The sudden downpour forced me to seek shelter under the bounds of Parañaque City Jail. Obscured by a crowded neighborhood, you won’t know what you are running into were it not for the sign. Never been this close to jail. I never imagined such place can be as loud as a sabungan, except for the jovial atmosphere.
I am twenty minutes late for Teacher Fe’s class, about thirty nine steps from where I am holed up. Too near to necessitate a padyak, too distant for a sprint in the rain.
The class is holed up as well, under the La Huerta Bridge, beneath the bustling Manila-Cavite Expressway. No they are not taking cover from the storm, the underside is Teacher Fe’s regular kiddie learning hall.
Dubbed “Education Under The Bridge,” the program is Teacher Fe’s educational campaign — filled with fun and games and a few goodies — to the underprivileged, growing children of the Bulungan area in Parañaque.
I bounced my way through the puddle to meet Teacher Fe who was stuck in her bunch of young learners. Reaches out to me for a quick handshake, then trains my view to a group of volunteer teachers, tied up with the kids as well. They are the responders to her call for heroes. The young men and women of the backpacks. All unbelievably driven.
And I thought this generation is only of apps and memes and apathy.
Teacher Fe is Fe Matullano Lustanas. Public school teacher. Game changer. Awardee, Gawad Geny Lopez Jr. Bayaning Pilipinong Guro 2012; Champion Tapat Dapat 2015, and so on.
In 2010, she set up Education Under The Bridge, together with her other half. They got by with the mission squeezing funds from their own personal pocket.
Their efforts caught the media spotlight. Teacher Fe appeared on major TV networks, her story featured on documentaries, youtube, vlogs, radio stations. An instant rockstar.
Even with all the acclaims, no individual or body, private or government, has as yet been supportive enough to deliver them from their learning hall.
She says the local government hasn’t helped them with anything in spite of her incessant effort in getting them to the cause. Still, she remains hopeful they would one day be in a more suitable venue.
Until then, the class will have to settle for this hole down under.
In 2013, she launched “Journey Of Hope” in furtherance to her Education Under the Bridge and to set off her brand new campaign, the “Kids and Parents Education” — an all out education for everyone: children, out-of-school youth, over aged students (the forgotten population), adult in-school, adult out-of-school.
Teacher Fe is, at the same time, instructional manager for DepEd’s Alternative Learning System and — bear in mind — a full time schoolteacher at the La Huerta Elementary School.
Like where on God’s green earth does she get all the energy and driving force for all this? God’s grace and blessings, she says.
The blessings — aside from the diverse groups and individuals who trooped down this bridge for voluntary service once or twice or as regulars — are the sponsors.
Teacher Fe may be quick in naming her big supporters in RJ Garcia of Appledrive Project and Mikey Bustos of YouTube fame, what amazes me are the nameless ones who come to deliver their generosities, take selfie with Teacher Fe, then leave without a trace.
Teacher Fe’s claustrophobic classroom is mutual ground with the fisher folks of the Bulungan seafood wharf (whose sons and daughters she calls the “Bulungan Kids”).
With the motorists overhead and on the ground who splashes water down the class when they drive through puddles.
With the tired old street sweeper whose half-closed eyes bares the exhaustion.
With the desecrated Parañaque river whose stench lasts on your shirt all day.
The rain has stopped. Right next to the Parañaque jail, Bahay Pagasa Juvenile Justice Center comes into view. The house of youthful offenders. There are those who are lost. Too heedless to comprehend choices.
In Education Under the Bridge, Teacher Fe lays down cute little choices. Like choosing a book to read, or what color they want Darth Vader to be, or what artwork to show off.
The trick is to acquaint the child with the thought that the choice he/she make comes with its due consequence — a basic rule in developing their moral compass as to what is right or wrong. The most elemental approach in rearing them towards a more positive social well-being.
Not all Bulungan Kids come to her class though. There are those who would rather clean tahong shells for a living. It’s sad when the law of the stomach rules over learning.
Teacher Fe tries to break this vicious cycle — with all the help available, in the most destitute locale for any member of a society. “Everything will come, exactly as it does”, she assures.
How many pillars does La Huerta Bridge have I have no idea. What I do know, one of them is a schoolteacher.