TINGLAYAN, Kalinga -- As tourists began their trek to Buscalan to see the iconic Kalinga tattoo artist Whang-od, Grade 10 students of Southern Tinglayan National High School (STNHS) geared up for their moving up ceremony on Friday morning.
But even before the gates opened, most of their teachers have already arrived to set up the stage, adorning it with flowers and ferns they gathered from the school grounds.
The teachers grouped themselves into two-- one group prepared the decorations, while the other prepared the program and sound system.
According to Isabel Paclay, one of the senior faculty members of the school, they were all set the day before.
But they had to redo the decorations because cows grazing in the area ate the banana leaves they placed on the stage.
"Wala eh. Inubos naman lahat. Nagutom siguro nung gabi kaya kinain pati 'yong decorations namin," Paclay said in jest.
Although they don't have a proper stage where they can hold the program, Paclay said they learned to make do with what they have. "Ganoon talaga," she quipped.
Janice Yac-aw, a MAPEH teacher, was in charge of gathering flowers and ferns to adorn the stage.
She said she is excited to see her students move up to the next level since she has witnessed their efforts to go to school. Most of them have to walk one to two hours every day to go to school.
"Hindi sila makakatapos ng pag-aaral kung hindi sila magsusumikap. Mahirap ang buhay dito eh. Kaya kailangan nilang magtiyaga," she said.
Jessie Cosme, one of the founding educators of the school, was busy finding the missing screw of her old scissors. She needed it to cut the cardboard lettering that reads: "Sabay-sabay na Hakbang Tungo sa Maunlad na Kinabukasan."
In her almost two decades of teaching, Cosme said students of STNHS are one of a kind. They are full of grit. That's why on their moving up ceremony, their teachers want to make sure that they will feel special and loved.
"Importante ang pagde-decorate sa stage kasi para naman kaaya-aya sa mata ng mga a-attend tapos para bang expression na rin ng happiness namin kasi mayroon kaming mapag-graduate na mbga estudyante," Cosme added.
"Atsaka siyempre, araw nila 'to. Araw din naming mga teachers at mga parents kaya dapat mapaghandaan naman talaga."
Cosme said most of her students have big dreams in life, but some drop out of school because they lack the means to buy basic supplies. Some of them also choose to help their parents in their livelihood.
"May mga gusto talagang mag-aral para maka-ahon sa hirap. Pero hindi nila magawa kasi talagang may kakulangan sila," she said.
Despite this, Cosme said poverty should not be a hindrance to achieving one's dreams. According to her, she sees her young self in her students. She also came from a family of farmers, whose income was barely enough to sustain their basic needs.
"Na-iiyak na ako kapag naalala ko," she quipped. "Kaya kahit mahirap, tulungan ang sarili para makatapos. Kaming mga guro, hindi rin kami nakatapos kung hindi namin tinulungan ang sarili namin."
That morning, there were over 30 Grade 10 students who went up on stage to receive their moving up certificates.
During the invocation, while Lea Salonga's "The Journey" was being played, teachers Cosme, Yac-aw, and Paclay watched their students from the stage. All three of them wore big smiles, in spite of teary eyes.