Heart of Gold: Finding the Real Treasure in Camarines Norte

BY NINA DE SAGUN
EDITED BY MICHAEL RAMOS

Dense forests and craggy mountains surround the former gold town of Jose Panganiban in Camarines Norte. This is the first-time Knowledge Channel Foundation (KCFI) has reached this remote area as four of its schools have been chosen as recipients of educational television (ETV) systems under the “100 for 100: The Knowledge Channel Project”.

This Global Grant Project initiated by Rotary Philippines District 3830 and Rotary International aimed to connect 100 ETV systems to more than 80 public schools in the Philippines to provide them access to Knowledge Channel’s on-air programs and other resources like videos and games stored in portable media libraries.

On the list is Calogcog Elementary School located at a mountainside 30 minutes away from town. With a population of roughly 500 learners, the school caters to students who help their parents in different jobs to make ends meet. This includes doing laundry for affluent families who live at the town proper, chopping wood for selling, and even engaging in small-scale mining, locally called “pagkakabod”.

 

Meeting Francis

From a place called “Radar”, a known mining zone, is a student named Francis. He walks for two hours just to attend classes. Instead of riding a tricycle, he squeezes his seven-peso daily allowance for a piece of bread and ice water to get him through the school day. Unlike other students who played after class, the thin-framed boy has seemed to forget about childhood as he juggles school and working for a living.

“Minsan po ‘pag wala na akong gawa, ‘pag gusto po ako ni Tiyo patulungin sumasama po ako sa pagkakabod,” said Francis in an interview. “Si tiyo po ay pumupunta sa ilalim ng lupa, minsan naman po ako ay sa ibabaw. Nagdudukal po siya ng lupa tapos yung nakukuha po naming bato, iniaahon po namin tapos pinipitpit po namin. Tapos po nilalagay namin sa sako tsaka po pinapagiling na namin.”

(“When I have nothing to do, I join my uncle in mining for gold. He digs a hole in the ground while I stay above. He then breaks the soil apart to get rocks and we put them in sacks for grinding.”)

Pagkakabod is a common source of income for underprivileged families in Jose Panganiban. Though risky not only for the environment but for Francis’ safety, it helped his family meet their  basic needs. But a hard day’s work cannot fully suffice their finances. At times, Francis even shared he had to skip class after working a long day with his uncle.

“Kapag po nagsimula kami ng alas-sais ng hapon, minsan po naahon po kami mga alas-otso po ng gabi, minsan po hanggang alas-dose. Minsan po hindi na po ako nakakapasok dahil napupuyat po gawa po ng overtime,” Francis shared.

(“When we start our work at 6 PM, we usually finish by 8PM or sometimes even midnight. I don’t get to school sometimes because I worked overtime.”)

When Francis’ father died, his mother left him and his sister under the care of different relatives. The siblings have been separated from each other and both have lost contact from their mother ever since. The last call Francis received from his mom was from two years ago. That time, his mom promised to see him but never did.

Francis broke down in tears.

“Simula po nung namatay ang tatay ko, iniwan na niya kami. Siguro po ayaw na niya sa amin kasi ‘di na niya kami kayang buhayin. Nung tumawag po siya noon sabi nila (ng mga tiyahin ko) dapat nasusumbatan ko na ang nanay ko pero hindi ko po magawa,” he tearfully said.

(“Since our father died, she left us. Maybe she doesn’t want us anymore because she can’t help us survive. When she called, my aunties were telling me to scold my mom but I couldn’t.”)

 

A teacher’s response

“A quiet and reserved student” was what his adviser Mrs. Gloria Artana said about him. Francis usually enjoyed the company of friends. But it was during half of the school year that she noticed his usual absence.

“Ang gusto ko sa kanya kapag ako po ay nagtuturo nang HEKASI (Heograpiya, Kasaysayan at Sibika). Magaling siyang magpaliwanag ng mga nangyayari sa paligid,” Artana opined. “Pero nito pong mga huli napansin ko na halos tumatagal na ang kanyang paga-absent at saka nakikita ko talagang naaapektuhan ang kanyang pag-aaral.”

(“I like it that he can explain his thoughts well when I teach History. But I noticed that his absences were increasing and it’s affecting his studies.”)

Mrs. Artana became very concerned about his class standing. She then discovered that Francis needed to run errands for his family and that he, too, is one of the many kids who are entering the mining trade. In a theme paper that Francis wrote, she realized that the young boy is a big mission for her as a teacher.

“Sabi ko nga sa kanya na kahit wala ang magulang, mas marami ang dumadagdag  para punuan ang mga pagkukulang. Kaya nga po dito sa school namin kasama siya sa feeding program kasi bukod sa mababa ang kanyang timbang, malayo pa ang kanyang pinanggagalingan pati po ang kanyang uniform ay pinagtutulung-tulungan naming mga teacher.” Artana explained.

(“I told him that even if your parents are not with you, there will be people who can and will fill in for them. Here in our school, we do our best to provide him food since he lives so far and is underweight. We also help him with his uniform.”)

Golden Boy: Despite challenges, Francis does his best to go to school everyday

A dream for the future

Despite the challenges, Francis strives to go to school to keep learning. He believes this is his way to live a better life in the future. He was also one of those kids whose eyes lit up when he saw the large flat screen television delivered by KCFI and the alumni of Jose Panganiban National High School.

Even his teacher, Mrs. Artana, couldn’t hide her excitement knowing that this will help her and other teachers make class discussions more interesting. Serving for more than 20 years, she proved that multimedia learning is a big help to students like Francis.

“Sa experience ko po sa pagtuturo, mas nagiging active ang mga bata at mas nagiging madali para sa teacher kasi nga may naririnig at may nakikita sa TV,” Artana said.

(“In my teaching experience, students are more participative and it’s easier for the teacher because they can learn through television.”)

This year, Francis finally graduated from elementary and is now studying in Daet through through a scholarship given by the generous hearts of Ms. Beth Alvero and the Jose Panganiban Alumni Association. Regardless of his struggles, he was able to march with pride and continues to reach for his dreams believing that family is still his biggest inspiration.

“Yung ate ko po, sabi niya po kapag nakapagtapos po kami, tutulungan po namin lahat ng nagpalaki sa amin at hahanapin po namin yung mama namin. Tuparin daw po namin yung mga pangarap namin,” he confidently said.

(“My sister told me that when we finish school, we’ll help all of those who helped us and then we will find our mother. We will fulfill our dreams.”)

Up to this day, Mrs. Artana and the community of Calogcog Elementary School continue to use Knowledge Channel as a way to keep students engaged and more importantly, inspired to keep learning.