NEGROS OCCIDENTAL—For two months, 13-year-old Mensoy Milaflores had to walk barefoot after his tattered slippers gave up on him. His last pair could no longer be fixed despite the glue on the straps and binding of thin metal wire.
His family could not afford to buy a new pair, so Milaflores had to traverse unshod for half an hour the distance from his home in Barangay Tanawan in Himamaylan City to Saisi Elementary School where he is a Grade 5 pupil.
The boy’s wish came true on Oct. 19, when Army soldiers belonging to Charlie company of the 11th Infantry Battalion (IB) based in Kabankalan City, Negros Occidental province, brought 200 new pairs of slippers to the pupils of Tanawan, 28 kilometers from the city proper of Himamaylan.
“Finally, I have a new pair,” an ecstatic Milaflores said in Hiligaynon.
Milaflores is the eldest of five siblings. His parents work as “sakadas (seasonal workers)” in a sugarcane farm in Barangay Tanawan and are paid P240 a day, an amount barely enough to feed the family.
To help them make both ends meet, Milaflores works every afternoon at a charcoal-making venture in the neighborhood. He digs up the pieces of charcoal from a pit and put these inside a jute sack. He gets P80 per sack.
Milaflores said he usually produced two to three sacks per week. But instead of buying himself a new pair of slippers—the cheapest costs P60—he gives his salary to his parents.
The soldiers of Charlie company aim to raise 10,000 pairs for schoolchildren in the mountain barangays of the fifth district, which is composed of Himamaylan and the towns of Binalbagan, Hinigaran, Isabela, La Castellana and Moises Padilla.
They also plan to double the target by the end of 2013, said Lt. Jimrhic Obias, company commander.
“We aim to distribute slippers to all schools located in the hinterland barangays in the [fifth] district,” he said. “But thousands more don’t have a pair of slippers. We plan to give slippers to all pupils in the mountain barangays.”
The campaign was the brainchild of Col. Nemesio Gacal, who was then the 11th IB commander from 2008 to 2009. While visiting schools in Negros Occidental, Gacal had noticed that many pupils didn’t have slippers or were wearing shabby ones.
Gacal and his soldiers distributed 1,000 pairs of slippers to the pupils of Linantuyan Elementary School in Barangay Linantuyan in Guihulngan City.
Gacal’s successor, Lt. Col. Ramil Bitong, continued the undertaking until his tour of duty ended on Feb. 28.
Obias revived the drive when he became company head.
So far, the unit has given out 3,000 pairs of slippers since January, as well as school supplies, such as notebooks, paper, pencils and pens.
Obias said 90 soldiers promised to donate a pair every month. Some civilians and public school teachers in the fifth district have also vowed to donate.
“We want to inspire them to begin that journey and pursue their dreams through education,” Obias said.
“Our goal is to ensure that no schoolchildren will walk barefoot to and from school. We want them to know that there are people who care about their education and future,” Obias said.