I did not quite make of what the airplane pilot was trying to say. I thought he was informing us of a change in the plane’s trajectory. I could only make a hunch when I saw thick billowing clouds that appeared like a gentle hurricane in the sky. It was only when we landed in Silay that I learned about Taal volcano acting up.
Of course, it was worrisome to think of when we could go back. Flights were being cancelled and all for good reasons. Nobody could tell us when normal operations in the airport would resume. But, it was so selfish for us to think of ourselves. Our predicament could not even compare with the danger that the Taal residents were facing. They must be trembling with fear and storming the heavens with prayers for their safety. The least we could do was to join them in prayers.
Our “family” in Bacolod came without asking to assure us that we have a home away from home. Mayor Diding and Vice Mayor Jay arranged dinner. Gov. Coscolluela came to join us despite a painful limp. Mayor Sonny volunteered to serve as our driver. Extra courses on PISA results and the Philippine and US politics were served as the main meal.
Our partnership with Talisay City was long in coming. It had been our dream to work with City Administrator Maeng Penado to put a systemic education program in place. Now, our journey has began in the company of 300 teachers. We sent an SOS to Vice Mayor Jay to handle one of the workshops. Without knowing the demands from the job, he said yes. Little did he know that he would become a phonics teacher and a story teller at the same time. As always, the teachers looked and listened to him with starry eyes.
It was a day for “good looking guys.” Mayor Neil Lizares looked more handsome than a movie star. He gamely joined our phonics lesson and sounded all the vowels and consonants that made up his name. He passed the first of a series of initiation in becoming a Synergeia Mayor.
Because of our PISA performance, we decided to make our workshops more interactive and creative. We asked the teachers to move around and demonstrate the meaning of words and sentences through body gestures. Perhaps through practice and force of habit, the teachers moved in straight parallel lines. It took a bit of cajoling to convince them that they can move freely without any feeling of control. It was our way of telling them that children need to be given free spaces in their classrooms. Children need to express themselves not just through writing and speech but with their bodies. We ushered exercises on critical thinking with a mock-up PISA test. The test scores of the teachers did not surprise us. Their performance matched that of their students. Perhaps, it mirrored the performance of our society as well. We have have long focused on literal thinking and gave importance to remembering facts and noting details.
We do not encourage debates and opinions that are different from ours. We frown on doubting Thomases and smile on blind obedience. Now, our challenge is to take our children to higher levels of analytical thinking. We need to encourage them to ask questions, ask “whys” and “hows” instead of “what,” “who” and “where.” And we have to foster an environment of freedom in thinking and in speech.
In the meantime, Chingkel from our Central Office went through the processes of rebooking and rebooking our flights even without a request from us. Our other angels in Bacolod hovered around us and arranged another dinner. They assured us that they would be there even if our flights were cancelled again and again. I felt a tinge of guilt as I knew they cancelled appointments that they previously made. I wondered if I could do the same for my friends.Often, we take our friends for granted and take their love as a given. We may not also be willing to consider helping them as our priority over our work.
I said a prayer of thanksgiving for the many blessings that I fail to count. Indeed, God gives us angels by giving us friends.