Acmonan Elementary School: Kafok Extension

​Acmonan, Tupi, S. Cotabato, Philippines

Up on the top of a mountain in Tupi, S. Cotabato, Philippines, there is a little building that was originally used as the SULADS Literacy Center. This building has no electricity and the only road leading to it is a hiking path through the mountains. Recognizing the necessity for a school deeper in the mountains, the village people decided to convert this building into a school house.
Along the trail leading from the village to the school, there has been baby bamboo trees planted. These have been put there so that once they grow big they will provide a sturdy ledge so the trail doesn’t wash out. 

During my hike, I would pass men with horses pulling metal hydro poles,
the village is working on bringing electricity up to the building; this will take quite some time.
The teachers hike up the mountain on Monday morning for class and stay until Friday night. Their accommodation is a
tiny hut with only one bed containing a mouldy mattress. Their toilet is literally just a hole in the ground, and cooking is done on the propane stove at the school. These beautiful young women were originally teachers at the elementary school in the village and have literally given up their life during the week to educate these children.

About This School

Hiking to the School

My Story
This school is a ​​2 hour hike up in the mountains; I was told we would ride a horse to get there. On the first morning the three teachers, the chairman and I, all met at the main school in the village. When we arrived I realized there was only one horse, a very skinny and sickly looking horse who also bore the responsibility of carrying rice, oil and other such goods up the mountain. I insisted I that I didn’t want to ride him, firstly there was no way I was going to be the only one riding, I would have felt so silly, and secondly that poor horse didn’t look like he could carry much more than he already had. I stood my ground and walked with the group (I much prefer hiking to horseback riding anyways!)​​​​​​
One day at the school a couple of the children presented me with ​​​​​​​a gift of some drawings they had done at home with their parents. They were so beautiful. My thought process was that this was a good idea, I might be able to get some really good art if they all take the pages home to draw in the evening, like fun homework. I suggested this one day and the teacher kindly took me aside and explained, “the children won’t be able to do that, they need to work the land and help at home".
Every day the count of children in the school was different.  Even if the number of children in the school was the same as the day before it was only a coincidence because many were not the same faces. School is often missed in countries like these because there is so much to do around the house, and the farm, just to ensure the most basic survival of the family. It’s a hard and vicious cycle; Education is needed in order to have a future that will allow these children to escape from this poverty stricken life, and in turn give their children one day a good foothold to escape even further. 
The hike was so wild, deep in the mountains in ​​​​​​the ​heart of Mindanao, Philippines, where most of the indigenous have only recently seen, or not at all seen, a white person; some of the children stared at me like I was from another world. This school, at the top of the mountain to the north of a tiny village called Tupi, was started only this year (2017/18). It is an extension of the elementary school in the village, started so that the children, whose homes are spread throughout these mountains, are able to attend. The children that live between the new school and the main school could have up to a 2 hour hike to get to the main school in the village, and the children living on the south side of the new school up in the mountains, depending on how far they live, could have anywhere from 2 hours to impossible.​​
​With the walk to school being such a long one through the mountains, many ​​​​​​​​​​​mothers would need to accompany their little ones. This was an interesting thing to me because everyday there were at least 5 mothers in attendance. The beautiful thing about this situation was that these mothers have never had the opportunity to go to school. So by walking their children and staying for the day, they were being educated alongside the wee ones. The mothers loved this, it gave them the opportunity to read and write, this something they had never experienced in their lives; this is so beautiful.
In ​​​​​​​many of the schools I visit, it’s quite common for the children to be served a lunch that is prepared at the school. Generally, this is rice with chicken and a couple pieces of potato or carrot. One day, when I finished using the outhouse, I opened the door and stepped out to the chairman holding the feet of an upside-down chick he had just slit the throat of.  I had seen that little chicken running around all morning... but, I guess now I was going to be eating him for lunch. A couple of the children, along with a teacher, collected some potatoes from the side of the mountain. The principal cooked up the chicken and veggies, and the teachers served the lunch. I can now officially say I have seen the entire insides of a chicken, nothing is wasted, and it is quite interesting how the whole egg process works. As a woman with a lot of the same parts, it was quite educational, to say the least.
We passed many farms being worked that were on such an angle, being on the side of a mountain, that I don’t know how in the world they were able to work them! The homes were simple and made of wood with a dirt floor. One family may have a piece of land with 2-3 small building on them housing as many as 10 people, sometimes; whole families living together, working the land together, taking care of each other.
My accommodation during this project was very ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​eye opening in regards to the mentality of the Filipino people. I stayed in a guesthouse on private property that had an elementary school, high school and college. The kids were so pleased to have a visitor that I was never alone! It felt like every moment I was home someone was knocking at my door to see if I had enough water, toilet paper or something. My first night, I had 4 young ladies hanging out asking all kinds of question. 
The second night, I had ​all the kids in the band gather outside my place and sing to me! I have never felt more loved and welcomed. Every day my food was made in the cafeteria on the property, and it was even delivered to my little guest house.​​​​​​​​​

Sing for ​Joy

Chicken Soup

The first morning there I wanted to sleep in after all my travelling. My breakfast was delivered at 6 am and when I didn’t answer the door, the student opened my window and slipped it inside. Where there is a will there is a way!!​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Surprise Breakfast in Bed

All in all the ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​adventure of this school was definitely unforgettable, and the children of Acmonan Elementary School: Kafok Extension, and I are pleased to present to you ‘Jeffrel’s Picky Appetite!!​​
Heidi-Marie xoxo