Turtle ‘Lola’ Fairy in Guimaras

Last 2003, during my summer vacation, I spent some days in Guimaras islands with two of my friends. We stayed in this cozy cottage resort by the seafront of the major island where the resort manager took very good care of our meals by allowing us choose what we like to eat for the next day even if they were not part of the menu. It was like being at home, begging your Mom to cook your favorite dishes for you!

And we would eat our meals out there, almost by the beachfront, with the sounds of the waves and the calm of the blue skies…words are not enough to describe the beauty and serenity of those moments. It sounds like a cliche but it sincerely felt like paradise. I am definitely going back there.

One of the most meaningful parts of the vacation was visiting this small island where there was a sanctuary for sea turtles. After finishing a huge breakfast of pritong isda and sinangag complete with hearty servings of the world-famous Guimaras mangoes, we took a small banca to this island I would later call as my “Turtle Lola Fairy Island.” The boat ride was made so much more enjoyable because the three children of the boatman were with us and I had so much fun taking their pictures. I fell in love with them.

A beautiful encounter with a beautiful creature.

When we arrived on the island, we were greeted by this cute young sea turtle trying to practice his “breast strokes” by the shore! He is tied up with a string to a post by the fence of a small hut; the string extends to the sea, long enough to give him a portion of the waters where he can practice his swimming. It was so cute watching him! I was laughing as I watched him struggle so much and I knew then that he’s going to be a great swimmer with those fast and frantic strokes.

I look at the boxes by the fence where they keep the young turtles and saw several of them in their own compartments. I couldn’t control my urge anymore and I asked if I can carry one turtle in my hands and have my photo taken! Oh dear, it was an exciting thing to do but poor turtle, he has to endure being with me for about 30 seconds while I tried to smile amid the fierce way that he is hitting my hands with his strong arms!

Poor Cutie Turtle, he had to endure a quick photo shoot with an adoring fan!

Now it is time to meet the special lady who takes care of all these adorable creatures. I was so surprised to know that the person behind this small-scale sea turtles sanctuary and conservation effort is an old woman I would call as Turtle Lola Fairy. She is so old that I would estimate her age to be between 70 to 75. However, despite her age, she looks like she still has many more years ahead of her. If taking care of sea turtles would make me this strong at that age, I would definitely consider it as my retirement job!

The beautiful discovery was accompanied by the realization that she receives no grant for this effort. She is simply doing it on her own as her contribution towards saving the community of sea turtles in Guimaras. Yes, she is on her own! One or two of her relatives would come around to help her with the physical tasks but managing and financing it is entirely her work. She takes care of the turtles until they are big enough to be let out in the wild seas. She charges a minimal fee of P 10.00/person only every time a visitor drops by in her sanctuary. Hearing this, I was ready to give her a million if I had it!

We spent some time talking with her and I consider those moments as very enriching and inspiring. Her eyes were windows to her soul and I saw calmness and solitude. Her wrinkled face narrated to me stories that her voice could not. Maybe she wouldn’t even remember us anymore but as I type this, the memory of her face and her nurturing power envelop me with so many wonderful feelings. One day, I am going to visit you again, Lola.

My friends and I then went on to another island and spent the day enjoying the beautiful waters of one of the smaller islands of Guimaras. They were screaming with joys as they see the beautiful fishes playing just several meters from the shoreline. They were beckoning me to come to them, and endlessly teased me because I really do not know how to swim and I couldn’t really go that far. Little did they know that I was simply enjoying that space and time, quietly seated on the sand, kissing the sun, and marveling again at the beauty of this world, made so much more alive by the eternal magic of the sea turtles and the loving touches of their fairies and grandmothers.

[Re-post of a blog dated August 28, 2005.]


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Soulful Teaching

In the hinterlands somewhere in the North, there is a young teacher who teaches about 150 pupils from three different grade levels, in just one classroom. Let us call her Maria.

She lives in a rented room that costs her about P 500 a month. She is originally from Baguio and her job takes her away from her husband and toddler one month at a time. She sleeps on a cot with barely a soft cushion to soothe her tired body from her long days in the classroom.

She nurtures them and believes in their future.

Still, she teaches with pride, commitment, and joy. Her eyes speak of passion and eagerness. Of faith. She believes in the future of “her children.” She speaks of them as if they were her own. For the whole day, she manages the daily learning of Grades 4, 5, and 6 students, in one classroom. She does this by staying with each grade one at a time;  leaving “seatworks” to that class after which she goes on to the next. Her co-teacher is assigned to Grades 1, 2, and 3. They follow a similar system.

Most of the students are from indigenous communities. There was this tiny girl who smiles shyly at strangers, big eyes full of curiosity and innocence. Some are barefooted. Several have torn shirts. But the sounds of their voices carry a lively tune, like they are looking forward to the promises of the future despite their circumstances. There is so much beauty in that.

This kind of learning is called a “multi-grade” system, a practice already allowed by the Department of Education (DepEd), to address the age-old problems on lack of teachers and school buildings. Although this has the supervision of the DepEd, teachers like Maria are not in the government payroll. They receive regular allowances from the Local School Board.One may think that the financial reward must be so significant that merits Maria’s ultimate sacrifice: being away from her little family, her beautiful and precious child most especially, who is in that age when a mother’s touch is very important or even necessary. One would never guess that she is only receiving a meager P3,000 a month for this tiring work and ultimate sacrifice. Three thousand pesos. Deducting the P 500 rent, she is just left with P 2,500. Divide this by 30 days, and she is left with only P83.00 a day. Eighty three pesos! It is not even enough to cover a typical city dweller’s lunch expense!

How is it that she can still smile? How is it that she can still work with so much passion and energy? I am even tempted to help her find a teaching job here in Manila! But I know I cannot deprive those children of the opportunity to learn, the privilege of hearing their teacher’s voice that continue to shape their souls.

When asked if Maria ever considers leaving her volunteer work and opt for higher-income jobs in the city, she replied, “Paano na ang mga bata? Paano na ang kasama kong teacher?” That, to me, is an answer anchored on a deep commitment to serve.

Every night, as Maria prepares her lesson plans for the next day, she remembers the simple joys of the day, the voices of her children, and affirms to herself one again that indeed, she is doing the right decision. That she has found her place under the sun.

It is my friend Thea who shared this beautiful story with me several years ago over dinner of pansit and siomai. Once she started telling me about Maria, I remembered my Mom, too. She is a retired public school teacher and spent almost 30 years of her life teaching in far-flung barangays in Aurora. Because we siblings were all in Manila while she taught, we practically grew up without her by our side. When I was younger, I questioned Mom’s decision. But now that I am older (and hopefully, wiser), I could say  that I understand her decision. I am proud of the fact that she dedicated her life to public service and did a life-changing sacrifice by depriving herself of the joys of seeing us grow up because she wanted to fulfill a personal mission.

From Maria, my Mom, and the countless others who continue to teach in the barrios—without comfortable material rewards—we gather strength and inspiration. They are the reasons why I still believe in the Filipino soul.

[This is a repost of a previous blog and had been submitted to a blog competition with the code PBA094n66314.]


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