In the urban centers, many of the students Nexon’s age are probably excited that in just a few years’ time, they would already be looking for high-paying jobs in the corporate world.
Nexon Hayonan, a 20-year old member of the Banwaon people, is a student of the Paningaon Community Learning Center in Barangay Mahagsay, San Luis, Agusan del Sur. This schoolyear, he is in Level IV, the equivalent of Grade 4 in regular elementary school. He knows he still has a long way to go in his dream to become a teacher. But for their community, to even reach that level of education is already a feat.
The community lives on a subsistence economy, farming root crops, vegetables, and upland rice that their families consume. They still follow the Datu system of governance, with collective leadership still an important aspect of their life, their tradition of sharing and communal ways still practiced. Although their lifestyle doesn’t require them to interact with urban residents often, they also have a vision of development where education plays an important role.
However, Sitio Paningaon is a two-hour habal-habal (motorcycle used for public transportation) ride and a four-hour walk from the center of Barangay Mahagsay. To reach the nearest public school run by the Department of Education, the residents of Paningaon will have to walk for 12 hours. It is therefore rare for members of their community to get education.
In 2013, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region opened a literacy and numeracy school in the community. The community built a two-classroom structure made of unfinished wood with packed mud as its floor. It was not as grand as the learning institutions in the city, but it was a pride of the community.
The old school building
The school is located beside a river from which the Sitio takes its name. It is in the middle of a flatland, surrounded by hills. While quaint and scenic, when it rains, the school grounds become a mud pit and the classroom floors also turn slippery.
The school was forced to close from January to April in 2015 because of military operations in the community. The Armed Forces of the Philippines conducted their Community Organizing for Peace and Development and forced the community leaders to surrender as members of the New People’s Army.
In response, the community evacuated to center of Barangay Balit where other Banwaon residents had also sought refuge from the same military operations.
“Our education was disrupted, but we did not lose hope,” said Nexon. “Our teachers were also with us at the evacuation center. We enrolled again after we were able to return to our community.”
In July this year, the Kanlungan Filipino Consortium, UNISON Filipino Activist Network and the Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines based in the United Kingdom and a partner of the RMP-NMR in various projects, organized a benefit dinner for the students of Paningaon. The proceeds of the fundraiser went to the building of new classrooms that are safer for the students.
The building was completed in November, for which the students were very grateful. “The classrooms are now more conducive for learning,” said Nexon, appreciating the new building. “The roof doesn’t leak and the mud doesn’t get in. We are now even more motivated to come to school despite the occasional problems we have here.”
“We are most grateful for the support for our school,” said Melissa Amado Comiso, the coordinator of RMP-NMR’s Literacy and Numeracy schools. “It is not only a structure that they have built. They have also shown that there are individuals and organizations outside our country who believe in us and who are with us in our effort to give education in these remote communities.”###