A few years back, teacher Annie Lee Masongsong received news from the Department of Education (DepEd): she has been promoted and she may already transfer to a school in the lowlands – nearer to her home and better equipped with facilities.
To a comfortable person, traversing mountains, ravines, and rivers every week for several years is reason enough to grow weary and grab the opportunity for a better work condition. To an average person, a promotion validates the sacrifices and justifies a well-deserved compensation.
But Teacher Annie is neither average nor comfortable – not in knowing that there are Filipinos unable to assert their rights due to lack of education: “’Serve with all your heart,’ that is my guiding principle in life. No reservations, whoever you need to serve; perform your duty the best that you can because we are given only one chance. If you do not make it good, somebody will take over and you might lose the chance to do your part. Wherever your feet are, that’s the best place you can perform your duty well.”
For her heart belongs to the Mangyan community in the remote Sitio Labo in Bansud, Mindoro Oriental, Teacher Annie declined the offer and continued teaching – and loving – not just the young Mangyans but even the adults who barely know how to read and write.
“I saw how vulnerable the life of these people is, especially the kids of Labo Elementary School. They attend school with an empty stomach. They don’t even change their clothes even after bathing every day. They do not have paper and pencil to use in class. I cannot explain my feelings when I saw their situation,” Teacher Annie confessed.
The community has no source of potable water so Teacher Annie helped solicit water tanks, pipes, and solar water filter for the Mangyans. She also paved the way for the community to have additional source of living by soliciting carpentry tools which the Mangyans would use and helped establish the Baboy para sa Pamilya Project. Teacher Annie sought doctors and nurses to conduct outreach programs in the school at least twice a year, and solicited shirts, school supplies, medicine, vitamins, and hygiene supplies just so the Mangyans would not have to beg for alms in town.
She also solicited help and food from family and friends to be able to provide sustenance for all her students: “We serve them food every day during lunch. Since 2014, I save part of my salary for them. I want them to feel that they are loved and cared for, that they are one of the most important people in the world. I will always love and protect them like my own children.”
It is this commitment that led her to receive the Dangal ng Bayan Award in the 2018 Outstanding Government Workers Awards of the Civil Service Commission (CSC). Along with nine other Dangal ng Bayan awardees, Teacher Annie was recognized for her performance of exemplary public service and consistent demonstration of exemplary ethical behavior based on the eight norms of conduct provided under Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.
“I give and share not because I have plenty but because I know how it feels to have nothing. When I was assigned in that far-flung area, I didn’t think of anything in return but others noticed and knew my sacrifices,” she shared. Her dedication even caught the attention of a documentary program that featured her story two years ago to be an inspiration to many.
Teacher Annie had not always scaled the expanse of Bansud’s terrain when she became a teacher. She started practicing her profession in 2001 at a private school. It was only in 2014 when she decided to become a public servant.
In the face of the many challenges, Teacher Annie knows there is nothing that will make her change or regret her decision. Serving the Mangyans enabled her to grow as an individual grateful of their company and of the many lessons she continuously learns about life: “They are the most lovable people I have mingled with; they are my inspiration and my courage to ascend the mountains excitedly every week. They are the reason why I look at each day as the day designed by God for me to always see the beauty of life.”
For her fellow educators, Teacher Annie gave these words of encouragement: “Take every challenge as a blessing. God has a unique purpose in our lives that’s why He put us in this profession. Be courageous and be inspired every day. Congratulations that you are a teacher!”