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76,000 graduates reflect Pinoy’s resilient spirit

In ‘Yolanda’ Areas

Manila, Philippines — “Even if super-typhoon ‘Yolanda’ destroyed everything I had, the disaster did not destroy my dream – to graduate and start another chapter of my life.” The words, coming from 12-year-old Gwyneth Baylon, state not only the value of education, but also the spirit of the Filipino heart that had experienced the devastation and tragedy brought by the super-typhoon.

Gwyneth, from Barangay Baras in Palo, Leyte, will be one of the 76,000 students who will be graduating April 7 and 8 in areas affected by “Yolanda.” Despite the lost school days, she will be graduating with honors – Rank 2 of the graduating class of Rizal Central School in Tacloban City.

The graduation of those students will mark a very special achievement both for them and the educational system which devised extraordinary methods to allow classes to continue and the students to graduate.


Resilient Filipino Spirit

This year’s graduation rites “is a testimony to the enduring and resilient Filipino spirit, to our ability to stand up again and conquer the odds, to our innate optimism to see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Education Secretary Armin Luistro.

“Through the many challenging moments we’ve endured, many of us were tempted to give up; but a Filipino heart refuses to be broken by calamities,” Luistro said. “We see the ray of hope in the faith and joy we share with each other even in the most trying of circumstances—we may be battered but definitely never defeated,” he added.

This year’s theme for graduation is –“Hindi Natitinag ang Pusong Pilipino” – a theme inspired by the resilience by students and school officials to rise above the devastation.


76,121 Graduates

According to the Department of Education (DepEd), in five affected divisions in Region 8 including Eastern Samar, Leyte, Ormoc City, Samar and Tacloban City, a total of 76,121 will graduate this school year. Of this number, 46,679 are in elementary and 29,442 are in high school.

“Yolanda”-affected schools, DepEd said, will be holding their graduation rites next week—either on April 7 or 8—to ensure that students were able to complete the required school days for this school year.


Against The Odds

On the night of November 8, Gwyneth witnessed how “Yolanda” washed out over 95 percent of houses in her neighborhood. “I saw our roof totally blown away by the wind. Our walls shook and then disintegrated when the waves pushed in. Then I saw all of our appliances and things covered with mud, and they were gone in seconds as the sea water ate them all,” she said.

“We fought for our lives, we swam in the water and climbed to our ceiling—getting strength from each member of our family,” she added.

After “Yolanda”, Gwyneth went back to school in December. “It was really a struggle; we needed to line up with the others for food and other donations in the first few weeks. We needed the money to go to school for food and to replace the things we lost.”

Gwyneth, like other students, struggled with many obstacles just to continue going to school.  She organized her routine to make use of daylight because there was no electricity for months – doing school work in the afternoon, and chores in the evening.

“My dream was to finish Grade 6,” she said.


Education System Adapts

While “Yolanda” left a “devastation of epic proportions, it also undoubtedly left us countless lessons to help us face uncertainties in life in the future,” said DepEd Region 8 Director Luisa Yu.

The education system quickly adapted to the extraordinary challenges posed by destroyed school buildings and learning materials.  To catch up with the lost school days, Yu said Saturday classes were held in the five affected divisions.

“At least 15 to 20 Saturdays were used to complete the 201 days for SY 2013-2014 and the competencies learners had to master in the specific grade or year level,” she explained.


Classes In Shifts

Lack of classrooms because of the damaged school buildings was addressed by conducting half-day shifting of classes—one class in the morning and another in the afternoon.

“Education in Emergencies” was also adopted to “practically entice learners to go back to the fold and keep them inside the school premises so that dangers typical in calamity-stricken areas may be avoided. A variation of curricula was used depending on the readiness of the learners,” Yu explained.

Learning modules and instructional materials were also reproduced to replace the damaged books. Temporary Learning Spaces (TLS) were also put up with thousands of schools totally-damaged.

Yu commended the graduating students in the “Yolanda”-affected schools saying: “The most outstanding lesson is that everything in this world is temporary and they should try to make every endeavor to the best of their ability.”