Pop star and Unicef national ambassador of goodwill Gary Valenciano was teary-eyed and emotional as he listened to inspiring stories behind the Avocado Elementary School in Sitio Avocado in Barangay Talalak, Sta. Catalina, Negros Oriental last week.
Valenciano, together with his wife, Angeli Pangilinan, Unicef country director Vanessa Tobin and abs-cbnNEWS.com, made a visit to the former haven of the New People’s Army and witnessed the changes in the sitio brought by education for the children.
Valenciano, who performed five great hits for the residents, students and teachers, failed to stop tears from rolling down as he went emotional with the inspiring tales told to him.
“Who wouldn’t [be] teary-eyed? Nobody knows what’s gonna happen in the future but at least you did something to contribute to the future of this children. There’s a song that I wrote once that ‘many people think that tomorrow is gone coz nobody seems to care about today’ I have to rewrite that if just for what I’ve seen today. People need to care about what’s happening today in order to come up with a better tomorrow and tomorrow is not us and it’s the children and they need to come first all the time," he said.
“I say this with confidence and I say it with convictions because I have children to and if I did not say no to the number of shows that I had in the past and gave more priority to the other things I had to do then I don’t think my children would have grown up the way they are together. But I have to say no to certain things and put my priorities straight and here in sitio Avocado I think they got their priority straight,” Valenciano added.
Before its transformation, Sitio Avocado was a “no man’s land”. Since aid workers dared not to set foot there, nobody tried to help or educate the children.
In the mid-1990s, teacher Monica Sison, armed with her passion for teaching and love of the children, accepted the challenge of staying in the remote place to implement change.
As Sison showed her willingness to look after the children's welfare and their education, residents gradually changed their outlook about her.
Sison soon gained the trust not only of the populace but also the members of the NPA. She made an agreement with the group that they will stay away from the area and help keep the community in peace so that their own children can live, sleep, play and learn peacefully.
And from from two leaking classrooms, today, Sitio Avocado has both elementary and high schools and a two-year vocational college on agricultural technology. The community is also a recipient of various development grants from government agencies and cause-oriented organizations.
Sison fulfilled her dreams of changing the community and still continues teaching the young ones of Sitio Avocado. She, however, is not alone since she heads a group of teachers who also possess the passion and love to teach children wherever and whoever they may be.
Unicef started to support the Avocado Elementary School in 1998 with the construction of the school's sanitation and water system. It also conducted seminars and trainings by Unicef for the teachers so that they will learn to focus mainly on the rights and welfare of the children.
Children’s education a catalyst for change
Valenciano, who mingled with elementary and high school students, said that he was really inspired with the children sweet smiles and hopes that time will come that they will make their dreams come true.
“Amazing. Personally I think that is significant event for me because whatever else I will do for UNICEF this is one of the schools. There are not many schools I can use as an example but this is one of the schools that I feel is an environment that used to be known as an environment that was more geared toward conflict. I’m very, very encouraged with what I’ve seen. I think that indeed this is a catalyst for things to come. People just to have the vision and then a good team has to be there to execute that vision properly just as I’ve seen here, because it’s just a start. I mean there are other things to come up in this area,” Valenciano said.
In a previous interview with abs-cbnNEWS.com, Valenciano said that education for children is the catalyst to change not only their lives but their entire society as well.
“I’ve spoken to children sa iba’t ibang lugar dito sa Pilipinas, mga lugar na nakaranas ng trahedya. Nakapunta na ako doon. I’d been to places with tragedies. I’ve spoken to the children there, but this is different because this is about education which I feel is at the top of the list of UNICEF. Right now education for children is really what changes a lot of people, not just a child but the entire family. When they see... their performance as students and as children [it] leaves a lasting impression and lasting impact, “ Valenciano said.
Valenciano said that in his trip to Sitio Avocado, he also learned that nothing is impossible especially when it comes to children’s education. He explained that if someone has vision – like teacher Monica and a good team, then indeed nothing is impossible since the young ones are always hungry to know more and to learn more.
“And I believed that this is a confirmation that children are not just hungry to know more. They also want to know what is right and maybe without them even knowing it. But with what I’ve seen here I think they have most of the corners if not all covered for the health of the children and for the education of the child as well we have great teachers here to that have a passion for teaching the children and that’s for me iyon nga it’s not impossible when you know it can happen you will encounter obstacles in the beginning but you just gain a little ground and people will take notice as I believed what happened here in sitio Avocado,” the Total Performer explained.
Gary’s 10 years with UNICEF and more
Valenciano, who is celebrating his 25th year in showbiz, is also celebrating 10 years as Unicef national ambassador.
During his short visit in sitio Avocado, Valenciano signed a contract with Tobin to renew his commitment to support Unicef’s advocacy of helping children.
Valenciano said that as an ambassador he is hoping that he could be able to encourage other people to know more about Unicef and for the people to find ways on how they can be part of the organization’s efforts to fight for the rights of the children.
Being an ambassador, Valenciano has become the face of the Child Friendly Movement, a group that advocates for the rights of children.
“There are still people that don’t know about Unicef or they know of it but they don’t know more about it and I feel hat that’s one of the things that I will be carrying out in the years to come. I know that there are others also who are probably slowly being molded into the kind of artists that don’t just sing or act but they can also impart great messages of hope,” the pop singer said.
Before Valenciano went back to Manila with the Unicef delegation, he gave his words of encouragement to ask people with big hearts to help and do their part in ensuring the good education of the children.
“A lot of what I do on stage is not something that I learned on the street. I learned it in school. I learned it with people in school who told me that ‘one day you’re going to use your music to bring joy into others people hearts.’ That was the general concept. I didn’t know it would reach this proportion of being able to go to places that I never even knew existed and now I'm seeing promise and hope unfold before my very eyes.
“To the people out there who might hear these or who might read about this. You don’t have to be an entertainer to create an impact in somebody else’s life I know when and it was mentioned to us we were meeting last night all of us from Unicef that there are concerns that people want to become involved in and one is education especially to those who cannot afford education.
“People are concerned about those people and I believed that many of the things that these young people face in the real world when they step out of school can only be face in the proper way when they get the education they need. It may not be easy at times but it is what they need and I just feel that If I were especially people in the cities if they have access to internet and all to find out more information about what Unicef is doing about Filipino child and perhaps they might find something there that they can get involved in.
“But I would strongly encouraged to be a part of the vision of the Unicef because if it’s possible maybe ABS-CBN can create a documentary or a site that people can actually see at least get glimpses of wow it’s happening in that area and true enough it’s an area that is known to have a lot of conflict and still you have the children learning,” Valenciano ended.
Valenciano already went to remote areas of Davao City, Eastern Samar and Guimaras to speak on the importance of education to children.
Like Unicef, Valenciano condemns the conflict in Mindanao between the government and MILF since the children are the ones suffering from it.
Unicef is in over 150 countries and territories to help children thrive from early childhood through adolescence. It is the world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries.
It supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation and AIDS.
Unicef has been operating in the Philippines for over 60 years to ensure the good health and education of the children and the protection of their rights.
It is funded entirely by voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.