TIGHT HUGS. The writer recounts his daughter's experience in the Philippines. Screengrab from The Strait Times
Deborah went home that day wondering why her family didn't travel outside the country like her classmates did over the holidays.The family went to Cauayan City, the hometown of their Filipina househelp Maricel. The rural area that depends on rice and corn farms is home to just 122,000 people.
The experience of the family reflected the state of public education in the Philippines.Deborah attended Cauayan South Central School with Maricel’s 9-year-old daughter Charelle. For three days, she was like any normal student, even wearing the school uniform and riding the tricycle to school.
The school, considered the largest public school in the area, has about 4000 pupils in 87 classes. Toh observed that the school provides free education to children “working-class parents including farmers, labourers, and women working overseas”.
Toh described the school as “nothing like any in Singapore.” Aside from uneven pathways to school buildings, the dimly-lit classrooms with poor ventilation were packed.
“Teachers kept going even as the temperature soared to a sweltering 38 degrees,” he recalled whenever three-hour power interruptions happened.
To their surprsie and amusement, Deborah quickly formed a bond with her classmates. On her last day in school, she wrote that the strongest impression of them was kindness.
The warm attitude given by the people of Cauayan left Deborah wanting to go back.