How Filipino teacher won Asia's Nobel Prize

By Fidea Encarnacion,

Posted at Aug 29 2014 01:24 PM | Updated as of Aug 30 2014 10:13 PM

Ramon Magsaysay awardee Randy Halasan shares his experiences as an educator in a lecture at the Ramon Magsaysay Center in Manila

MANILA – Teacher and Ramon Magsaysay awardee Randy Halasan not only taught lessons to the students of the Matigsalug tribe —he also helped mold the indigenous group into a community.

But his first impressions upon arriving in this community in Davao were not entirely pleasant.

“It was a nightmare for me when DepEd (Department of Education) assigned me to that school,” he said. “There’s no electricity, there’s no signal, there’s no television —wala talaga.”

In a forum entitled “The Power of a Teacher’s Leadership: Harnessing the Development Potentials of a Community” held on Thursday, Halasan shared that he first doubted whether or not he could last more than a month in Pegalongan Elementary School.

“When I started to work in Matigsalug, sabi ko, I want to transfer kasi na-miss ko yung city life… but as I continued, I began to love them for living very simple lives.”

Before, the indigenous group was very wary of the idea of education.

“Education is a concept new to the tribe. As long as they can eat, that is their first priority,” he said. “But when I went there, I made sure to teach the value of education, because through education, we can overcome poverty.”

Becoming a teacher

Halasan shared that life was not easy for him earlier in his life. Difficult circumstances led him to his current vocation.

“My life was full of struggles. I wanted to be a lawyer or a doctor —but if teacher ka, madali kang matatapos,” he shared.

He had to work to fund his college tuition.

“I’ve worked in food chains, different malls just to pursue my college… the experience helped me to realize the importance of education.”

A ‘Superman’ in Pegalongan

Pegalongan only had two classrooms and two teachers when Halasan first came in 2007.

Now, the school grew to having nine classrooms and nine teachers, with the addition of academic levels up to Grade 9.

For Halasan, the first graduation held by the school back in 2009 was one that he will never forget.

Both students and their respective families cried because of the joy of finally being able to see a toga.

“They cried because it was their first time to see a toga… they cannot imagine that [their children] can finish elementary.”

It was instances like these that triggered Halasan to do more for the community.

He has taken on multiple roles in the school.

“So I was the first teacher at the high school, and at the same time, I was the principal, grade school teacher, high school teacher, janitor —lahat.”

He had to hike for three to four hours through the mountains and streams, but he says it was all worthwhile.

Seeing his students ride makeshift boats through the streams and walk through unpaved roads were proof enough of their eagerness to go to school and learn.

This March, Matigsalug will have its first college graduate.

“He will be the first student to graduate in college at siya ang magmamana ng [aking mga] itinuro,” Halasan said with pride.

Ramon Magsaysay awardee Ramon Halasan receives a donation

Growing with the community

“Ang pagiging guro, ang dami-dami mong pwedeng gawin… I realized, if I focus only on education, not enough change will happen,” Halasan said.

Aside from focusing on teaching, he also introduced new ideas such as planting crops as source of livelihood, proper documentation of ancestral domains, and highlighted the concept of equality.

“We have already planted durable crops such as cacao, coffee, rubber. Kasi pag natanim na ‘yan, magkakaroon sila ng magandang kita… the ancestral domain is very wide but walang tanim na magaganda.”

He added, “sinasabi ko na huwag kalimutang i-preserve yung land, because marami na pong mayayaman na bumibili ng ancestral lands.”

As the years passed, Halasan became integrated into the council of elders and other groups within the community.

He has worked with the leaders of Matigsalug in deciding on community-wide changes and projects.

Halasan shared that though he has the option of choosing an easier life in the city, being able to grow and help the community made his stay very fulfilling.

“I could’ve chosen an easier life in the city [pero] ‘pag napamahal ka na sa tao, hindi ka mag-aatubili tungkol sa sweldo.”

His words of wisdom for aspiring teachers: Eagerness to teach is the key to be an effective educator.

“Hindi kailangang maging matalino, kasi sa pagtuturo, if you are eager, kayang itaguyod.”

Halasan will be conferred the Ramon Magsaysay Emerging Leaders award on August 31, 2014.

He continues to work with the indigenous Matigsalug tribe and is currently the school in-charge of Pegalongan Elementary School in Davao.