“Kahit walang nananalaytay na dugong Mangyan sa aking mga ugat, may pusong Mangyan ako na tapat, handang magmahal at dumamay sa mga taong nangangailangan,” Roderick Labay, Head Teacher I of Apnagan Elementary School, declared.
The choice to start his teaching career at the Dyangdang Primary School in an isolated indigenous peoples’ (IP) community in Bansud, Oriental Mindoro was not Teacher Roderick’s to make, but the decision to dedicate decades of service to the Mangyans is a vocation that he is willing to accept – over and over.
“The excitement that I felt turned into disappointment and fear, because this was far beyond my expectations! It was 17.5 kilometers from the district office, I needed to cross 14 rivers that pose risks and danger, especially during the rainy season when it floods and the hike to the mountains turns muddy and slippery,” Teacher Roderick admitted.
But all his fear subsided as the IP learners, parents, and volunteer teacher warmly welcomed on his first day of work. “Their smiles revealed genuine appreciation of my decision to accept the position and serve in the school. The disappointment and fear I felt disappeared, for in my heart, I knew that I would be with these simple, sincere and lovable people,” he added.
From here on, Teacher Roderick learned of the Mangyan learners’ plight: one makeshift classroom was too small for his large class; instructional materials were insufficient; and absenteeism, due to hunger and the need to work for income, was a common problem.
To help him better understand their needs and to be able to introduce innovations, Teacher Roderick studied the Mangyans’ language, culture, and traditions. In his first year of teaching, he tackled the problem of classroom shortage and initiated Klasrum Natin, Pagtulungan Natin where the community came together to build a makeshift classroom that accommodated 74 Tadyawan Mangyan learners.
He also conducted Informal Education for Mangyan parents who are unable to read and write: “I managed to divide the week and traveled back and forth every three and a half days in order to teach both pupils of Dyangdang and groups from the Buhid tribe located in Sitio Labo, This is more than six kilometers away from Dyangdang.”
His perseverance also resulted in the establishment of the Labo Primary School in SY 2003-2004. After completing the required documents, it was legally separated from Dyangdang Elementary School. Teacher Roderick sought for land donors and won the support of the Parent-Teacher Association (PTA), paving way for the construction of one makeshift classroom by the parents of his Mangyan learners, and of one blackboard and seats for the 45 Buhid Mangyan learners.
Persistent in his desire to find more ways of helping the IP community, he initiated and sustained the following programs and projects:
• Personal Health and Sanitation Education (Project PHaSE) – improved the health status, personal hygiene practices, and health habits of learners with maximum involvement of their parents
• StudCentered Project – provided positive and flourishing environment for the students. The project was a compilation of all programs and activities analyzed to respond solely on the needs of its first class beneficiaries. The project, through the help of and funding from groups and individuals, resulted in learning resources assistance, development of holistic learning, physical improvement and technological support toward the health care of the school
• Gamit Mo, Sagot Ko – increased academic performance of 224 learners; reduced absenteeism and drop-out among learners; motivated learners to attend classes regularly
• Katabi Mo, Guro Ko – provided opportunity for learners to practice peer teaching and address reading problems
• Banana Plantation Program and Gulayan sa Paaralan – provided adequate food to address the health concerns of learners; served as an income-generating project that sustained their needs
• Tapat Mo, Linis Natin – promoted cooperation among learners, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders to provide a clean, safe, and secure environment for all. Members of the community started cleaning their own place and extended the effort to the whole community, thereby, establishing and strengthening the partnership between the school and its community.
• Nutri-Alaga Program; Tsinelas at Sapatos Mo, Sagot Natin; Fanilayan Mananod (honesty store); and Mangyan dance group – involved improvement of physical facilities, soliciting of devices, construction of pathway, repair of the school stage, painting of signage, construction of IP house and school canteen, fence, learning hub, hand washing area, dental trough, and other facilities.
Teacher Roderick expanded his network of sponsors, through which he was able to help provide school supplies, bags, slippers, shoes, hygiene supplies, raincoats, uniforms, toys, books, food, vitamins, and other materials that greatly motivated his learners to continue studying and inspired fellow educators to hold on to their passion for teaching IP learners.
“Although my dedication to finding connections and assistance for the welfare of the Mangyan students goes beyond my duty, I still have more plans for IP communities,” he stated.
After three years of simultaneously serving as a classroom teacher and as teacher-in-charge (TIC) at both Dyangdang and Labo elementary schools, Teacher Roderick was transferred to Proper Bansud Elementary School due to the Localization Law and to his need to earn units in a master’s degree. In 2015, he was assigned as the TIC of Apnagan Elementary School, another IP school, which requires him to ride a motorcycle for 25 kilometers and cross a river.
“Behind all the difficulties of being a public school teacher in a remote area, I was able to surpass the challenges and actually brought changes and development to our school and community, with the assistance and support of stakeholders. I was able to show that I am doing it not for any recognition but to address the pressing needs of the children,” he shared.
His efforts and sacrifices earned Teacher Roderick several recognitions, the latest of which is being among the 10 Dangal ng Bayan awardees in the 2018 Outstanding Government Workers of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). The award is conferred to an individual for performance of extraordinary act or public service and consistent demonstration of exemplary ethical behavior on the basis of the employee’s observation of the eight norms of conduct provided under Republic Act No. 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
His exemplary efforts also earned him the following: Superintendent’s Award-Outstanding Head Teacher of Oriental Mindoro (Elementary Level) in 2018; Honorable Mention Awardee in the Search for Ambassador Antonio Cabangon-Chua Gintong Parangal para sa Edukasyon-Guro in 2017; Ulirang Guro Regional Winner of Manila Teachers in 2016; Superintendent’s Award- Most Outstanding Teacher of Oriental Mindoro and Proper Bansud Elementary School’s Best Teacher in 2015.
“I have nothing to change in my decision to become a teacher because I really love my profession. I want to continue my advocacy – to help the less fortunate, the underprivileged. Nawa ang karanasan ko ay magsilbing inspirasyon sa bawat guro upang patuloy na akapin at mahalin ang ating propesyon at ang pagmamalasakit sa bawat mag-aaral na ating tinuturuan. I hope and pray na lahat ng naging eskwela ko ay maging mabuting mamayang Pilipino dahil ang tanging hangad ko ay ang matupad din nila ang kanilang magagandang pangarap sa buhay,” he concluded.