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There is Hope in Bayabat
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23 October 2017 There is Hope in Bayabat

Written by: Reynaldo Blas, Jr.

As part of our #NationalVolunteerMonth2017 celebration this coming December, we are featuring the nine winning entries of our Volunteerism Story Writing Contest. This is the the winning entry from Region II .


"HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO YOU! Happy birthday, happy birthday! Happy birthday to you..." It was sung in whisper. It did not matter because it was the most solemn song that Ferdi had heard for the entire week.


" Is it your birthday today?" Ferdi asked.

"No sir. Never had birthdays. Neither can my parents remember when was I born." Imat replied, " But since I never had meals like this for years, it must be my lucky day."

Ferdi refused to burst out his brewing tears as he listened to him. The veteran literature teacher and volunteer was learning a life lesson from a poor farm boy.

The drive to Bayabat was the longest thirty minutes to Ferdie. After he dropped off Imat in the end of the trail towards the brook. He looked at the sunset from his car’s window. He sighed heavily. He broke into tears.

The sun was setting silently into the mountains of Bayabat, a barrio in the town of Amulung, Cagayan. Families were calling it another day. It was time to rest with the dungeon of hope that tomorrow everything would turn out to be just fine.

The same sun was aimlessly penetrating the windshield of Ferdi as he trudged the outskirts of the town to head into his home after a long day of work. It was still unclear for him how and why in the world young people like Imat from Bayabat had to suffer the menacing sting of poverty. The wonder died down as darkness crept onto the streets of Tuguegarao. It was Ferdi’s fourth year in the teaching industry but his heart towards the poor and the needy remained perpetual. It was his first volunteer work in the barrio and he felt it big time.

Bayabat had been one of the barrios in Cagayan that were clumping always beneath the poverty line. The vast acres of land for farming were mostly owned by big names and most people living there were just peasants and tenants. The indigents used to work and fight hard enough to own just a piece of land but big names had ways to silence them to a point where they barely ate twice a day; let alone availing a serious legal assistance. Now, Agtas, Isnags, and Ikalingas comprised most of its indigents.

It was Ferdi’s second visit to Bayabat when he got to know more of Imat, a half Agta and Ilocano. At the age of sixteen, he never had the chance to make it into high school because basically they could not afford it. He ended up helping his father tend goats and ducks that are not theirs as his mother went from house to house in the nearby town to sell sprouts of beans and swamp cabbage. They resolved to live at a barong-barong along the banks of a nearby brook because they could no longer pay the lease for the house they used to rent. His two younger sisters never saw the inside of a school.


This scenario, among all others, prompted Ferdi to commit to himself at least a visit or two every week in the lowly barrio of Bayabat though the university where he was currently teaching had outreach programs too. Bayabat was close to his heart.

Imat was picking up palay grains on the recently harvested field. These were the grains that have fallen on the soil and were left uncollected. He would later on pound the rice out of the grains in a pestle and cook it. It will be good for the family’s meal or two depending on how much grain had the reapers unknowingly dropped. Ferdi approach him and offered some of the sandwich that he and his volunteer team from the school had prepared. He took it with a graceful expression of gratitude and continued to pick up the grains. Ferdi wanted to start a conversation with Imat but decided not to after noticing the scorching heat of the sun. It was nothing to Imat though.

Since they were all volunteer teachers from Ferdi’s team, they decided to conduct remediation teaching to the less fortunate children and teens of Bayabat. Despite the wide range of their age, Ferdi discovered that most of them couldn’t count one to ten and could barely spell and read even their own names. It was then that Ferdi realized that they needed more than just remediations and weekend feeding programs. They needed a school and a truckload of nourishing food. He could not help but sigh to see a teen who was probably at his daughter’s age and was already pregnant. The painful sight of the poor kids crawling on and even eating the dirt beside their mothers who were nursing yet another sibling was almost unbearable. He felt a twitch in his chest just by seeing Imat under the scorching heat of the sun picking up grains of palay. “He could be in college right now” he thought. All these happened definitely under the spell of poverty. Ferdi and his team had a mountain to move.

