DARAGA, Albay ? Painted white and surrounded by lush scenery, the four-story school building portrays the environmental cause it has been pushing for for 27 years now.
At the Sunshine International School in Daraga, Albay, children are taught to be good stewards of the earth.
School founder and director, Dr. Ofelia Mesias-Peralta, has entwined two of her passions?nurturing the environment and teaching children?in one enterprise. Having a green thumb herself, she says she simply passes on her love for the environment to the pupils.
Pieces of garbage are segregated according to their type?biodegradable, nonbiodegradable, or tin cans. A no-littering policy is strictly implemented.
This solid waste management system is taught to the children, like the kindergarten game of grouping similar and dissimilar objects. The non-biodegradable trash are recycled while the biodegradable ones, like dried leaves, are turned into organic fertilizer to be used in the school?s botanical garden.
Unlike almost all other private schools, Sunshine, the first homegrown international school in Bicol, does not hire janitors. The students themselves do the cleaning.
?We want to inculcate on these children the love of work and the value of discipline and independence,? says Peralta, who is popularly called Teacher Ofel by her students.
The school values, she says, are explained to the students? parents, who are also encouraged to partner with the teachers in imparting these values.
Long before there were suggestions to incorporate climate change education into the Philippine school curriculum, Sunshine had already been teaching its students to plant trees as a simple and practical means of solving environmental ills.
The school, which is inside a subdivision in Daraga town, is far from the vexations of city life. One can smell the breeze there without choking from car exhausts. Chirping birds can be heard from the trees, which students and parents planted 10 years ago at a nearby block.
In 1997, the students, their parents and the school faculty lined up yellow bells and pili trees along the Magayon Drive, a road leading to the Legazpi City airport from the school gymnasium.
Until now, the plants are still there and motorists can enjoy a view of the blooming yellow bells, now that the plants have recovered from the many typhoons that ravaged Bicol last year.
The school won the Saringaya Award from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in 2004 for its advocacy of environmental preservation and conservation.
It was also given the Gawad Agkatek by the Clean and Green (Save the Earth Movement) of the Rotary Club. The same body gave the school the Award of Sustainability for ?continually creating a major impact [on] its surrounding community.?
Not far from the school is a half-hectare play center and botanical garden, and another half-hectare football field, gymnasium, and prayer garden.
Established in 1990, the Sunshine Botanical Garden keeps a growing flora collection. The plant species are labeled with their common and scientific names and the countries they originated from.
In one corner are pine trees and other plants from the Solomon Islands, Africa, India, Mexico, China, Thailand, Malaysia and other countries.
Aside from the gardening classes, clean and green activities are common in the school calendar. The children are brought to the garden once in a while to learn about plant propagation and experience soiling their hands.
Peralta says the play center and botanical garden were built to provide an alternative place for families to enjoy a serene, unpolluted park. She advises that the children should be brought to other places that will make them more environmentally aware, and not just to air-conditioned malls and noisy arcades.
The play center has a museum where the children?s artworks and projects, mostly made of recycled materials, are on display.
The school propagates the use of natural products that are environmentally friendly, like organic fertilizer and coconut soap.
Peralta has also concocted a natural insecticide made of dried ?siling labuyo? (chillies) mixed with water.
Since the school has foreigner students, it seems to have become a prototype of a global initiative combating ubiquitous environmental problems. Korean, Canadian, Japanese, Chinese and Indian students not only learn English from Filipinos but also environment preservation.
At present, the school has a small population of 300 with only one class per level, each having 30 students at the most to ensure quality teaching. It was founded in 1980 as Sunshine Nursery School and classes were held at Peralta?s house. The grade school department was opened in 1986.
Then named the Sunshine Learning Center, it was accredited as an international school in 2005.
When she was 12 years old, Peralta recounts that she used to play ?teacher? to poor children living at the back of their house.
She first taught in 1968 at the St. Agnes? Academy, the oldest existing school in Albay. Her 12 years of teaching has greatly honed her skills because of the good training given by the German sisters running the Benedictine school.
Her love for the environment she learned from her parents, Sevara and Salvador Mesias, both teachers and nature lovers.
?My father was a garden and agriculture teacher. He was the one who taught me to use organic fertilizer from decomposed biodegradable materials,? she recalls.
Her mother planted ornamental plants while her father had his fruit trees. A known bougainvillea collector in town in the 1960s, her mother had the vastest collection of different colors of bougainvillea flowers.
Now, the school awaits expansion as its high school department will be opened in 2008.