- Halasan travels seven hours from his family’s home in the city – two hours by bus, an hour over extremely rough roads by habal-habal motorcycle, four hours of walking, and crossing the waters of two treacherous rivers – to reach Pegalongan Elementary School, a two-room schoolhouse, teaching multi-grade classes between Grades 1 and 6.
- From a two-teacher, two-room school house with no electricity, primitive amenities, and virtually cut off from communication with the outside world in 2007 when Halasan was first assigned to the school, it is now a permanent school with nine rooms, eight teachers, and 210 students. Through Halasan’s representation, a cultural-minority high school was established, with Halasan as teacher-in-charge.
- Recognizing that poverty is the community’s fundamental problem, Halasan has taken his advocacy beyond the classroom by working with the Pegalongan Farmers Association to access assistance from private organizations and government agencies.
- The RMAF board of trustees recognizes “his purposeful dedication in nurturing his Matigsalug students and their community to transform their lives through quality education and sustainable livelihoods, doing so in ways that respect their uniqueness and preserve their integrity as indigenous peoples in a modernizing Philippines.”
It is a truism that it takes a village to raise a child. But it seems equally true that it takes just one person to launch this collective process of education. In the Philippines, where a public school system has been in place for over a century, many communities remain either unserved or underserved. Where physical access is difficult and dangerous, government’s presence weak and facilities are meager, and people are too poor to even claim an education, the work of public school teachers is nothing less than heroic, and yet largely goes unheralded.
This is the story of thirty-one-year-old Randy Halasan, a teacher in Pegalongan Elementary School, serving the indigenous Matigsalug tribe living in one of the remotest villages in the mountainous hinterland of Davao City. To reach Pegalongan from his family’s home in the city takes Halasan seven hours of travel – two hours by bus, an hour over extremely rough roads by habal-habal motorcycle, four hours of walking, and crossing the waters of two treacherous rivers. When Halasan first arrived in Pegalongan in 2007, he was one of only two teachers in a two-room schoolhouse, teaching multi-grade classes between Grades 1 and 6. There was no electricity, amenities were primitive, and the place was virtually cut off from communication with the outside world. The young novice teacher’s first thought was that he would seek a reassignment out of the place the first chance he could get.
But today, seven years later, he is still in Pegalongan. Moved by compassion for the children who have to walk miles and cross rivers just to get to school, and who often fall asleep in class from hunger and fatigue, and driven by a sense of duty to help the impoverished and defenseless forest tribals against the encroachments of powerful outsiders, Halasan has embraced the Matigsalug community as his own. He has turned down offers for reassignment, and his family often does not see him for many weeks on end.
Assuming as head teacher in 2010, Halasan proactively lobbied with higher authorities to expand the Pegalongan school. What was once a two-room, two-teacher schoolhouse is now a permanent school with nine rooms, eight teachers, and 210 students. Through his representation, a cultural-minority high school has been established, with Halasan as teacher-in-charge. Convinced that education is key to the Matigsalug’s survival in a changing world, he has convinced parents to keep their children in school; discouraged the customary practices of early and arranged marriages; and promoted values of self-help and egalitarianism in the community.
Recognizing that poverty is the community’s fundamental problem, Halasan has taken his advocacy beyond the classroom. He says, “If I only focus on education, nothing will happen; the children will continue to go hungry.” Envisioning a food-sufficient community, he inspired his fellow-teachers to donate seeds and encouraged the villagers to plant fruit trees and vegetables. Working with the Pegalongan Farmers Association, he accessed assistance from private organizations and government agencies. Prodded and encouraged by his leadership, Pegalongan farmers now have a collectively-owned rice-and-corn mill, a seed bank, a cattle dispersal project, and horses for transporting their farm products. The village is also now participating in a government forest rehabilitation program which by 2014 will have a hundred forested hectares, with the Matigsalug of Pegalongan as stewards and beneficiaries. And Halasan’s youthful graduates are helping their elders protect their future and the legal rights to their ancestral domain.
