CEBU CITY—Merlinda Batiancila has always wanted to become a teacher, but she couldn’t complete her education course in college because her parents could no longer pay the school fees.
When the opportunity to teach came, she just wouldn’t say no despite the meager pay—if there was at all.
Batiancila, 45, is a preschool teacher at Gawad Kalinga (GK) Sibol School in Barangay Budlaan, a mountain village 15 kilometers from Cebu City proper.
The school for children aged 3 to 6 aims to instill positive Filipino values in the children’s minds while academically preparing them for formal schooling. “Sibol” is a Filipino word for “sprout.”
Batiancila handles more than 60 children in a class that lasts 90 minutes to two hours. But she doesn’t mind the time because, for her, this means fulfilling her dream.
She was in her early 20s when she found the courage to leave her village of Atop-Atop in Bantayan town on the island of Bantayan in northern Cebu to pursue her dream in Cebu City. Her parents—both farmers— could not afford to send their seven children to school.
“I told myself I would finish school even if this meant working while studying,” she said.
Batiancila took up a degree in elementary education, attending night classes after working as a house help throughout the day. With only a few school units left for her to complete before graduating, she dropped out due to financial difficulties. She was then 29.
Three years later, she married a security guard, Rolando, and they settled in Barangay Budlaan. Their daughter, Liewellyn, is now 12.
In 2007, the humanitarian group GK decided to put up a preschool in Budlaan and looked for a teacher. Batiancila immediately applied for the teaching job and was accepted by the group.
At first, her husband wasn’t happy because the job meant working longer hours as more enrollees came, taking away her time with the family. But he was convinced when Batiancila told him how important a teacher was to the children. Besides, being a teacher makes her happy.
The 32-square-meter classroom in Budlaan transforms into a playground where children learn while having fun. “They learn the alphabet and counting through singing and dancing. It is not boring,” Batiancila said.
The teacher used to receive a monthly honorarium of P2,500 before the school’s funds were depleted.
Batiancila has not been paid since last year. A coteacher has resigned to look for another job to support her family.
“There was also an opportunity for me to find a job that pays good money. I passed screenings and tests to become a call center agent. But the children and their situation stop me from leaving,” Batiancila said.
“I just cannot leave these children hanging, especially when I see in their eyes how willing they are to learn.”
She said it had been a challenge to remind parents to pay the P100 enrollment fee and P75 monthly contribution as what they had agreed upon. She would also ask for donations from friends.
Batiancila uses every resource available to her wisely. She recycles visual aids and props.
She would look for innovative ways for children to learn and enjoy reading. One of these was allowing them to join the read-along session as part of the Story Hours activity in May.
Organized by Banilad Town Center in partnership with the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Read-Along program and the Basadours’ “I Love to Read” project, the storytelling includes a book drive and story writing activities so the children would enjoy an interactive fun learning session.
Batiancila’s pupils were joined by GK children from Barangay Maguikay in Mandaue City during the Story Hours.
“This is one way for them to learn … outside of the classroom, see other places, and meet other children,” she said.
Although there was still so much that could be done for the children, “by the grace of God, we will be able to make everything possible,” she said.
“It will happen if we trust and believe,” she said.