In the early morning of August 20, people began showing up at the Municipal Hall of Besao, Mountain Province. By early morning, around 400 people coming from 13 barangays of Besao started to gather in front of the Municipal Hall.
Their purpose: to create the longest human chain of the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS), with funding support from the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Their goal, however, goes beyond merely setting a record as they aim to help construct a school building for high school students in one of the town’s barangays.
Using the vehicles lent by several barangays – 4x4s, trucks, and jeepneys – the volunteers, most of whom are from the 13 barangays of Besao, proceeded to Barangay Tamboan, where the school building will be constructed, heedless of the fact that Typhoon Ineng was threatening to batter Northern Luzon with strong winds and rain.
Besao is considered one of the best-performing communities in Kalahi-CIDSS, a program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD). Tamboan, one of its barangays, is bounded by Quirino, Ilocos Sur and some villages in Tubo, Abra.
With the implementation of the K-12 program of the Department of Education (DepEd), schools with limited classrooms needed to expand to support the larger number of students. Tamboan National High School is one of these, particularly since some students coming from Quirino and Tubo also go there because of the barangay’s proximity to these towns.
One of the buildings used in the campus was old and decrepit, putting the lives of the students at risk.
“Iyong Grade 7 at Grade 8 na mga estudyante namin, doon sila sa lumang building. Dilapidated na at unsafe na, lalo na ‘yung foundations ng building. Makakatulong talaga ito sa mga bata (Our Grades 7 and 8 students use the old building. It is already dilapidated and unsafe, especially its foundations. The new building will really help the children),” said Teacher Gwen, who teaches at the school. At present, Tamboan High School has more than 30 grade 7 students in the old building.
In the recent cycle of Kalahi-CIDSS in Besao, the community of Tamboan proposed the construction of a one-unit two-classroom school building, amounting to P1,222,826, for their high school. Of this amount, P780,426 will be funded by Kalahi-CIDSS and MCC, P337,000 by the local and barangay local government units, and P105,400 through the in-kind counterpart of the community, majority of which will be for 60 cubic meters of sand that will be used during construction.
Unfortunately, the proposal of Tamboan was not prioritized during the Municipal Inter-Barangay Forum for Participatory Resource Allocation (MIBF-PRA), the activity in Kalahi-CIDSS which provides communities within the municipality the opportunity to prioritize the projects that will receive funding from the program. Undaunted, Mayor Wellington Pooten requested for, and was granted, additional funding to accommodate Tamboan and Agawa, the other barangay that was not prioritized.
As the community committed in their proposal, they needed to provide sand as part of their counterpart for the project. Their closest source for this is Basa River, located about 1,500 meters from the project site. Through a community assembly, the residents of Tamboan decided to mobilize people for a Men Og-ogbo Tako ay Men Galatis activity, or a work-for-a-cause activity, in which og-ogbo means “bayanihan” vernacular, and Galatis “free labor”. Og-ogbo and Galatis is still being practiced by Besao communities – their successful implementation of Kalahi-CIDSS is proof of this, as the program strongly relies on community volunteers for the implementation of its sub-projects – but this was their first attempt to do this as one municipality. Their goal was to mobilize at least 500 participants for the activity, in which a person passes a sackful of sand to the next individual until it reaches the project site at the Tamboan National High School from the Basa River.
By mid-morning, more people joined the activity. When Typhoon Ineng made good on her promise and brought the rains, some began distributing large plastic bags to the volunteers of all ages and backgrounds – students, parents, tribal elders, LGU officials, police officers, and others – so they can use these as makeshift raincoats.
“Hindi na po namin naisip kung malapit na ba naming maabot ‘yung 60 cubics [meters] na buhangin, o kung mabigat ‘yung sako dahil sa ulan, o kung madulas na ‘yung daan. Ang naiisip po namin habang nagbubuhat kami, malapit nang magkaroon ng bagong classroom ‘yung mga anak namin (We were not thinking about whether we could reach 60 cubic meters of sand, or that the sacks were getting heavy because of the rain, or that the path was getting slippery. All we thought about while lifting was that our children will finally be able to have a new classroom)”, shared Isaias Palonga, the leader of the Kalahi-CIDSS community volunteers of Tamboan.
At some point, however, the rain became too strong and the road too slippery, forcing the volunteers to stop hauling. By the time they ended, 721 people joined the Men Og-ogbo Tako ay Men Galatis activity, who helped haul nearly half of the required amount of sand for the sub-project.
Even though they were not able to reach their target, the volunteers nonetheless were happy about the turnout of their hard work, so much so that they danced in the rain to celebrate their success – represented by each sack they brought to the project site.
“Masaya po na sa ganitong edad po, may nagawa po akong malaki para sa Tamboan, lalo na sa mga susunod pang generations ng mag-aaral dito sa school namin. Sabi po ng teacher namin, ang tamang edukasyon po ang mag-aangat sa amin sa kahirapan. Pakiramdam ko po ngayon, worthy yung sacrifice namin ngayong araw dahil ilang bata po ang makakapag-aral, ilang pamilya po ang unti-unti maaangat sa kahirapan dito sa amin (I am happy that even at my young age, I was able to do something big for my community, which the next generations of students will benefit from. Our teacher said that good education will help us lift ourselves from poverty. I feel that our sacrifice today is worth it; because more students will be able to study, more families will be able to slowly lift themselves from poverty),” shared Roan Milan, a Grade 10 student.
Isaias was emotional at the end of the activity because of its successful turnout. He said, “Kami po, lalo na at hindi kami nakapag-aral, nakikita po namin na balang-araw ang project na ito ang magtatawid sa amin sa kahirapan. Mabibigyan po ng tsansang makapag-aral nang maayos ang mga anak namin. Inulan po ‘yung activity natin ngayon, pero nakita ko pong sobrang dami pa rin ng pumunta at tinuloy pa rin magbuhat kahit sobrang lakas na ng ulan (We, especially us who were not able to study, envision that this project will help us get out of poverty. This will give our children the chance to study well. Even though our activity got rained on, I saw just how far we have come, and that we continued to work even when the rainfall got stronger).”
He revealed that others were already asking when they will continue their project. He said, “Natapos na ‘yong activity pero may mga nagtatanong pa po kung kelan ulit ang susunod na schedule. Yung sinasabi po nila na “faith in humanity,”napatunayan ko po iyon ngayon (Our activity may have ended, but there are already those asking when we can continue. We proved today that ‘faith in humanity’ is true).”
Today, these people have set a record – they now bear the title “The Longest Human Chain” in the history of Kalahi-CIDSS. More than that, however, these people realized they were able to do something more important – they were able to bring hope to future generations who will benefit from the school building in this remote village.