Sulu Schools Get USAID Support

February 14, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Posted in 1 | Leave a comment



EQuALLS is helping communities in Luuk town in Sulu province in southern RP craft an education and skills plan from which their municipal government would base its education projects, like reconstructing classrooms in this devastated school building at Kan Muni elementary school. Buroh Elementary School Principal Mrs. Hulman Sali (left) receives a copy of the joint support agreement which will guide her in using the schools improvement grant from USAID’s EQuALLS project and the local government of Talipao. With her are EQuALLS-Save the Children Project Director Joe Agarano and Talipao Mayor Hadja Sitti Raya Tulawie. And school principals sign the joint support agreement after receiving their schools improvement grants from USAID-EQuALLS2 and the local government of Talipao, Sulu. Mrs. Parisia Lerios (left) earnestly points out the importance of implementing priority projects. (Photos by Abdel Amilhamja)
SULU, Philippines – The tell-tale signs of the town’s delicate history with armed conflict are pock-marked on the few concrete structures in Talipao. A short distance away, a pillar that once was part of a school building stands like a monument to the fierce clashes between Moro bandits and government troops a few years ago.

But the land’s harsh history is softened by the lush greenery and the people’s gentle ways. It is probably because of this past that people are forward-looking and have that eager desire to put things aright.
This is particularly apparent among teachers and educators. Mrs. Parisia Lerios is the school principal of Bilaan Central Elementary School in Talipao. When the school was reopened last year, structures and facilities were in a sorry state. Here, a classroom of 100 pupils must make the best of 40 chairs.
To help fill the school’s need Mrs. Lerios trekked a good distance to Camp Bayog, seeking donation for chairs from the American soldiers in the Balikatan program (mutual peace agreement program between the US and Philippine governments) last year.
But the teaching force also needs attention. “There are 291 grade one pupils in my school. Two of their teachers are under probationary status and do not report regularly. If nobody assumes their role, 100 kids will be deprived of learning for a day. So I set aside my reports and go to their classroom,” Mrs. Lerios explained.
In nearby village of Tiis, Mr. Jun Sali, a principal of five years, reflects on the hurdles his tiny school has to overcome. Out of five teachers, three are on probationary status. These teachers have been working without pay since June 2007, spending for their transport to and from Tiis out of their own pockets.
“We only have 2 regular teachers for 295 pupils. Still, the students are coping. We have managed to land in the median rank in the achievement test given by the Department of Education (DepED),” Mr. Sali said.
The Bilaan Central Elementary School and Tiis Elementary School are just two examples of schools struggling to survive amidst poverty and threats of conflict in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Help comes to them, and to over a hundred other schools in Sulu province, from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) through its Education Quality and Access for Learning and Livelihood Skills (EQuALLS2) project.
On January 29, USAID awarded a total of P700,000 as schools improvement grants to 14 schools in Talipao which will be used for rehabilitation and improvements of classrooms and school facilities, launching a reading program and trainings like English language enrichment for teachers.
This amount was augmented with P100,000.00 by the local government under the leadership of municipal Mayor Hadja Sitti Raya Tulawie. EQuALLS2 advocated with Mayor Tulawie to invest in projects that respond to the education problems in her municipality.
The award has brought school principals one step closer to the realization of their dreams. For the first time, they felt empowered to take the lead in providing better quality education to their children. The grant from EQuALLS2 and the local government came with an education and skills plan embodying the voices of various sectors in their community – children and youth, parents and teachers, barangay leaders, and religious leaders.
“Now we can accomplish our priority projects. First is the training of teachers. Second is the repair of our dilapidated classrooms,” Mrs. Lerios thought aloud, her tone disclosing her happiness.
Mr. Sali also presented his priorities, “We will focus on pupils’ development. We will run a reading program for our school’s struggling and non-readers.” In a low but obviously cheerful voice, he added, “And the principal’s office.” He related that he never had an office since the start of his tenure as the school principal. His school records and reports are kept at home.
When in school, he stays on the stage, a flat and open structure whose zinc roofing is his only shield from the sun.
Elsewhere in Region 9, Region 12 and ARMM, USAID’s EQuALLS2 project has advocated to local governments in upgrading Mindanao’s education sector. It involves a process that sounds clear cut: consult the grassroots, engage the local government. In between, however, are the key elements: rare and bold educators wanting that lasting change.
“You have to go out, source out. If you only wait for blessings, it’s not going to work.” Wise words from Mrs. Lerios. (Floreen Bartulaba)

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