulfilling as she feels the love of the community. “I sometimes tease the parents that I’m leaving soon. Gusto na nga raw akong bigyan ng lupa ni chieftain, saka igagapos daw nila ako, huwag lang ako umalis.”
“I am very willing to stay. Kung ako ang tatanungin, hangga’t di ako hihiwalayan ng asawa ko, hindi ako aaliis,” she says, chuckling. “I am happy in that mountain. I believe I have a mission there. Si Lord na ang bahala sa akin.”
Teacher Michelle Arevalo remains upbeat despite the many challenges she faces. “Mahirap pero fulfilling. I have no regrets.”
Those who wish to help Libis Elementary School may visit the “Bless Libis” Facebook page. For individuals and organizations interested to bring the Smart School-in-a-Bag to more underserved schools, please e-mail [email protected] or visit the Smart Communities FB page.
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