Education: The real gold in Mt. Diwata

Monkayo, Compostela Valley – “Ang edukasyon ang isa ka bahandi nga among maikahatag sa among mga anak. Mao kini ang ilang bulawan nga dili makuha sa ilaha (Education is an invaluable treasure that we can give our children. This is their brand of gold that could not be taken away from them),” shared Elenita P. Lampera, 43, a mother of three.

Hence, it was a dream come true for Elenita and the rest of the residents of Sitio Upper Ulip, Barangay Mt. Diwata, a remote village in this town, when a one-classroom high school building rose through the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) – PAyapa at MAsaganang PamayaNAn (PAMANA) program.

Kalahi-CIDSS is a community-driven development (CDD) program, which aims to empower ordinary citizens to directly participate in local governance by identifying their own community needs and collectively responding to these. One of the modalities of this program is PAMANA which provides conflict-affected barangays access to basic social services.

A village of gold without a classroom

Brgy. Mt. Diwata is a relatively cold and quiet mountain village with 1,000-meter high range. Known for its rich gold ore deposits, Mt. Diwata has an estimated population of 40,000 people based on data of the National Statistical Coordination Board (NSCB).

“Pagmimina ng ginto ang ikinabubuhay ng aming komunidad mula pa noong 1980s (Our community here is dependent on gold. Small-scale mining has been our major industry since the 1980s),” Elenita said.

A 45-minute rough ride away from the town’s poblacion, the community identified that one of their pressing needs was a decent classroom building to accommodate the increasing number of high school enrollees.

In the absence of a classroom, high school students used the barangay gymnasium for their classes. However, a low-hanging makeshift ceiling made from recycled tarpaulins can hardly protect the students from the elements since the gym is not covered.

For a long time, the residents did not really care much about the situation of the children as they were more focused on earning more and managing their livelihood as small scale miners.

“Pag umuulan, nag-uunahan ang mga bata para sumilong hanggang tumila na ang ulan (When the rain pours, students race to a dry corner and huddle until the rain stops),” Mt. Diwata Barangay Captain Pedro J. Samillano, Jr. said.

He stressed that the makeshift classrooms, divided by thin plywood, do not make learning conducive.

Brgy. Capt. Samillano disclosed that one of the reasons why people devote themselves into mining instead of aspiring to provide education to their children stemmed from the belief that the government neglected them.

“Daghan naabot nga mga proyekto diri, pero dili kini mahuman-human tungod sa kalisud sa sitwasyon sa amoang barangay. Layo kini ug dakong kwarta ang kailanganon sa pagpadala sa mga materyales sa konstruksyon (There were a number of projects which were started here, but were never completed. Accordingly, our village is far and hard-to-reach, and that the hauling cost of construction materials is apparently expensive),” he said.

Realizing the importance of education

All this changed when Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA reached this mountain village.

With assured funding support for the construction of a classroom from Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA amounting to P679,175,  the residents became  motivated to work together for the benefit of their children. They volunteered to help in the construction of the classroom.

Capt. Samillano shared that the residents learned to prioritize their children’s education, thanks to Kalahi-CIDSS.  They realized that having an education is a treasure worth more than gold, which can’t be taken away from their children.

Kalahi-CIDSS community facilitator George Nasula agreed, saying that parents no longer wish for their children to work in tunnels to dig for gold anymore. They would rather see their children work in the city one day.

“And since the sub-project implementation is directly carried out by the community as volunteers, working without remuneration, they feel that they own it,” Nasula said.

Nasula also shared that the villagers were amazed that the grant is released directly to the community account and managed by community volunteers themselves, a far cry from other government projects in the past where beneficiaries have no say on project implementation.

Kalahi-CIDSS volunteer Danny Banares, Sr, reported, “Daghan na nga pagsulay ang among naagihan.  Kabahin na ini ang kalayo sa among lugar, ang bagyong Pablo, ug daghan pang kalamidad. Pero sa among pagtinabangay, nahuman gyud namo ang sub-proyekto nga mas sayo pa sa gitakda nga petsa (We have experienced a lot of trials in our area. These include the remote location of our place, Typhoon Pablo, and other calamities. But with everyone’s cooperation, we completed our sub-project earlier than the due date).”

Now, the children have a safe classroom conducive for learning with its walls painted brightly and furnished with armchairs and blackboards.

A collective effort of community, civil society, and government

The classroom now serves as a testament to the hard work of the community, as well as the partnership of the national and local governments, and the civil society organizations (CSOs) in initiating change in Mt. Diwata.

Showing their full support, the LGU and some CSOs extended their help in the difficult task of hauling the construction materials to the mountain village.

DSWD Secretary Corazon Juliano-Soliman said, “Partnership of different sectors and community empowerment are the driving principles of Kalahi-CIDSS.”

Secretary Soliman said that the Kalahi-CIDSS program is truly a model of “matuwid na daan” (straight path) in government project implementation.

“With the construction of the classroom managed by the community, the project is protected from corruption,” she emphasized.

This was affirmed by the villagers who expressed their gratitude for the government program.

They said that through Kalahi-CIDSS, they also realized that they too could contribute to their community’s development.

Further, they realized the importance of always working for the best future for their children.

Presently, there are around 4,429 Kalahi-CIDSS household-beneficiaries and 832 Pantawid Pamilyang Pilpino households in the barangay who are benefiting from the classroom project.  But more importantly, the number of enrollees has recently increased by 25% which means more children are now in school as a result of the classroom built through Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA. ###