Why Bohol's 'dahon girl' needs more than pad paper

Dabet Castaneda-Panelo, Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo

Posted at Jun 14 2016 11:08 PM

'Dahon girl' Jhessa Balbastro with school supplies. Dabet Castaneda-Panelo, Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo

BUENAVISTA, BOHOL - Eleven-year-old Jhessa Balbastro caught everyone's attention when she took a spelling quiz using banana leaves because she had no pad paper. 

Her ingenuity and resourcefulness prodded netizens to call her "dahon girl," and she has received help from the public since her case was aired on ABS-CBN. 

WATCH: 'Dahon girl' of Bohol endures shame to beat poverty

As the school year started this week, Jhessa beams with pride that she now has a big box full of school supplies: notebooks, pencils, colored pens, watercolor, scissors, rulers, and pad paper. It seems she would not need any banana leaf again for her quizzes. But for how long? 

Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo made a quick trip to Bonotbonot Elementary School in Buenavista, Bohol, where Jhessa is an incoming Grade 6 pupil. The journey revealed that Jhessa lacks more than just paper. Jhessa and her classmates did not have a classroom. 

Grade 5 teacher Marie Ann Doroy, who found Jhessa’s story inspiring and uploaded her photo on Facebook, said they were holding classes on the school's stage, at the back of the school grounds. The banana trees where Jhessa got her leaves were an arm's stretch away from Jhessa. 

A new school building is being built and is expected to house more students. But during Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo’s visit, only two construction workers could be seen working on the site. 

Noel Duavis, acting district supervisor of the Department of Education in Buenavista, said various forms of government interventions have been given to Jhessa and her schoolmates. 

Bohol has a province-wide initiative called AGAK (Amuma ug Gabay Alang sa Kalampusan / Pag-aalaga at Gabay para sa Tagumpay) which aims to give assistance to less fortunate students and reduce the number of drop-outs. With AGAK, teachers sponsor the school supplies of pupils who need financial support. 

Recipients, Duavis said, are indigent learners who live mostly in mountainous areas. Jhessa and her siblings had no AGAK sponsors until her “dahon” story came out.

Duavis also said that aside from AGAK, the national government provides for public school expenses under the Maintenance and Other Operating Expenses (MOOE) budget. The budget is for payment of electricity and water bills, school fixtures, teachers' seminars and travels, and provision of school supplies for pupils who ran short of these items.

Bonotbonot Elementary School teacher Marie Ann Doroy. Dabet Castaneda-Panelo, Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo

However, Jhessa's woes go beyond the school. 

Doroy said the girl only went to class three or four times a week because, as the eldest of six children, Jhessa had to take care of her younger siblings when their parents were working. 

Jhessa's mother, Mary Jane, works in a rice farm while her stepfather Walden is a part-time carpenter and a part-time coconut farm worker. Walden is paid one peso for every coconut harvested while carpentry work is P250 per day. Mary Jane said the odd jobs her husband gets are seasonal and are not enough for them to live decently. 

When Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo visited Jhessa's family in Buenavista, they just had their lunch: the younger siblings shared a whole coconut fruit for lunch while the older kids had a bag of chips.

"With proper meals and if she is able to attend school regularly, Jhessa has bigger potential to do better in class," Doroy said.

LOOK: 'Dahon girl' is back in school