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community outreach

The Courage to be Idealistic

“Anak, why don’t you help in our province instead? Put in the time now; it will help you with your future political career,” my dad suggested. The realization that I wanted to pursue this, not to further my political aspirations, but rather, to act in the spirit of hope that I found in Malagnat hit me. I was ready to challenge the Machiavellian belief that I merely needed to fulfill the bare political minimum. Only by leaving my family’s sphere of influence did I realize that a true public servant addressed the needs of all communities when called to action.

6:55 pm. My palms began to sweat as I heard the car stop at the driveway. My parents had arrived. These dinners occurred nightly, but today could be the day I disappointed them. Public service was at the heart of my upbringing. I followed my parents as they made their way through the tightest collection of houses and record temperatures to serve their constituents. Their efforts, as politicians, were so valiant that I vowed to follow their spirit in one of my future selves as possibly a politician or a human rights lawyer.

At 10, I read The Prince and came across political realism. Politicians must only serve their electorate to the extent of reelection. I then saw the contradiction between public service and politics.

When I visited Malagnat National High School in Kalinga after a typhoon, I realized the challenge of applying political realism when faced with the reality of these students’ ordeals. They had to traverse treacherous valleys and raging rivers on single pipe bamboo bridges to pursue their education. They arrived to makeshift classrooms graced only with bamboo benches under mango trees and cardboard computer drawings. Even when confronted with unfavorable circumstances, these students were poised to go to the country’s top universities.

In an effort to help these students, I created “Kahon ng Karunungan” or “Classroom in a Box” in English. These packages contained essential stationery and a workbook summarizing the Department of Education’s yearly curriculum. This allowed students to continue with their education, even if school damages prevented them from returning for several months.

To make this project a reality, I needed my family’s support. My voice quaked as I explained the situation in Malagnat to my parents and how I wanted to help them.

“I don’t know, Anak (child), that area is so mountainous and complicated.” My mom shook her head.

“Anak, why don’t you help in our province instead? Put in the time now; it will help you with your future political career,” my dad suggested. The realization that I wanted to pursue this, not to further my political aspirations, but rather, to act in the spirit of hope that I found in Malagnat hit me. I was ready to challenge the Machiavellian belief that I merely needed to fulfill the bare political minimum. Only by leaving my family’s sphere of influence did I realize that a true public servant addressed the needs of all communities when called to action. I metamorphosed from a political daughter relying on her parents’ achievements to secure power to a novice ready to use her acquired knowledge within the realities of distant provincial villages.

After that dinner, I jumpstarted my fundraising efforts. By connecting with different financial sponsors, a peer and I secured enough funds to produce kits for all the students in Malagnat. By contacting several NGOs, we set up two computers in the school, which enabled the students to experience technology. They no longer have to imagine how a computer works. Furthermore, by posting videos on a website for KNK, an engineering company volunteered to build two classrooms in the school, of which construction is now 50% completed. We have even increased our scope of operations to include three more schools in areas experiencing armed conflict and in areas that are home to indigenous populations.

Realist theories will almost always guarantee success in the political arena. Yet, I realized through this accomplishment that political success should not always be the prime motivation for holding office in government. Power provides fleeting fulfillment. In my case, I find enduring fulfillment in the ability to affect change in societies, especially those who are neglected yet have the spirit to move forward.

Months after the dinner, my dad sent me a text message. “Anak, the Congressman of Kalinga just thanked me for all the work you’ve done in Malagnat. I am proud of you.”

To learn more about KNK, read below.


Kahon ng Karunungan: Bridging Two Worlds Through Educational Equity

Our school field gleams, its fibers glittering under the radiant sun. The area was the centerpiece of an almost antithetical image that lay in front of me. A sea of tightly packed zinc roofing sheets barely connected to disintegrating cement houses enveloped the field. A wall separated the two worlds so deeply intertwined; each side with no glimpse of how the other h
alf lives.

