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Read-along + therapy + relief aid

Laughter, songs, dances, cheers and inspiring stories on empowerment marked the special back-to-back Inquirer Debriefing Read-Along sessions attended by some 300 children and 150 teachers and youth volunteers in areas damaged by Tropical Storm “Sendong” in Iligan and Cagayan de Oro cities last month.

“Here we are, alive, kicking and smiling. Thanks to you and to activities like this, we feel happy again,” said Leonora Alinsub, officer in charge of Balulang Elementary School in Barangay Balulang, Cagayan de Oro. The school was among the structures damaged by storm.

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“We are thankful that [the storytellers] visited us because it somehow made us happy after experiencing Sendong in December,” said 12-year-old Jinky Gomez.

Adelina de los Reyes, who helped organized the activities in Iligan, said she was worried that the sessions would again make the participants cry. She was wrong.

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Teachers who attended the session held at the gym of St. Michael’s College High School in Barangay San Miguel said they all had much fun. They invited the Inquirer Read-Along team to come back so that more teacher and student victims of Sendong could have the same happy experience.

The sessions were part of the Inquirer’s efforts to extend assistance to areas affected by killer floods that struck the two cities in December last year.

To help survivors move forward, the newspaper’s read-along program, which aims to teach children to love reading, was tweaked to include dancing, singing and games in making the activities even more fun, wacky, dynamic and interactive.

The events, held in Iligan on Feb. 16-17 and in Cagayan de Oro on Feb. 18-19, included storytelling workshops conducted by Sophia School teachers Ann Abacan and Nerrie Denilla and Alitaptap storytellers Rich Rodriguez and Mario Noval Jr.

Play therapy

Before the actual reading, the children were divided into groups for the play therapy conducted by volunteers from the CMO-Youth Affairs and Service for Peace (SFP) in Iligan, and volunteers from the SFP, People Empowering People Assembly, Empowered Volunteers Organization, Kids for Peace Foundation and Filipino Chinese Catholic Youth (FCCY) in Cagayan de Oro.

On Feb. 17, the Inquirer’s corporate affairs section turned over construction materials to residents of Barangay Hinaplanon in Iligan. The materials were purchased from funds coming from the Inquirer Help Fund for Sendong victims.

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The sessions were hosted by Inquirer Mindanao’s Joselle Badilla and Inquirer marketing’s Edna Garcia.

The participants received loot bags containing donations from the Filipino community in Singapore, the USAID Climate Change and Clean Energy Project, Adarna House, National Book Store Foundation, SFP, Dondon Marquez, Kaeskwela Group, School of Satchel and Rotary Club of Makati.

The FCCY also provided snacks for the children in Cagayan de Oro.

Those in Iligan received slippers donated by Maria Cristina Eagles Club (MCEC). The session was done in cooperation with Mayor Lawrence Cruz, Randy Tortola of the SDS, Emmanuel Salibay of the MCEC and St. Michael’s College.

Iligan City

Eva Gonzaga Lee, a teacher of Linanot Elementary School, was not able to join in the dancing, exercises and acting activities during the storytelling workshop conducted by Sophia School principal Abacan and Denilla in the afternoon of Feb. 16.

While most of the nearly 100 participants were sitting on the floor, Lee had to join older teachers in the bleachers as her foot was still wrapped in bandage, its deep wound inflicted by a floating galvanized iron and requiring two layers of stitches.

Lee narrated her ordeal when she was trapped by floodwaters that almost swallowed her home in Purok 4, Barangay Tambo, during the night. With waters reaching up to just 1 foot below the ceiling of her bedroom, Lee was floating on her mattress for almost four hours. She recalled being hysterical, asked her dead father for help. She later found strength and peace in nonstop praying.

Two months after, she can look at the past with less pain. “We must not take the pain too hard,” she said in Filipino.

Lee said she was looking forward to applying what she had learned and to sharing how to use storytelling as a teaching tool and a means to promote healing with her four coteachers in their school in the hinterland.

Other teachers—Remedious Loang of Taluntunan Elementary School, Norvisa Orit of Benito S. Ong Elementary School and Hydie Abrajano of Sardab Elementary School—also found the storytelling workshop fun and fruitful.

Learning to be creative

Loang said lack of teaching materials was a problem, but she learned to be creative by using available resources and acting out stories to make them interesting and fun for students.

She used to give things and food, such as biscuits, candies and lollipops, as incentives to her students. She has found a better way—wacky and interactive storytelling and teaching that she hopes will reduce absenteeism.

