MANILA, OCTOBER 7, 2013 (PHILSTAR) STARWEEK: By Razel Estrella - Established in 1991, Bato Balani Foundation, Inc. (BBFI) strives to uplift the quality of education in the Philippines through its various initiatives. One of its campaigns is “The Many Faces of the Teacher,” which aims to discover and recognize committed and innovative educators from all over the country, and consequently create awareness of the teacher’s integral role in nation-building.

This year, BBFI honors Teodora Balangcod of the University of the Philippines – Baguio, Julieta Serrano of San Joaquin Elementary School in Iloilo, Jesus Insilada of Alcarde Gustilo Memorial National High School in Iloilo, and Randy Halasan of Pegalongan Elementary School in Davao.

Teodora Balangcod

Teodora Balangcod’s love for plants and nature began at a young age when she saw how her parents grew flowers and brought them to Manila to sell. Her father, in fact, was a gardener in UP Baguio, where she currently serves as an associate professor teaching botany, plant taxonomy, terrestrial ecology, and plant physiology.

What Teodora enjoys most about her job, though, is the extension work, where she moves away from the confines of the classroom and go to the field. “My passion for the community started when I engaged in ethno-botanical studies,” she shares. “I go there, interview people, and immerse with them, so I can see the real data.”

This year, she leads a team that works closely with the Atok community in establishing a nursery to produce plant species for revegetation in areas affected by landslides. The project is funded by the UN-World Food Program. Together with the Atok people, they planted plant species especially chosen to serve a dual purpose: to make money and to hold the soil to prevent erosion.

“I also involved my students, so they can have a taste of community immersion,” she says and adds that the students were very excited about the activity.

Teodora has been actively helping the society throughout her career and her efforts do not go unnoticed. Despite this, she refuses to take all the credit. “I don’t do it alone,” she says and notes that one of her aspirations is to have someone continue what she started: “I like mentoring. It’s nice if you have a junior faculty to guide, and as you grow together, you will have someone to leave the work you do to.”

Julieta Serrano

Julieta Serrano was once a volunteer teacher at ULIKID – a community-based special education and rehabilitation program for children with disabilities. The acronym means “concern for children with disabilities” in Ilonggo. What started as volunteer work quickly grew to become a vocation.

“Every Sunday after the second Mass, we gathered in one vacant area to teach the disabled children, because ULIKID had no center yet,” recalls Julieta. “We used vacant cottages and even the back part of the church. I remember we once got caught in the rain, so we pulled the kids, and their parents also followed. We just kept on running.”

In 2008, Julieta and her fellow volunteer teachers expressed the need for an education center catering to special children at San Joaquin Elementary School, where she has been teaching. Because of their persistence, the request was granted by the school principal and now members of the ULIKID Foundation can avail of the school’s educational services.

“Last year, the Bureau of Elementary Education recognized our school as a SPED center,” Julieta shares. “What’s good about it is that once you’re a SPED center, you can get funds from the bureau each year.”

Asked where her love for children and teaching came from, Julieta refers to her parents, whom she said were very active in the community. “They brought us to religious meetings. Maybe my passion grew from there, because I got to mingle with different types of people,” she explains. Julieta is also a dedicated coach and delights in having her students join competitions. “I love seeing kids receive medals and recognition – because I haven’t experienced this. Positively, I impart what I missed before to those kids.”

Jesus Insilada

Teacher and creative writer Jesus Insilada’s advocacy is to preserve and introduce the Panay, Bukidnon culture through his writings. “I believe in the power and magic of multi-lingualism,” says Jesus, who writes in local languages Kiniray-a and Hiligaynon. “Although I am an English teacher, I encourage my students to study, love, and master our indigenous literature. I also encourage them to learn Filipino.”

Though he graduated with a degree in Industrial Education, Jesus began working as an English teacher with prodding from the Alcarde Gustilo Memorial National High School principal, who told him that the school lacked English teachers.

To enhance his skills, both as a teacher and a creative writer, he took a post-graduate degree in English and Literature at the West Visayas State University in 2010. He also grabbed every opportunity to further improve his craft. Jesus participates in national writing workshops and he also joins the Palanca Awards yearly, wherein he already bagged two awards.

Jesus is most proud of establishing Hubon Manograra, which translates to “a group of weavers” in Hiligaynon in 2010. “I screened members based on their submitted literary works and really urged them to write in Hiligaynon and Kiniray-a,” he says. During his vacant time, Jesus would mentor the members. “Then I would send their works for publication,” he continues. “The most fulfilling thing is to see their names in print. And I’m very happy that they are following my footsteps.”

Randy Halasan

When Randy Halasan applied for a permanent teaching position in Davao in 2007, he was assigned at Pegalongan Elementary School – a far place in the city with no electricity. “I thought to myself that I won’t last here, because I got used to the life downtown where I grew up,” he shares. He, however, took the job and eventually fell in love with the Matisalog tribe, so he chose to stay. For six years he taught at Pegalongan and eventually became the officer-in-charge.

Randy contends that education and poverty must be both addressed at once: “No matter how good you are in teaching, if the students are hungry, nothing will happen.” Because of this, he organized the Pegalongan Farmers Association, which works with government and non-government stakeholders in creating agricultural projects. “We need agriculture and education. That’s the program to overcome poverty,” he adds.

Aside from this, Randy saw the need to build a high school. “To go to the nearest high school, you have to hike for almost eight hours,” he continues. “So along with other teachers, we lobbied for it and we were able to open an annex for grades seven and eight – so the kids won’t stop studying.”

Randy has more plans for the school and the tribe he came to love, but one of his biggest dreams is to build hanging bridges in the area, so that students and teachers can easily and, more importantly, safely go to school and back home.

“No one got rich out of teaching, but it’s your legacy that matters” he says in explaining why he is proud to be a teacher. “It’s like you’re an engineer who builds the character of people. And we are agents of change in the country, because all professionals start from us.”

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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