Growing up, I was not the type who would gladly pick up the broom and sweep the floor or voluntarily get a rug and wipe the cabinets. I was more of the boy who would sleep and eat during his spare time. At home, I often got scolded for being too lazy to do any chores. But when I received an email from Teach for the Philippines to help out and volunteer for Brigada Eskwela, I said yes without any hesitation.
The experience of cleaning and preparing a classroom for the coming school year was not new to me as I headed a similar event when I was in college. I got myself ready by getting in my comfortable working clothes and mentally preparing myself to be out of my comfort zone. I was ready to get down and dirty to clean. Through a half a day of cleaning, four of my fellow volunteers and I managed to sweep and mop the floor, remove the wall posters to prepare the wall for painting, wipe dust off of the school materials and get showered by dust coming from the ceiling. Three hours later, we were tired, dusty, and sweaty, but we surely felt fulfilled.
But what made my Brigada Eskwela experience last Monday more special to me was not the fact that I just helped clean a classroom. It came when I had a realization after spending ten minutes with Ms. Lynne, the Grade 6 mathematics teacher whose classroom we were cleaning. I learned that Ms. Lynne handles four sections of Grade 6 students, with each section having 50 to 55 students, and that there are about 18 sections of Grade 6 students studying at the school. I was shocked at the number of students and the small classroom space that 55 students share, but there was more. Grade 1 students, also 50 in a batch, use half the size of the Grade 6 classroom that we were cleaning. That translates to 100 Grade 1 pupils studying in around 40 square meters of classroom space. That means three Grade 1 students share a table in each classroom. However, this number goes down throughout the year as students tend to dropout during the latter part of the school year, which isn’t a comforting fact either.
I found it alarming how normally she spoke of it because it happens every year. Then I realized that this is the norm for thousands of public schools in the country; that not all schools are privileged with enough resources; that students dropping out is a normal occurrence; and that they need help.
I left San Diego Elementary School with a clearer understanding of the Philippine education system and how we can help. I realized that we can all take small steps to work together to help our public schools. Together, the little things can add up into something bigger, just like how the five of us were able to clean up one Grade 6 classroom. It’s not a whole lot, but it was enough to make me feel fulfilled that in my own little way, I was able to help Ms. Lynne and her students. But I know it will not stop there. I look forward to my next Brigada Eskwela experience and to contributing to the betterment of Phillippine Education in my own way.
Ramon Miguel Panis, better known as Mico, 21, gradauted cum laude from the University of the Philippines Diliman with a Bachelor of Science degree in Industrial Engineering. He enjoys watching reality TV shows and is often seen tutoring his peers or his tutees. This school year, he will serve in his alma mater as an Instructor.