Season of grief, season of joy

After the devastation wrought by earthquakes in Mindanao in October and November came the equally destructive typhoon “Tisoy” (Kammuri) that slammed the Bicol and Visayas regions.
We were lucky to have left Calbayog, Samar the night before Tisoy made landfall. It was windy and raining intermittently the whole day we were there. Our Calbayog contacts said rain poured down hard as soon as our plane took off after 8 p.m. on Nov. 30.
Four volunteers from Kaisa Para Sa Kaunlaran went to Calbayog on Nov. 29-30 on an advanced Christmas gift-giving mission for four public schools there. Dubbed “Handog sa mga magigiting na guro at masisigasig na mag-aaral (Offering to valiant teachers and keen students),” the mission brought much-needed school supplies, slippers, T-shirts, towels, hygiene kits, rice and grocery items.
Two other items were put to good use as soon as we left: laminated sheets to protect supplies from leaking roofs and solar lamps that provided light when electricity was cut off. We didn’t anticipate Tisoy, but our presence in Calbayog just before it made landfall was providential.
Donations came from many kindhearted people and Kaisa members and supporters (See story and full report in the upcoming Tulay Dec. 24, 2019). They know that through Kaisa, goods will certainly reach beneficiaries because there is no middleman. Many more families need help.
During this holiday season, we hope people will give generously to ease the suffering of those less fortunate. Instead of lavish Christmas parties and family celebrations, it will be more meaningful to donate the money to volunteer groups that will bring help to areas devastated by earthquakes and storms. Part of the funds for the Calbayog project came from people who donated to Kaisa in lieu of flowers for the wakes of Elizabeth Gokongwei and Chua Le Guat, the mother of our past president and Tulay managing editor Ang Chak Chi. This practice of generosity is one I hope others will follow.
“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy,” Kahlil Gibran, Lebanese-American writer and poet, once wrote. “I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served, and I saw that service is joy.”
In this season of joy and giving, let us do what we can to alleviate our brethren’s suffering. It will surely bring us much joy.
Hunger, poor scores
Among 79 participating countries and economies, the Philippines scored the lowest in reading comprehension in the 2018 Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) study, according to results released on Dec. 3. The worldwide study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development examines students’ knowledge in reading, mathematics and science.
In the Philippines, boys and girls alike scored lowest in reading among the 600,000 students who participated in the PISA study.
“Reading proficiency is essential for a wide variety of human activities – from following instructions in a manual; to finding out the who, what, when, where, and why of an event; to communicating with others for a specific purpose or transaction,” the summary of the PISA 2018 results reads.
But we should emphasize the positive results of getting the PISA assessment and give credit to Education Secretary Leonor Briones. The Department of Education asked for the PISA test participation, the first time it did, to validate students’ performance in the National Achievement Test.
DepEd spokesperson Annalyn Sevilla underscored in a statement the department’s courage to sign our country up for the PISA exam to enable it “to establish our baseline in relation to global standards, and benchmark the effectiveness of our reforms moving forward.”
The exam uses application of 21st century skills like problem-solving, critical thinking and logical solutions, she said. In Calbayog, we volunteers learned from teachers first hand the situation prevailing in our schools. Thus, it comes as little surprise to us that our students do so poorly in reading comprehension, math and science.
Many times, students are pulled out of school because parents need help on the farm. If they have no food at all, students, instead of going to school, scrounge around for food. They would climb banana trees, dig for kamote (sweet potato) and hunt for river crablets.
The teachers usually go home only twice a month because it takes them an average 10 hours to travel to school. It can take up to 13 hours if the river current is swift and the roads muddy. One teacher, who is single, told us he usually offers to stay behind and tutor students, even those who are not his students, because they have missed many classes.
Fortunately, these students are not those who will be chosen to take PISA exams. No DepEd official has ever visited these schools as yet.
We volunteers agreed that these rural students are luckier than those in blighted urban shanties, in the sense that each banana tree there can serve as a lunch counter.
We recently spoke with orphans of the victims of extrajudicial killings in the cities. They have nothing at all to eat. They go to school hungry. Or they stay on the streets and sniff rugby to stave off hunger.
Poverty is a serious barrier to academic performance. With a good education comes good jobs and a ticket out of poverty. It has been said all it takes is one person with a good job to bring the whole family out of poverty.
SEAG gold haul
Philippine athletes continue to sweep gold medals in the ongoing Southeast Asian Games. As of Tulay presstime, the medal haul was 113 golds, 86 silvers, and 91 bronzes. Despite lack of government support, compared to other nations’ athletes, our teams showed their best and performed extremely well. The pressure of the home court and the support and cheering of Filipino audience were potent motivators.
Many of the athletes broke their own records and SEAG’s.
One spectacular win that ended the Philippines’ 10-year drought in gold medals was by swimmer James Deiparine. He made history on the first day of swimming competition and shattered the 10-year SEAG record by clocking 1:01:46 in the men’s 100-meter breaststroke. It surpassed his own Philippine record of 1:02.00, which he set in the 2017 SEA Games in Kuala Lumpur.
Young Filipino teen gymnast Carlos Yulo took home two golds and five silvers in gymnastics, far from his confident bid to sweep golds in all events.
Yulo is the country’s first world champion in gymnastics. He made history by winning the Philippines’ first gold medal in the men’s floor exercise at the World Artistic Gymnastic Championships in Stuttgart, Germany on Oct. 12.
He achieved this after intensive training under Japanese coach Munehiro Kugimiya who saw his potential when he came to coach the Philippine team in a gesture of sporting goodwill from the Gymnastic Association of Japan.
As Tulay closes, it looks like the Philippines is on its way to being the overall champion in the 2019 SEA games. Mabuhay!

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