Marie del Rosario-Apattad, Director of Project Management Division of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO), together with Country Director of United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Mr. Titon Mitra, graced the occasion on the blessing and turn-over of a brand new classroom of Cabantohan Primary School in the Municipality of Lemery, Iloilo. The brand new classroom will not only host the much needed Computer Room for a school in such a remote location but stands for many other remarkable milestones for the community.
CFO facilitated the donation from a migrant association, the PILIPINO-AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF NEW ENGLAND, INC. (PAMAS), a civic, social, and humanitarian organization based in Boston, MA 02117, U.S.A., represented by its President, Ms. Lidy Chan, and partnered with REBUILD Project in identifying public school classrooms in remote areas that remained unrepaired after Yolanda/Haiyan. The donated sum of PhP 164,142.72 was meant to rehabilitate one classroom that turned out to be non-repairable anymore as typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan exposed the anomalous construction done previously by government contractors. The existing damaged building was recommended to be condemned as it could no longer carry the trusses and roof which were covered by the donation. A brand new classroom should be constructed. Definitely, the donated amount would not even fund half of a brand new classroom as their classrooms cost not less than PhP 800,000.00 when funded by a congressional fund or facilitated by a government contractor in the past.
Determined to provide their schoolchildren the needed classroom to host the Computer Room as they stand to forfeit the donated computers from DepEd should there be no appropriate space, the community took the unfamiliar path. The school and barangay officials, the parents and the community represented by our partner MKKs decided boldly that they would provide whatever lacking to finish the project. The community decision was stunning as they did not resort to ask from any politician, nor any other NGO, but just from themselves. And this is remote Cabantohan, whose population is dominated by poor residents whose income is mainly farm-based and seasonal. This could be one of their proudest moments as a community, poor as they are.
For the first time in their long careers as school and barangay officials, the school construction was not facilitated by a politician, government agency like the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) or its contractor. Literally, for the first time, the school project was owned by the community. And the results are just as inspiring as it is unprecedented.
The days, weeks and months that followed revealed the power of a poor community when they come together. The Barangay Council led the way by donating all the wood materials from their tree plantation. The parents, barangay officials and MKKs hauled the cut trees from the mountains all the way to the school site. Instead of buying concrete hollow blocks (CHBs), the residents, including MKK women, made their own CHBs. They only hired few skilled laborers, and the residents took turns in donating volunteer labor every day. The school teachers allocated a significant part of their Maintenance and Other Operating Expenditures (MOOE). This beautiful story of community action is replicated in other CFO-assisted school projects in La Fortuna Elementary School in Barotac Viejo, Nagsulang Primary School, also in Lemery, and in Santikan Elementary School in San Dionisio.
Indeed, the power of the poor when they decide and act as a community could never be underestimated. For us, this is a sweet validation of what we believed all along…that there is no one who is so poor among us that he has nothing to give.