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Mountain school gets gift of light

NQUIRER group preparing the gifts for the turnover ritesphoto by Charles Buban

INQUIRER group prepares the gifts for the students of Toplac Barrio School. CHARLES BUBAN

IT IS a run-down, three-room school building, but the scenery around it simply takes your breath away.

Nestled among mountains at over 1,500 meters above sea level, Toplac Barrio School (TBS) is surrounded by towering limestone escarpments, a lush forest and a spectacularly tiered waterfall. This is where Keanu Reeves Becasan, a 4-year-old Kankanaey, and 59 other children go to school.

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For a couple of weeks last month, Becasan was the poster child for a fund-raising drive conducted by several Inquirer employees to drum up support for this school.

Located in the municipality of Kapangan, about 40 kilometers from the capital town of La Trinidad in Benguet province, TBS is about as isolated as it gets. It can be reached only by hiking for about four hours through terraced rice paddies, steep and rocky slopes and a dense forest. Not to mention four rusty hanging bridges that cross Amburayan River.

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After the sun goes down, the village becomes eerily dark and quiet because there is no electricity.

“The children have to put off doing homework until the next morning,” barangay kagawad Jeter Takap said. “Families cannot travel safely. They cannot do their chores. The price of kerosene (for lamps) or batteries (for flashlights) is too much for most of the families here who are surviving only through subsistence farming.”

Genie Lagman, chair of the Philippine Daily Inquirer Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative (PDIEUMPC), having learned about the problem during a previous visit, proposed that Inquirer employees do something about it. And so, the coop donated 25 units of portable solar-powered lighting kits to the Toplac families with schoolchildren.

The lighting kit features four LED bulbs connected to a rechargeable battery that powers up via a weatherproof portable solar panel.

“Those of us who live in cities often take lighting for granted. But for the residents of Barrio Toplac and its only school, inadequate illumination is a fact of life,” Lagman said.

Members of the Inquirer’s mountaineering club joined the PDIEUMPC officers in initiating the fund-raising drive.

According to Ken Molina, head of the Inquirer’s Awtdor Club, it was at one of his group’s treks in the area that they met the two women who teach the 37 children attending Grade 1 to 5 classes at TBS and the 23 toddlers attending day care, including Becasan.

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“We were amazed by the teachers’ dedication,” Molina said.

Gema Manis and Wilma Alfredo have to commute from their homes for hours before they can even start the hike along the mountain trails that lead to the school.

“They have been with us for more than two years now. To express our gratitude, we built a house just for them located within the school grounds,” Takap said.

Because of the distance and the terrain, the teachers are able to go home to their families only every Friday after school, and are expected back at TBS on Monday morning. This was why they were not around to witness the turnover of the Inquirer team’s donations to Takap on a recent Saturday.

In addition to the solar lighting kits, the donations consisted of 60 backpacks, each filled with notebooks, writing pads, pens, pencils, coloring books and crayons. Also turned over were sports equipment, including two basketball rings, badminton rackets, basketballs and volleyballs. The team also gifted the TBS children with guitars and boxes of snacks.

“Every now and then, mountaineers and trekkers pass by this area. But this is the first time a group sat and listened to our story. We did not expect anyone to bring gifts, especially for our schoolchildren. Our community will never forget what you and your officemates have done today,” Takap said. TVJ

 

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TAGS: Amburayan River, Benguet province, Education, Genie Lagman, Jeter Takap, Kankanaey, Kapangan, Keanu Reeves Becasan, La Trinidad, PDIEUMPC, Philippine Daily Inquirer Employees Multi-Purpose Cooperative, school building, TBS, Toplac Barrio School
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