The ArmaLite of the escort who sat beside me rattled as the old Pajero struggled on the rough road. The hired driver accelerated through the empty highway in order to, I understand, avoid any sort of intended blockage that could climax into a robbery or kidnapping attempt. My father had even announced that he would not be coming to the consequent event, just to be sure no one would be patiently waiting for him.
Where we were going, we were unfamiliar with. Where we were going, it was better to take some necessary precautions. Zamboanga may be provincial home to me and my family, but the name Nocum still reeks of the stench of Manila (where we really live). And hereabouts, "Manila", "OFW", or "US citizen" all mean the same thing to some -- money.
However, thanks to God, we had arrived safely at our destination: Lubigan Elementary School. It is as if the fog had lifted. I was reminded of the reason I had come here, the reason KRIS Library's volunteers had braved the risks that day -- and that reason is etched in the school itself.
The buildings were very colorful -- yet old and few. The dust and the mud commingled everywhere amidst the fierce Zamboanga heat. The comfort rooms were placed farther in the back, trailed by venomous grasses and shrubs. The CR's themselves consisted of a small bowl in the floor with no flush nor sink. For a population of 300 students, only 8 heroic teachers had stood up for the job. And what they had for a "library" was a very small compartment filled with unused children's booklets donated by USAID.
Furthermore, these students from Lubigan come from two of the poorest ethnic Muslim minorities in the Philippines -- the Yakan and the Samal.
The kids needed something -- anything -- that had to be better than this. The kids needed to go beyond and dream. Thus, KRIS Library gave them the best inducer for dreaming: books. Every story book is a new world, a treasure chest. Every encyclopaedia is the world at their fingertips. What we gave them in that day's Book Turn-Over Ceremony -- a set of World Book encyclopaedia, unused textbooks, and children's books -- would allow them to go beyond. They would allow them to read, learn, then dream.
Thanks to the patience of Teacher Nemie Chavez (who had contacted us), Principal Lilian Falcasantos, and the other school officials, the ceremony was a success. Through the messages of school and barangay officials, two amazing intermission dances, the touching book- giving, and the release of school supplies for each student, the event was highlighted by cheers, smiles, laughter, and inspiration. It would definitely be a New Year in Lubigan.
Through it all, absolutely no trace of my previous fears had remained. To be able to touch the lives of these children this season was a blessing. To be able to give to my Muslim brothers and sisters, at the dawn of a new year, is a solid step towards change.
I feared for my life, but in braving the risk, I had given life. Thank you and God bless, Lubigan Elementary School.