It was almost impossible for Ferdi’s team to eradicate poverty in the lowly barrio. Given the small foundation and manpower that they had, he still saw a glimmer of light in his endeavor. “Even a pebble can gather moss so long as you keep it rolling.” he said to himself; and moss did it gather! Their tiny little acts of volunteer works in Bayabat had been making a ring in the entire town including the government. They continued to feed the indigents during weekends and there emerged other volunteer groups who took turns with them in feeding during some days of the week. The teaching remediations had attracted to almost a hundred of young people with which Ferdi and his group responded willingly. Through the remediations, the young were kindled with enthusiasm and interest about everything in school. They slowly develop their confidence to go to school in the town without the fear of being laughed at. Through the simple classes, Ferdi and his team brought about a foretaste of school and the children never failed them. They wanted more; they wanted real. They already wanted to enrol in the town. It was almost a glory day for Ferdi and his team but he knew it would still take a long shot. Poverty would keep coming back at the doors of these poor children’s houses.

Imat was more than ecstatic to join the group for another drills on numbers and language under Ferdi when his father came to fetch him. He was furious and Imat knew from the distance that he could not join them for the day. He had to accompany his father to a nearby barrio for a daily backyard cleaning job offered by some residents. For the indigenous people of Bayabat, this kind of opportunities was gold.
Ferdi saw this as another disturbing aspect in their endeavor to eradicate poverty through sending the children to school. They were stuck in being poor and any immediate means of earning meant only immediate and short-term effect.

This prompted Ferdi to bring the matter to the intervention of the government. Pulling some strings from his connections from the barangay and municipal authorities, he was able to dialogue with them. After months of patiently knocking on their doors, and with only his first hand stories of Bayabat to tell tucked with his speaking prowess gained from his years of teaching in the university, he was able to direct and help facilitate programs from the government such us seminars on fowl raising and backyard gardening. Afterwards, they themselves would supervise the people’s initial step in their own livelihood. In no time, Imat’s father could own his own poultry and sell his own goats. In no time Imat could go to school.


It was just ironic to note that it took a group of volunteers’ untrumpeted efforts to bring the government into action. Ferdi just found himself smiling alone after a long day in Bayabat thinking about the years of hard work that was starting to pay off. They had no plans of halting their outreach programs.
As he was making his way out of the barrio for the nth time, he saw Imat by the trail from another barrio. He was walking with his grass fodder slinged behind his back together with an empty plastic soda bottle. It was still three in the afternoon and Ferdi decided to invite Imat for a short ride to the city.

Nothing much was said in their short trip aside from talking about Imat’s plan to go back to school and the last time he tasted a fried chicken years and years ago. Ferdi stopped at a decent diner and they both would have an early supper.
After the food was served, having the last dish which was a bowl of fried chicken, Ferdi noticed Imat’s eyes starting to water. Ferdi looked away as if something interested him outside. Then he began to hear some whispers from Imat. He thought he was praying, but it could be as sacred as praying itself. Imat was singing the most famous birthday song.

We may not be significantly making an impact at once in the course of our volunteer works to eradicate poverty in our land. Our willingness may not even create a mark in the entirety of the lives of the poor families. Others may belittle the efforts we give. But that, I believe, makes our work more beautiful. We volunteer with the end in mind that it is not for our own self-glorification. It is more than glorious if one day we see or hear from the news that Philippines is on the rise and is doing well in uplifting the poor. Because it is that same time that we may tap ourselves for a job well done because our little works started and created the ripples. Volunteerism created the tiny ripples in the brook that summoned the big waves of change from the ocean of progress.

Somewhere in the remote place of Bayabat, Amulung, Cagayan, Ferdi started the same ripple. Proudly, he was a volunteer.

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