CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Literacy and numeracy schools for indigenous children in Bukidnon and Agusan del Sur received Child Friendly Space (CFS) kits from the United Nations Children’s Fund.
“These are the schools that we have worked hard to establish – and some, reopen – in very remote areas, far from the nearest public schools,” Maria Famita N. Somogod, MSM, the over-all coordinator of the literacy and numeracy (lit-num) lit-num schools. “The schools are in communities continually disrupted by the counter-insurgency operations of the military.”
The kits, amounting to more than half a million, were distributed by the volunteer nuns of the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines – Northern Mindanao Sub-Region (RMP-NMR) on January 23 and 30.
“The communities we have chosen are really far because they are the ones who are seldom reached by social services,” said Melissa A. Comiso, head of the lit-num school cluster in Agusan del Sur. After a long bus ride, the nuns who brought the kits had to ride a habal-habal [single motorcycle with wooden extensions along its sides.
“Then they had to cross the Adgawan River in a bangka,” said Ms. Comiso. “The total fare for one way is more than P2,000 for the bangka alone. But this is a very important project for us and all our partners. We are showing our support for their determination to continue their services despite having been called schools of the NPAs [New Peoples Army] which consequently made the volunteer teachers targets for harassments.”
The CFS kits included learning materials such as puzzles and number blocks, toys, musical instruments, art kits, and children’s books.
In the message sent on December 9, 2012 by Sarah Norton-Staal, the Chief of Child Protection of UNICEF Philippines, she stated their concern of the situation faced by indigenous communities in Northern Mindanao. “Children are especially vulnerable in times of crisis,” her letter read. “Natural disasters and armed conflict undermine the community’s ability to protect their children. Protecting our children from the effects of these crises is a moral and legal imperative not only of the community, but of the state and the international community as well.”
The children welcomed the materials with a celebration, dancing with their mothers using their new musical instruments. “It is the first time for these children to see these musical instruments,” said Avelino Tumbalang, a volunteer teacher in Bukidnon. “Even if we showed the children pictures of these, having the actual instruments is a lot more better to their learning.”
The art kits were distributed per child. “I am very happy that I now have my own crayons,” Ado Man-osad, a 6-year old student, said while looking through his kit. “My classmates and I used to share just one set.”
The schools are presently operating mainly through the communities’ contributions and manpower. “We have provided them some funds from the donations of compatriots abroad such as the Philippine Society in Japan – Nagoya Chapter,” said Ms. Somogod. “But it is really a self-help project. Right now, the RMP is trying to solicit used television units and DVD players they could use as instructional materials. We also want to show them child-friendly movies because tv sets are rare here in the uplands.”
Communities that benefit from the lit-num schools include Minduyog, Libon and Liwangwang, Mintakii, Odal, Tabon-tabon, Kandiisan, Kihinggay, and Simuntanan in the province of Agusan del Sur, and Malungon, Dumasilag, Elian, Logdeck 6, Butay, Balacayo, and Mahan-ao in the province of Bukidnon.
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