My family (Father’s side) are educators, born and raised in Cabadbaran City, Agusan del Norte. Brigada Eskwela has been a joint effort of the government and community for 12 years running. I first heard about it in 2016 when I was on vacation in my hometown and promised I’d be back next year to help.

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A few weeks before the scheduled 2017 Brigada, I got a message from my cousin that it was slated for May 15-20 — a month earlier than last year AND the same weekend I was supposed to set off for Apo Reef and swim with the sharks.

But, a promise is a promise, I booked a ticket and flew home. The sharks can wait.

Why help?

It’s the best way to let out your creative juices whilst helping the public school administrators and students! And it’s fun! You get to meet kids, mingle with the teachers, and chat with alumni. This is also the time teachers ask for donations like books, pencils, paint, to electric fans. As sponsoring seemed to be the most economical and easiest way to help, nothing beats time and effort spent. I fondly remember someone telling me that time is our greatest currency, presence has definitely more mileage than money.

CASOCES Brigada Eskwela

When I was 5 and I spent my summers in Cabadbaran City, I’d usually visit my cousins at school and ask my Dad: “Why are their floors butas-butas?” I was a very condescending child. But this is a prime example of how schools looked like in far-flung provinces — disheveled, old, tattered, and sometimes smelly. Through government funding and continuous Brigada efforts, the schools have greatly improved. And we can pitch in, too!

Here’s a glimpse at what went down at this year’s Brigada Eskwela:

I chose to volunteer on several weekdays with my cousin, Teacher Cathy Base, who is also custodian of the School Library. Since there were less people on weekdays as most parents and volunteers had work, I had more time to paint and more supplies to work with.

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Brigada Eskwela took place every day from 8am-5pm with very little supervision. I mainly just inquired what I needed do, what to paint, and if there were any prescribed colors. I’m pretty much left alone to clean and plant, if needed.

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Supplies were donated by government officials, LGUs, companies, and private citizens.

Brigada Eskwela_Elegantly Wasted 3Brigada Eskwela_Elegantly Wasted 8We started painting the gate, then moved on to the reception area. Today’s weather was extremely humid, so if you plan to join Brigada next year, make sure to dress light. I wore my yoga + bikini top, with shorts on some days, and leggings on the others.

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Everyone was encouraged to use bright, cheery colors!

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CASOCES Alumni pitching in! Everyone was in  high spirits which made the painting and cleaning even more fun.

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This was also a great opportunity to get to know the teachers and the students. CASOCES is the only school in Cabadbaran City that accommodates hearing- and visually-impaired children. I was able to visit the SPED classrooms that can also accommodate students with Down Syndrome and Autism.

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Teacher Sharon was one of the educators I spent time with, and she lovingly introduced me to her students. As I discovered at the Naga Medical Mission earlier this year, my sign language is very rusty. I have not used it since my Lola passed away many decades ago and I have not been able to take up a refresher course as well. Soon, I hope.

The kids were very happy to have a volunteer who flew all the way from Manila to participate in Brigada Eskwela. But really, the pleasure was all mine.

Boodle Fight!

On my last day, the teachers extended an invite to their boodle lunch of tasty pancit canton, adobo, and grilled pork with lots of steamed rice.

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Teacher Palarca said she remembers my Dad and my Lolo being their doctors all the way back when they were little. Thank you so much, makes me all teary-eyed and stuff.

Onwards to School Year 2017

CASOCES has also been awarded 3rd place as “Best Implementer” of Brigada Eskwela in 2016 and I hope that out of all the schools in the CARAGA Region, they win 2nd or 1st place in 2017.

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Representing my Dad’s clinic and my employer, AXA Philippines.

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Trivia: CASOCES is a strong supporter of recycling and waste management, and they won Second Place in 2016 for implementing a strict code of Ecological Waste Management. I was able to share with them the idea of the ecobricks and I’m hoping it’s something we can implement here in the future.

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Thank you so much for having me, letting me paint, and allowing me hang at the school. Most of the time they told me I was working too hard and I needed a break, but I was there for one thing only and I felt that I should do a great job at it — hence no break time!

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I hope to be back in 2018, and I pray for the teachers of CASOCES that they be blessed more and be able to touch more lives this year.