PATIKUL, Sulu -- The array of colorful, hardbound books excited Nurshida Pantasan, teacher-in-charge of the Licupun Elementary School in Omar town in Sulu.
She could not help but just guess the number of reading materials laid before her. After doing a mental count, she still could not say how much the books might be worth.
?I guess those books are really expensive, I wanted to get more of that,? Pantasan said, pointing to the row of Mathematics books.
Asked why she was particularly interested in the books, Pantasan said she was thinking about her pupils.
?It?s one of the fishing villages in our town, where children on school break help their parents either fishing in the sea or selling fish in the market. And those big Math books will give them more ideas about numbers,? she said.
Elena Muhain, a Grade 6 teacher of the Kasulutan Elementary School in Patikul town, said her students always wanted Science books. She has about 200 pupils in her class.
?We really need Science books, my students will really enjoy having those books,? Muhain said.
Hadja Evelyn Salih, principal of the Julkanain Taup Central Elementary School in North Laud in Siasi town, said in jest that her hands were already itching to get hold of the Reading and English books.
?You know what? We really need those books for our pupils because the majority of our school children are very poor in Reading and English. With a copy of that with those beautiful and colorful pictures, I am sure our students will be delighted to read and learn more English,? Salih said.
Muhain, Pantasan and Salih were among the 500 teachers and principals from six Sulu towns who participated in the Sulu Book Fair held in Patukul on August 17. The event was sponsored by the US-funded Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (Equalls2) Project.
The teachers who came needed no money to get the books.
Cecilia Rodriguez, Equalls2 information officer, said the assorted books, numbering about 200,000, were donated by the Brothers? Brother Foundation and were being distributed free to the teachers.
?They are given certain number of points depending on the school population and they are given a free hand to choose what type of books they needed for their schools. It?s a unique way of book shopping and it?s free of charge,? Rodriguez said.
US Ambassador Kristie Kenney said she was happy that the teachers took time out to get the books for their pupils. They were so dedicated that they spent time finding the right reading materials, she said.
?I really feel with the teachers. As you know, my mother was a teacher for so many, many years so I know teachers don?t make a fortune,? Kenney said.
That?s why, Kenney said, the US government continues to make efforts to help the teachers and pupils of poor areas, such as those in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), through various programs.
More attention is needed for education because it remains one of the most important factors that can help free the community, especially the children, from all forms of illegal activities, including terrorism, she said.
Little gov?t support
Salih said schools in conflict-affected areas did not get as much from the government.
?Whenever strong rains hit in our place, we immediately suspend classes because we don?t have decent classrooms. Either we continue the classes and let our pupils get wet from rain or suspend it,? she said.
As far as reading materials are concerned, Salih said she and the other teachers were not lucky either.
?We are using outdated books from the ?80s and the ?90s. That?s what we are using and we haven?t received any books despite our not failing to submit our requests,? she said.
Muhain said that with the books she got from fair, she might put up a small library where students could read and learn more.
?It was only this school opening that I received Science textbooks from the Department of Education in the ARMM. Last year, not a single book,? she said.
Eufremio Canaria, education supervisor for Sulu, said the books that Equalls2 provided were already a great help to the pupils. ?These will definitely be useful for references,? he said.
Pantasan said that despite the limited resources, they were still inspired to teach. ?Our students show interest and that?s enough for us to continue our dedication to teach them,? she said.
Salih agreed. ?The parents and students are always supportive. The children want to finish their education. For as long as they are interested, we will be here for them,? she said.