Women in a Masbate barangay champion education

Erlinda Cabarles, a parent leader of the Neighborhood Parent Support Group, enjoys reading with her daughter. —CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS

After completing their chores, eight mothers in Barangay Tugbo in Masbate come together to take on another role: as literacy champions for themselves and their children.

Erlinda Cabarles, a mother of seven, rises at 3 a.m. to do her household routine. While her family sleeps, she cooks, cleans, and prepares for the day. She is a barangay nutritionist by profession, but she wears many other hats: She’s also a teacher under the ABC+: Advancing Basic Education in the Philippines, a project of the Department of Education (DepEd) in partnership with USAID and implemented by RTI International along with The Asia Foundation. 

The project is aimed at improving learning outcomes for children in the early grades.

Erlinda is one of eight women behind the neighborhood parent support group (NPSG) of Barangay Tugbo, an out-of-the-way coastal village off the southeastern peninsula of Luzon, where the closest urban center is a 30-minute tricycle ride away. 

In Tugbo, children aged 14 and below make up the lion’s share of the population at 40.5%, according to government data. The barangay estimates that some 45% of the labor force is unemployed, most of whom, school officials say, can neither read nor write.

This matter was something the NPSG women felt they had to solve on their own. Their own education limited to the grade-school level, they took up the mantle of literacy champions with the help of their barangay, who made the initial call for volunteers to receive training. 

Books in the mother tongue

There was a clear desire to learn, but the biggest barrier was often language at a time when books in the mother tongue were not easily available in the community. 

Through the support of USAID via ABC+, reading materials in the Minasbate language were developed and distributed to all elementary schools. The books in their mother tongue are now available in the schools and provided to their children. 

Kagawad Maria Cris Cos, who chairs the committee on education, discusses the ABC+ program with parents from Tugbo.

It took another woman, Kagawad (Councilor) Maria Cris Cos, to lobby for her district to be allotted space where children could read. She attended a few learning sessions and decided that the children needed somewhere they could call their own.

It started with the newly constructed Barangay Learning Center, which functions principally as the main space for the NPSG. For two hours, children can read there. They’re free to ask about words, stories, or everyday life. They work their way up on meanings, enunciation, and critical thinking day by day, story through story. 

Today, the women clock in to teach up to 30 students, and even their husbands have joined the project to help the children learn to read. Interest in reading is skyrocketing. 

The love of it

Rose Sese, another NPSG member, says they are teaching not just reading but also the love of it. “We don’t want the kids to read; we want them to want to read,” she says in a mix of Filipino and English. 

The most surprising improvement is that reading has changed the dynamics at home. “Reading was really bonding for me and my kids,” Rose says. “We got closer at home. Because here, you really have to be friendly with the children, so the environment is lighter.” 

Thus, by starting at home, the Tugbo NPSG earned the backing of the DepEd and the local government. The women’s hope is that other mothers would realize that they have the opportunity to do the same.

Erlinda says the impact has extended beyond the confines of an educational setting. “I improved myself and the children here around us because before, they would just spend their time loitering around,” she says fresh off a reading session.

The NPSG’s community action demonstrates the importance of partnerships and shared accountability among families, schools and communities to build conducive learning environments.

Not a privilege but a right

Erlinda, Rose, and the other mothers have broached the idea of tapping publishing houses to print books and the nearby private sector to provide resources. They envision a future where education is not a privilege, like it was for them, but an accessible right. 

“As long as we’re here, our [learning] weekends will continue,” Erlinda says of the project’s sustainability. “This will go on as long as we’re able. As long as the children keep showing up, the learning center will go on.” 

The learning gap is quickly closing because strong women took the lead together.

For Imelda Viterbo, another NPSG member, it is the children’s keen interest in learning and reading that motivates her and the other mothers to pursue their work. “Our first priority will always be our children’s literacy,” she says.

The story of Barangay Tugbo is a story of women coming together, supporting one another and amplifying their voice as literary champions.

Read more: Punlaan School provides fertile ground for women empowerment

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