According to oral tradition, the word Pegalongan means ‘the place from which the light shines.’ Because of one highly motivated civil servant, the village has become truly what its name suggests. Explaining his motivation, Halasan says quite simply; “No one got rich out of teaching; it’s your legacy that matters.”
In electing Randy Halasan to receive the 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his purposeful dedication in nurturing his Matigsalug students and their community to transform their lives through quality education and sustainable livelihoods, doing so in ways that respect their uniqueness and preserve their integrity as indigenous peoples in a modernizing Philippines.
Your Excellency President Benigno S. Aquino III, Trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.
Almost all of us experience a lot of struggles in life. Even my college life was an uphill battle. When my father died, I had to pursue my education by working part time. My dream was to become a lawyer or a doctor but due to limited financial resources, I therefore studied teaching. Now, looking back on my life, there must have been a reason for this career choice—I was meant to be with the Matigsalog tribe of Pegalongan in Davao City. On January 8, 2007, as a newly appointed public school teacher, I was sent to Pegalongan Elementary School, the farthest school in all of Davao City—inaccessible, poor, and isolated from any communication. At that time, we were only two teachers handling all the grade levels.
I told myself I had to transfer immediately; I knew I would not be happy there. But as the days passed—when I saw the poverty in the community, when I saw in the people’s eyes and gestures that they needed me—I began to love who they are and their simple lives. When we held the school’s first-ever graduation ceremonies, it was so memorable because I saw the happiness in the eyes of both the students and their parents. The Matigsalog elders openly cried when they witnessed the program: they never imagined their children could finish elementary education, given Pegalongan’s remoteness and isolation.
Since then, we have been able to increase the number of teachers and school facilities, among other improvements. We opened a secondary school that benefits not only the Matigsalog of Davao City but also those from Bukidnon, a neighboring province. Still, I was not happy, seeing my hungry students and their impoverished families. Even though I was already school-in-charge by 2010, I realized that I could not concentrate only on formal education. I decided to extend my work to the community so they could learn to make their ancestral land productive. I learned to work with the people of Pegalongan to plant crops like cacao, rubber, coffee and fruit trees. The tribe is now practicing multi-cropping to become food sufficient. Hundreds of malibago plants were planted along the river to protect us from soil erosion and flood.
My vision for the Matigsalog in Pegalongan is to uplift their lives from poverty. This was also the vision of the late President Magsaysay who showed his passion and commitment to serve everyone equally, and to ensure justice to all Filipinos.
I never expected to receive a prestigious award such as the Ramon Magsaysay Award. This is an extraordinary award, and it makes me feel very happy and fulfilled. For me, being a Magsaysay awardee is not about becoming popular; rather, it is a strong call to have greater passion, to serve our fellow Filipinos, and to become a true role model and inspiration for others. Rich or poor, I believe there are no limitations in helping our fellowmen, especially the poor. Nobody got rich from the teaching profession, but a teacher like me gets rich from sharing knowledge, values, and positive attitudes to the community.
I would like to recognize those who have given their effort and support to my vision for Sitio Pegalongan: my co-teachers, the Davao City government, field officers in the education, agriculture and environment agencies, other generous partners in our development efforts. My deep gratitude also goes to the people of Pegalongan—sitio officials, tribal elders, our students and their families—they believed in our vision of an educated and food-sufficient community. Special thanks to my former District Supervisor Ms. Ava Marie Santiago, to Bato Balani Foundation and to the media who put public attention to our work. Also, it is impossible for me to fully express my gratitude to my family, whose unconditional love and acceptance has encouraged me through all the frustrations and dangers. Above all, to our almighty God, whose guiding hand has always given me the strength to go on.
I truly believe that we can build a strong Philippines. If we open our hearts to serve the people without expecting any personal returns, whatever challenges and obstacles we experience, we can overcome all of these if we are determined, patient, and hardworking.
Mabuhay po ang mga Pilipino! Mabuhay po ang mga gurong Pilipino!