ZAMBOANGA CITY: The armed conflict in Zamboanga could not stop Evelyn Bangayan Yadao from her mission: To help educate children displaced in the bloody war.
The Filipino-Canadian belongs to a small group of Christian volunteers who flew all the way from Vancouver to organize the Progressive Learning Space (PLS), a summer literacy program for kids that started on April 21, 2014.
Five days later, Yadao and her colleagues’ efforts paid off. The same scared children whose education came to a halt with the war, now sang and danced as they finished their course.
The closing ceremonies left most parents and teachers teary-eyed, especially when guest speaker Rev. Don Dulaca told the crowd he graduated at Sta. Barbara Elementary School where most of the kids were earlier enrolled.
The public school was the site of helicopter air strikes in September 2013 that left many children in deep shock.
Dulaca’s message was short but sweet. He told students that education is their way out of poverty.
“You may be a victim of war today but your studies is your way out of poverty,” he told the crowd, most of who belong to the Tausug community, a Muslim tribe.
Yadao was joined in her mission by a group of Zamboanga academicians and professionals who share the former’s passion for displaced children caught in the throes of war.
The core leaders of the program underwent a Bridging Leadership Training Crash Course at a local school to familiarize themselves with the political development, leadership and conflict dynamics of displaced children affected by the war.
From there, they established the PLS to develop the key competencies of more than a hundred displaced schoolchildren caught in the three-week armed conflict in this bustling city.
Seven months before the PLS was conceptualized, displaced children got terrified when 4,000 Philippine soldiers engaged in a fierce battle with around 400 heavily armed separatist rebels in this city.
The bloody war deprived thousands of children from getting a good education. One Asian journalist who covered the three-week war from day one said these kids are too young to understand the armed conflict and the government should do something to bring them back to school.
The PLS forged a partnership with Canada’s Hope for the Nations and the Department of Education in Zamboanga to mobilize teachers and civilian volunteers for the program at the Zamboanga West Central School. Among those who responded were the deans of the Department of Arts and Sciences and Department of Teacher Education of the Zamboanga City State Polytechnic College.
The local evangelical pastors followed and more college students volunteered for the literacy program that helped a lot of children.