“Now that we were given tips on how to make storytelling effective and fun for kids, I plan to also use it in my class,” said Orit, a Grade 5 adviser. “Though I think I will have to put more effort because my students are older kids.”

Abrajano said, “I learned that a storyteller can use punch lines, and that it’s OK to be cartoonish.”

During the seminar-workshop, the teachers learned about the elements, kinds, characteristics and stages of storytelling. They had fun applying techniques like use of voice, facial expressions and body gestures to show the correct emotions and the use of dance, songs, and improvised costumes to enrich or reinforce concepts.

Abacan said, “I did not have a hard time running the Iligan seminar. The teachers were very receptive and participative. They also tried to give their best in the storytelling showcase as part of their application of storytelling principles and tips.”

9 public schools

The workshop was followed by a read-along session on Feb. 17, which was attended by some 70 child victims from nine public schools in Iligan: Bagong Silang Elementary School, Cabili Village Elementary School, Echavez Elementary School, Tubod Elementary School, Mandulog Elementary School, Kiwalan Elementary School, North 1- Central School, North East Elementary School, and Tubaran Central School.

Abacan and Denilla taught the children to sing “Pag-Ibig Tulad ng Batis” with accompanying actions. With the bouncy song that teaches love and care for the environment, young and old alike were on their feet, swaying, dancing, singing and smiling.

The two read “Si Inggolok at ang Planeta Pakaskas” and “Ang Patsotsay na Iisa ang Pakpak,” while Elizabeth Roble, a teacher-participant, read “Isang Mayang Uhaw” as fellow teachers Orit and Abrajano performed in the background.

Roble said she had been turning to storytelling whenever she notices that her students are getting bored or restless in class. During her reading, she said she pretended she was “Lola Basyang.”

“Children have a very short span of interest so I get their attention by sometimes imitating the voices of popular characters,” she said.

Storytelling

Orit and Abrajano, on the other hand, agreed that performing in front of the huge group of children was embarrassing at first but it became fun and enjoyable once they got the hang of it.

Gielou Cadampog, 7, liked the teachers’ storytelling of “Isang Mayang Uhaw.” Smiling shyly and speaking with a soft voice, he said he liked best the sounds made by “Tikling.”

Gomez said she liked “Ang Patsotsay” “because the lead character did not let anything discourage it from doing what it wanted and it didn’t lose hope.”

The Aklat Batibot, written by Rene Villanueva and published by Philippine Children’s Television Foundation Inc., tells the story about flying creatures called “patsotsays” and how some handicapped members born with only one wing amazingly managed to take off by “linking” their wings together and flapping them in perfect sync.

Cagayan de Oro City

In Cagayan de Oro, some 50 teachers and volunteers from various youth organizations learned the basics of storytelling in a workshop led by Alitaptap on Feb. 18 at Balulang Elementary School.

The highlight of the read-along session the next day were two stories about unlikely friendships.

Balulang teachers who were deemed best workshop participants, Christine Carumba and Aisah Alauyo, read Angelita Aragon’s “Ang Magkaibigan,” a story about the friendship of an ant and a dove, while Rodriguez and Noval read Carla M. Pacis’ “Hipon and Biya,” a story about the friendship of a shrimp and a goby fish.

“The teachers told me they haven’t laughed this hard since Sendong,” said  SFP’s Leah Mehila, who helped organize the session.

For the teachers of Balulang, their school has come a long way since the storm, though some reminders of the disaster still remain. To this day, damaged classrooms are still being repaired, and some students still get uneasy at the slightest hint of rain.

“I remember the aftermath of Sendong—there was mud everywhere, and all of the things in my classroom have been destroyed,” said Alauyo, who also fell ill with leptospirosis due to the floods.

Helpless feeling

Akisa Musor, a kindergarten teacher and one of the volunteers, said she cried when she saw the damage in her classroom. “My family was not affected by Sendong, but I found out through radio that the school was badly hit. I cried when I saw the damage. I felt so helpless.”

Carumba, on the other hand, had thought that most of her students were moving on from the tragedy. “It was hard at first to answer them when they asked questions about their friends who have stopped going to school after Sendong,” she shared. “But they’re happy now.”

Jean Maris Radoc, 9, smiled as she shared what she had experienced. But when the topic turned to a classmate she lost in the flood, she was pensive. Asked if that classmate was her friend, she simply nodded and said, “Yes.”

Balulang’s student population went from 1,857 to 1,733 after the floods. Some of the students were relocated to other areas.

Eight students still remain missing to this day. A Grade 4 pupil died in the flood.

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TAGS: Cagayan de Oro City, Children, iligan city, Reading, Sendong
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