CEBU CITY—On Friday afternoons, teachers of Umapad Elementary School in Mandaue City notice that some of their pupils are “missing.”
“Each class will lose maybe five or six pupils. When you ask their classmates why they did not go to school, the children have one common answer—they are out scavenging in the dump,” said principal Eva Bariño.
Bariño, who has been a public school teacher for more than 30 years, said it was a painstaking task for all teachers to monitor the children’s attendance.
The public elementary school, which has a total of 1,063 schoolchildren from kindergarten to Grade 6, is in the same barangay where the city dump is located.
In May 2012, a strict implementation of the dump’s 2011 closure order was called upon by the Mandaue City Solid Waste Management board. This prohibits all the city’s 27 barangays from throwing their garbage in the dump.
But it seems that this is not being followed.
Mark Abella, 12, still hears stories from classmates and schoolmates, who frequent the dump in the hopes of finding “treasures,” ranging from money to pieces of jewelry aside from the usual plastic bottles and tin cans.
“I think they are absent because they are only helping their parents. Most of the children I know buy rice from the money they earn in selling plastic bottles,” said Abella, the youngest son of Emma and Ernesto, a tricycle driver.
Thriving in a community marred by poverty issues, Bariño said it was a challenge for teachers to motivate children to go to school especially when the parents themselves discourage the young ones.
“There are times when our teachers get scolded by parents or children being scolded by their parents in front of the teachers because they hate why the teachers frequently conduct home visits,” said Bariño.
The children lose interest in studying because they do not have a support system, she said.
When an invitation came to join the January run of Story Hours, Bariño had no second thoughts of bringing some children to the event.
Story Hours happens once a month and puts together book drive, storytelling and story writing in one afternoon shared by children from public and private elementary schools. The project is an initiative of Banilad Town Center, Basadours and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Paula Ruelan, marketing manager of Cebu International School, read the story “Si Ching na Takot sa Dilim” written by Aleli Dew Batnag and illustrated by Paul Eric Roca.
Bariño said participating in the Story Hours was a breather for the children.
“It gives them the opportunity to experience something different from the atmosphere of garbage and poverty,” said Bariño.
Joining Umapad Elementary School were children from Oneworld Montessori House, who donated books to their partner public school.
The children also participated in the Design-a-Smile Competition of flip-flop brand Havaianas, where they were given a chance to design their own flip-flops.
The winning design would be part of the Havaianas 2014 collection, said Leanne Florendo, managing director of A.L. Amizade Marketing Inc., which distributes Havaianas in Central and Eastern Visayas.
“We will make thousands and thousands of this winning pair and sell it in the Philippines. A portion of the sales of the pair will be given to Operation Smile, which they will use in operating kids who are bungi (those with cleft lips and palates). By doing that, we give them hope and confidence and a good reason to smile,” Florendo told the children.