Carles, Iloilo — Almost eight months after the world’s worst recorded storm, schoolchildren in far-flung Isla Gigantes Sur, Carles town, Iloilo province still have to endure a rough learning environment.
“We do with what we have,” said 39-year-old Ma. Lisa Bonete, principal of Lantangan Elementary School, the most populated of the three public schools in an island known to outsiders as an emerging destination for its white-sand beaches, caves, and salt water lagoon.
But far from the curious eyes of tourists, Bonete emphasized that the people of Isla Gigantes Sur, especially students, are still experiencing hardship from the damages of super-typhoon “Yolanda” (international name Haiyan).
When the new school year opened last June 2, the 1,144 students have to content themselves with attending classes inside tents or makeshift classrooms made out of tarpaulins and bamboo poles.
Of the 25 classrooms in a hilly portion of the island, 90 percent were damaged by “Yolanda” last November 2013.
A local division of the Department of Education (DepEd) has more than P3 million allocation for repair, but actual work has not started and only a P30,000-funding was initially released.
It was the distinct Filipino trait of “bayanihan” that pushed parents to take action.
Evelyn Abrozo, 37-year-old president of the Parent Teachers Association (PTA), said parents rallied and raised money to pay local carpenters in constructing makeshift classrooms or installing temporary roofs.
Her 39-year-old husband Jupiter, a Grade 5 teacher, added that they had to initiate on their own so their children can continue going to school.
Education, they explained, is a means of empowering and uplifting the fishing community that is considered to be the farthest point of Iloilo province.
Sea travel from the mainland to the island village is anywhere from an hour-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours, depending on the weather.
With its limitations, tents and makeshift classrooms pose herculean challenges.
On a sunny school day, Bonete said the sweltering heat bothers the students and they become irritable.
With the recent onset of the rainy season, it’s a different story. Bonete sadly noted that when the rain doesn’t stop, classes are cancelled as children start running and head home.
Also, tents and tarpaulins of makeshift classrooms are always in disarray after heavy rainfall.
Bonete noted the inconvenience for students and teachers who have to arrange everything back the next morning before classes can start.
More than that, Abrozo said that there are health risks in this environment. She expressed fears that children may get sick or catch the dreaded pneumonia.
A SIMILAR SCENARIO
The hardships are also similar in two public schools in the neighboring village of Gabi.
Susanita Batobalani, principal of Gabi Elementary School, said the 509 students also have to bear studying in tent and makeshift classrooms as the school remains largely unrepaired.
Batobalani said an allocation has been set by the local DepEd, but no specific date has been set as to when repair work will start.
Fralyn Leones, principal of Granada National High School—Ballesteros Campus, said she had to take an initiative to find ways to install roofs of classrooms that were blown off by “Yolanda” so that the more than 500 high school students can be safe.
Aside from hoping for the immediate repair of damaged infrastructures, the three schools also have other needs, including books.
Bonete, Batobalani and Leones said that books, no matter how old, can still be used by both students and teachers in Isla Gigantes Sur.
Unlike in many urban areas or in the mainland, the three Isla Gigantes Sur schools have no access to the Internet and do not have the luxury to check popular Wikipedia as a quick reference material.
It is mainly because only Lantangan village has reliable signal for mobile phones while majority of Gabi village has no signal at all. Also, electricity is only available from 6-10 p.m daily.
Meanwhile, the three school principals are grateful to private organizations that have ongoing projects.
At the same time, the three are also taking their own initiatives in reaching out to private groups in getting more aid to rebuild their damaged schools.
DepEd-6 in Western Visayas region assured that Yolanda-devastated schools such as the three schools in Isla Gigantes Sur will be repaired at a far better quality.
“Let’s have patience,” appealed Dr. Corazon Brown, DepEd-6 regional director.
Brown emphasized that the rehabilitated classrooms will be able to withstand storms as strong as “Yolanda” or major earthquakes.
Brown said that the first phase of the P1.46-billion repair project will be implemented for Yolanda-devastated public schools starting August.
Funding for repair of “Yolanda”-devastated schools in Iloilo, Capiz, Aklan, Antique, and Negros Occidental provinces are from the quick response fund of DepEd and from Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery.
“In the long run, it is for the good of everybody,” Brown added.
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