Monday, October 24, 2005


The sign on the road reads Verie Hills Subdivision. Indeed, the affluence of neatly lined houses affirms that it is the “millionaire’s lane”. But farther into the lane, one discovers a small, simple home; its wealth dwells not on the structure but on the goodness that the owner’s heart overflows with.
A monthly honorarium of P 1,000 can barely suffice for a college student but this same amount has been supporting 42-year-old Helen Niaga. A Child Development Worker (CDW) of the Department of Social Welfare and Development’s Early Childhood Development (ECD) program, Helen arms herself every morning with a bulky bag that contains a banig (mat), books, and toys for her students, and treks a hilly slope to get to her community, Sitio Campisot, Liloan. A living proof that the lack of college education does not deter anybody from serving fellow Filipinos, Helen is the epitome of faith and real public service.
Meanwhile, students aged three to five anxiously wait for their mentor every morning. With eyes fixed from afar, Lovely, four, began reciting her ABC’s softly enough for her seatmate to hear. When her classmates shouted, “Naa na si Tita Helen! (Tita Helen is here!)” she stopped and craned her neck to see her teacher clearly. Sure enough, Helen was making her way towards her with all smiles. All at the same time, the kids run to her and grab her hand.
To signal the residents of her arrival, she strikes a hollow arm-length steel pipe as if it were a bell. Soon, other children, carrying their bags and school materials appear. Today, their “classroom” is an unfinished house. The next day, it could be under the shade of a tree or in a public building. With no permanent room to hold their classes, the weather is an influential determinant. But the children are oblivious to this. As she leads them to their classroom, she whispers, “Niadtong usang adlaw, naay nihilak nga bata kay di na gusto mouli. (The other day, one of the kids cried because he did not want to go home.)”
As a CDW, it is her responsibility to prepare her students mentally, physically, and socially for the next level, conforming to the basic premise of the ECD program that an early development is crucial to the success of the children’s future. Like other teachers, she follows a plan that will cater to the development of her students’ potentials.
One wonders why after three years of her continued service to the children of Sitio Campisot, she does not seem worn out. Aside from her community service, she sells vegetables, teaches catechism in different schools, and does volunteer work for the parish. She admits, though, that she does get tired. But her happiness and fulfilment compensates for everything she works hard for.
Diha koy estudyante nga naa na sa grade one. Pag-abot niya ngadto, kamao na siya mu-count. Unya gipangutana siya kung diin siya nakat-on og ihap. Ingon siya ‘kang Tita Helen!’ (I had a student who is now in grade one. She already knew how to count. She was asked where she learned how to count. She said she learned it from me.)”
Nothing makes her happier than to see her students learn from her class. One day, she tests the children’s skills in distinguishing shapes. She picks up a square toy and asks her student to tell her the shape.
Unsa ni Love? (What is this, Love?)”
“Circle,” Love shyly answers.
Unsa man ni Mary Rose? (What is this, Mary Rose?)” she asks another.
“Square,” Mary Rose answers.
She picks up other shapes and places them in the palm of her hand.
Asa man ang square, Love? (Where is the square, Love?)”
When the child picks out the square toy, she smiles at her proudly.
At the end of a long, tiresome day, she can only say, “Dili jud mabayran sa sapi ang kalipay.” (Money really can’t buy happiness.)
By Maria Carla Bren Vianney L. Yap
Published: October 5, 2004; Sun Star Cebu; Community Force Section; Editor: Pura L. Kintanar

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