The way to the Barangay Daluga is one of the least travelled roads in Bagumbayan, a first class municipality in Sultan Kudarat province. The seemingly unending impassable and dangerous paths that villagers have to deal with, stretching 30 kilometers from the town proper, made their lives more burdensome.

Riding in a “habal-habal” motorcycle in a chilly Friday morning of January 17, 2014, I travelled to this mountainous remote village, journeying again for three and half hours of walk and ride.

In ascending to the place, one cannot ignore the lush forests adorned with brilliant green leaves crisscrossed with the cool mountain streams and falls along the way, undeniably breathtaking to hold and that, the higher you reach; the more you can see and appreciate this very promising place.

As Community Facilitator, Daluga is my second home for more than one year. Upon seeing me, I was welcomed with the unsolicited smiles of volunteers and local officials, warming me up like a mother to their precious daughter, enough for my stress and burden of long hours of travel to vanish like a thin mist in the air.

I was in place that day to turn over all the copies of sub-project documents for the file of barangay and monitor our one-unit-three classroom school building amounting to P2.03 million, constructed through one of the Philippine’s flagship poverty-reduction programs, Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-A Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), completed several months ago and now being benefited by the community.

What is really inspiring about this place is how the Project helped to inculcate value of education to community. More than the difficult paths of Daluga, it is really the road to education that most Daluga villagers least travelled to.

Data showed that roughly 20% only of the household parents in the village was able to finish high school, the rest were either elementary or secondary school drop-outs. Based on the record of Daluga Elementary School for the school year 2013-2014, out of 59 household parents who are sending their children to school, only 12 finished secondary education. Worst, there are still some who can barely able to read and write.

One of our most active project volunteers is Lira Rodriguez, 39 years old and a mother of two. She is the teacher in-charge (TIC) of Daluga Elementary School. She was in the newly-constructed classroom, comfortably holding class with her grade 6 pupils when I visited her.

When I first set my feet in this school, I witnessed how their class was disrupted because of the rainwater leaking through the roof of their old and dilapidated makeshift classroom made of bamboo. Like little chicks grouping together, they were jostling for space free from raindrops.

Some classes were held in the makeshift classrooms because there were only three existing rooms. These were not enough to accommodate 142 elementary pupils of DES, from kinder to grade 6. So, despite the campaign to send children to school, the fact that they don’t have enough school building, some parents did not respond to it. Some sent their children to nearby schools but still many ending up dropping because of the distance.

When Kalahi-CIDSS came in the middle of 2012, convening people was a huge challenge for the group, especially to me as Community Facilitator. Thanks to the Pantawid Pamilya parents beneficiaries and teachers of Daluga Elementary School headed by Mam Lira. We actively conducted house to house invitations and orientations to convince people to participate in the Project, much more also about the importance of school building, of education in the community.

Our efforts were gone unnoticed. Villagers actively participated, involved and engaged themselves in various Project activities, especially the marginalized indigenous people (IP) belonging to T’boli tribe. Hand in hand, they were there from identification of project, community trainings, workshops and other activities to capacitate them in implementing and managing their own sub-project.

Aside from to people to actively participate in the community development decisions, the Project was seen as a huge opportunity to influence people’s attitudes and behaviors, in whatever activities we have, from simple chitchat to serious topics, we never failed to inculcate to the minds of villagers that education is not an option, but an imperative, a requirement for a better future.

For the first time, our Project volunteers who were elementary and high school dropouts were convened, went to school again through the Alternative Learning System (ALS) Program of the Department of Education, which Mam Lira served as teacher.

The volunteers were given an opportunity to finish elementary or high school education if they able to pass the Accreditation and Equivalency (A&E) Examination. However, the primary concept of this was to increase the knowledge of volunteers, upon realizing how difficult to manage a Project having lack of education. It also aimed to refresh and teach parents valuable life skills and academic lessons so that they can assist their children in their studies, which greatly affecting the performance of pupil.

Mam Lira showed me that there is an increase of 10% in the overall school attendance now and it continues to increase as the school year ends. For some this is small number, but this is representing good number of parents now stop bringing their children to farms in finding livelihood means. More and more parents are willing to attend school activities including alternative learning classes to learn, indicating the change, looking education never the way before.

My heart and my mind could not contain the feeling of gladness seeing these changes. I was somehow proud I am part in empowering these villagers, putting an indelible mark in their hearts and minds to value education above all. Like me, that despite other jobs that I can have, I still chose the difficult, time consuming yet enjoyable road to Daluga, so as the road education . Like the way to this place, in education, indeed, the higher you reach, the more you can see and appreciate.

As I descended the place that day, it was neither the spectacular views nor the cold breeze that was running through my mind. It was the feeling of loneliness, of separation, of farewell that prevailed over me. For maybe, this will be the last time that I will be setting my feet in the place I learned to love even more. (Perly Santillana, Community Facilitator, Bagumbayan, Sultan Kudarat)