In some of the poorest communities in the country, residents are concerned least about electricity — or the lack thereof. After all, they were born without it. To them, what matters the most are food, security and access to social services.
However, with the rate the rest of the world is advancing because of technology, the gap between those with access to electricity and those who don’t is widening, and it is getting more impossible for these poor, far-flung, unenergized communities to catch up.
Noraida B. Dalidig, a public school teacher in Tagoloan, Lanao del Norte, is not unfamiliar with this ordeal.
Raised in a family of teachers in a relatively progressive municipality of Pantao Ragat, Dalidig had always wanted to become a teacher herself. That’s why when she finally became one, she looked forward to her first assignment with anticipation. But her excitement was short-lived after learning that she will be sent to Tumple Elementary School in Brgy. Panalawan, more than 30 kilometers up in the mountains of the province.
Here, there are no paved roads, no public transport, and electricity is absent. During the monsoon season, roads become impassable and landslides are a usual threat. To make matters worse, getting mobile network coverage is a challenge anywhere in the village.
“Unang araw ko dito, siyempre umiyak ako kasi walang kuryente tapos naiisip ko lagi ang pamilya ko kasi malayo ang lugar na ito. Bukod sa walang ilaw, wala rin akong kamag-anak dito. Nakakalungkot talaga,” she shared.
(I cried on my first day here because the place did not have electricity. I would always think about my family. Aside from having no electricity, I also don’t have relatives here. It really made me feel home-sick.)
Despite her own struggles, Dalidig pushed on. She thought that there was a more divine purpose why she was chosen to be assigned to such an isolated place.
“Ang mga bata rito ay talagang gustong-gustong mag-aral. Kahit yung mga nakatira sa malayo talagang naglalakad sila araw araw papunta sa school at pabalik dahil gusto nilang makapagtapos, kahit umuulan. Kaya kami ring mga teacher, kahit mahirap ang daan, umuulan, kailangan din naming pumunta rito kasi naisip namin kung paano na lang ang mga bata kung wala ang mga teacher,” she shared.
(The children here really want to study. Even those who live far away are willing to walk everyday just to go to school. That’s why we make it a point to report to work even during bad weather because our students need us.)
Even with their perseverance, there are certain lessons that students of Tumple Elementary School will never be able to fully comprehend without the aid of technology.
“Iba talaga [ang mga bata rito] kumpara sa mga na sa lowland area. Lagi silang nahuhuli sa mga teknolohiya. Katulad ng mga video, hindi sila makapanood. Sa pagtuturo kasi ngayon kasama na yung mga video viewing at mga Powerpoint presentation. Hindi namin ‘yan nagagawa dito,” she said.
(The children here have very limited experience with technology compared with those in the lowland areas. They could not even watch [educational] videos. These days we use videos and PowerPoint presentations in class discussions. We cannot do these here.)
Without access to electricity and technology, teachers in off-grid communities have a hard time teaching complex information and communication technology (ICT) concepts to students who have no prior experience with computers.
“Ngayon lahat nakadepende sa computer. Kaya kailangan talaga alam ng mga estudyante namin ang mga topic tungkol sa ICT, katulad sa Edukasyong Pantahanan at Pangkabuhayan (EPP). Sa first quarter kasi tinuturuan namin ang mga estudyante na mag-computer, pero paano naman namin sila matuturuan kung wala kaming kuryente. Hindi naman nila ma-visualize yung tinuturo namin kung picture lang ang ipapakita namin at walang actual na computer,” Dalidig explained.
(These days everything depends on a computer. That’s why it is important that our students learned about ICT, especially in subjects like Home Economics. During the first quarter, we teach them how to use a computer but how can we do so without electricity? They could not visualize what we teach since we only show them pictures instead of an actual computer.)
Tumple Elementary School is just one of the more than 2,000 public schools in the country without access to electricity. These are located either in islands or mountain communities.
While there are varied and sometimes complex reasons why these schools could not be energized through conventional means, one thing is true to all of them: their students are at the losing end.
With a few exceptions, getting a decent and stable job — one that could eject an entire family out the vicious cycle of poverty — almost always depend on good education. In modern times, this means stacking up on important theoretical knowledge and (thanks to the K to 12 curriculum), solid practical experience, especially in computer technology which is a crucial part of business processes in almost any industry nowadays.
The level of education that meets the demands of the 21st Century workplace can be easily achieved in progressive communities where access to electricity and ICT is not a problem, but not in off-grid schools.
This is a lingering social problem that One Meralco Foundation, the corporate social responsibility arm of Meralco, hopes to help solve through its school electrification program.
The advocacy provides an alternative source of electricity (such as solar power) to public schools that are hard to reach and lie beyond the power grid — within and beyond the Meralco franchise area.
For the past eight years, the program has already installed between 1 to 3 kilowatt-peak solar photovoltaic (PV) systems in 215 public schools nationwide.
Apart from access to electricity, the foundation also provides schools with multimedia packages usually consisting of a 45-inch widescreen LED TV (a more efficient substitute to a multimedia projector), a laptop computer and a printer-scanner-photocopier machine. These are donations of Meralco employees who are members of the Meralco Employees’ Fund for Charity, Inc. (MEFCI), a non-profit organization within Meralco established by employees for charitable purposes.
Tumple Elementary School and three other schools in Lanao del Norte — namely, Ramain Elementary School, Masibay Elementary School and Kiasar Elementary School — were among the beneficiaries of the program this year.
A colorful and festive community launch held on July 21, 2018 at the Kiazar Elementary School marked OMF’s formal turnover of the solar PV systems and multimedia equipment to the schools. The foundation’s president Jeffrey O. Tarayao and Lanao del Norte Governor Imelda “Angging” Q. Dimaporo attended the event, along with Dr. Margarita Ballesteros, Director for the International Cooperation Office of the Department of Education.
Hope for a brighter future
Barely a month since her school was energized, Dalidig could already see the results of the intervention.
“Malaki po talaga ang impact ng paglalagay ng solar PV system dito sa school namin. Puwede na kaming gumamit ng mga slideshow presentation sa classroom at kung may mga event kami sa school puwede na kaming gumamit ng mga sound system,” she said.
“Nagpapasalamat po kami sa One Meralco Foundation. Dahil sa inyo, nabigyan ng liwanag ang kinabukasan ng aming mga batang mag-aaral,” added the teacher.
(The solar PV system has a huge impact on our school. Now, we can use slideshow presentations in class and whenever we have an event, we could use a sound system. We are grateful to One Meralco Foundation for making the future of our students brighter).
Partners in Energizing Schools
The electrification of the schools in Lanao del Norte was made possible through a partnership between OMF and two corporate donors: UBS Investments Philippines and Schneider Electric.
OMF previously signed an agreement with the investment arm of the Switzerland-based financial institution UBS for the latter’s donation of P1.9 million for the school electrification program. This funded the electrification of two island schools in Talibon, Bohol (Calituban Elementary School and Calituban National High School) and two in Lanao del Norte (Kiasar Elementary School and Tumple Elementary School).
Meanwhile, global energy management and automation specialist Schneider Electric, donated P1.4 million worth of power inverters, a crucial component of a solar PV system. The device converts low voltage direct current (DC) generated by the solar panels (and stored in batteries), to the conventional alternating current (AC) used to power most appliances used in homes, offices and schools. – N. Rara