The “squatter” colonies of Taguig City are juxtaposed against the high rise residences of Bonifacio Global City (Business World)

During my short breaks from IB work, I would walk to the floor to ceiling windows of our library and remind myself of the realities that lie beyond. This vision served as a microcosm for educational inequity in the Philippines. As I learned about the writings of Shakespeare, De Beauvoir, Angelou, most of my countrymen did not even learn the basic tenets of English grammar. This, to me, was a sobering thought. As my education bestowed more opportunities upon me to learn about the deep-rooted issues that most plague Filipino society- Islamic insurgencies, the drug trade epidemic, poverty- I found out that most of these issues are caused by educational inequity.

Thus, I learned that to counter these issues sustainably and effectively, one must work to create an educated youth. When Kahon ng Karunungan (from Tagalog meaning “Knowledge in a Box”) was established in October 2018, our focus was to provide individual self-learning kits that simulated the Department of Education’s curriculum. Students affected by a natural disaster or conflict used these to pursue their education while the schools were closed. Prior to receiving the EARCOS grant, we provided 500 students in Malagnat National High School, destroyed by landslides, with our self-learning kits.

KnK’s outreach trip with the students of Malagnat National High School in Kalinga, Philippines

KnK’s outreach trip with the students of Malagnat National High School in Kalinga, Philippines

The EARCOS grant funded our second outreach for the Taal Volcano eruption victims. We connected with the local government units as we believed that they recognized the schools that were most in need. They led us to Venancio Elementary School, the school with the closest proximity to Taal that still remained. We yearned to act swiftly, but PHILVOCS still raised Alert Level 4 in Taal; the possibility of a complete eruption was viable. That resulted in a two-week delay in our response.

On February 22, 2020, we were finally able to go to Venancio Elementary School. The once brilliant, neon buildings attempted to peer through the mound of ash that had taken away their luminance. Nicole, a 6th-grade student, lamented about how the trees had lost their life, stripped of its infant leaves. The principal Ms. Navarro, or affectionately called by her students as “Mommy Elsie,” had told us her stories of panic.

“Never in my lifetime had I thought that our village would experience this. It was an impending reality we had turned a blind eye to. A blanket of ash just fell upon the whole city. It was unimaginable.” I was especially sympathetic about the internal conflict between her two roles. With tears in her eyes, she told us this story. “I had to send my husband and children to the evacuation trucks, hoping they would reach the centers safely. I felt that I was failing my children. But who would take care of the school? I am also the mother of hundreds of children.”

KnK’s outreach trip with the students of Malagnat National High School in Kalinga, Philippines

Even in our distribution, not only did Taal’s legacy live in a sea of children wearing face masks but in the hidden sorrow in their faces. Ms. Navarro also stated that the kids lost their innate gratitude; they lost the usual “thank you smiles” they showed every visitor. The trauma still haunted them weeks later. However, stories of hope still triumphed over sorrow. Angela said that she wanted to be a teacher to help students in their times of need like her teachers. Jester said that he wanted to be a volcanologist to improve warning systems and support the people in his region.

Grade 3 students walk back to class after receiving their KnK kits

During this trip, we were able to provide 1,000 kits to the school through the EARCOS Community Service Grant. It is these stories that drive KnK to pursue our mission in every area of the Philippines we can reach.

KnK is aware of the need for sustainable change. The beneficiaries we have chosen are in urgent need of supplies. Our kits are meant to fill in the gap between the time of devastation to formal schooling. I am aware, however, that our current mandate is resource-intensive. Though we intend to have three more outreach trips this year, we are now revising our mandate to address educational inequity through more sustainable solutions. This year, we aim to reform the workbook to be inclusive of math, science, and social science. We are currently collaborating with DepEd teachers to make this more effective. We are also exploring technological platforms (applications and text messaging) that help us conduct self-learning for more students. Finally, we are starting a publication that elucidates stories and issues of educational inequity in the Philippines.

A grade 1 student smiles after receiving her KnK kit

KnK’s journey towards bridging the gap between the quality of education in the most remote areas of the Philippines and the most excellent schools in its city center is only beginning. Driven by the stories of hope like we have heard in Venancio and generous benefactors like EARCOS, we aim to make these two worlds more intertwined, burst the bubble, and not only have a glimpse but an immersion into how the other half lives. We are compelled to ensure that our countrymen will not only learn the basic tenets of grammar but explore the most profound truths of life as educational equity opens the doors to a new world.


Written by Razel Suansing

*Originally published in May 2020

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