News and Events

Here are thoughts from Synergeia’s trustee, John Silva on our education work in Del Carmen, Surigao.

I just hate waking up like at three in the morning to ready myself for an early flight but for Synergeia, my organization that teaches educators in the far flung provinces, I’m up and showering. This time it was Siargao. Tourist surfer country but in the hinterlands, like in Del Carmen, a poor municipality, it’s the familiar refrain of schools with no electricity and water and eager students but little books. We’ve been working in Siargao, with 19 schools and 2,700 students and 106 teachers for six years now. With our helping them on getting students to read and comprehend better, many schools have seen increases of up to 10% in their students’ NATS scores. Other schools fare less if not on a decline. Overall, it’s an incremental increase with a little satisfaction that some schools fare better than those in Manila. I have to hand it to my colleagues, Jay Jalandoni, Luigi Bernas Ray Aquino, Bambi Villarosa and head guru Milwida M. Guevara for doing the incredibly daunting part of getting head teachers, principals, school heads, parents and barangay captains in a room and making them think like executives in running their schools. No more petty bickering but strategies on getting financial and political support, on choosing the right board members instead of celebrities of just taking a more committed part in the education of their students. These guys have been doing it for so long they have the knack to inspire, share and deepen their commitment. My soul buddy in these trips is Oskar Atendido who is introduced as being on the faculty of John Robert Powers and is there to teach the educators posture, grace, and body manners. You may think this a marked departure from the serious stuff but THIS IS SERIOUS STUFF. Feudal sexist culture pushes our mostly women educators to have a feeble, mousy bearing which does not exude the confidence and inner strength needed in a classroom. One session with Oskar and they are all ramrod straight with an air of forthrightness ready to charge into a classroom and change the world! As for me, I taught about 40 third and fourth year college students on how to become volunteer readers to the poor kids in the uplands. They will spend 4 -6 weeks and live with families there in harsh surroundings and conduct reading lessons. I told them their decision was heartwarming to me and I made my best efforts to drill them on their history and culture and civic duties. I am not a kind teacher because I goad them, now, to start reading their history, learning the art of making children love the written word. My impatience gets the better of me but in the end I see in their faces a resolve to learn more and prepare for their arduous task ahead. I am proudest that the most engaging, witty, and constantly asking questions are the obviously gay young men in the midst. And there are more than a few!!! Oh yes, there was play time, on the last day where we were taken on a boat to the largest contiguous mangrove swamp in the country. Their formidable guardians from storms and sanctuary to birds and we sputtered to a lagoon whose turquoise waters enraptured me and Oskar and I, stripped to shorts to fast and plunged in to a still, temperate and soothing water. Surrounded by rocks shrouded in pine trees and limitless blue sky, I wondered why it took me this long to find paradise. Mayor Alfredo Coro of Del Carmen Municipality where we worked is an unmayor mayor. An IT man, he decided to forego a very lucrative career abroad to be here and do something for his hometown. He increased the college enrollment four fold, helped immensely in the protection of the Mangrove, is building a museum which I offered to help, and has become a zealot for education. I just had to have a picture with this incredible man who I wish gets duplicated a thousand fold. As we were ready to board our plane back, Oskar and I agreed that this fulfilling work we do is the antidote to the rancor in the national scene. People don’t know what to make of the new President and others wait while we have nothing to do with that. We’re just going to chart our course, teach kids to love reading, to discern and be critical and, perhaps, help in making the leaps and right moves for our country in the future.