Gaas is a sleepy village in Balamban, Cebu. The flowers that bedeck its narrow street seem to lull you to sleep. But one cannot afford to close one’s eyes and miss the sight of the most beautiful gumamelas that are dressed in blazing red.
The village was fully awake that Tuesday. The residents said that G.I. Joe was coming to visit.
The school Principal, Mr. Buenaflor, was not in the campus. He was in the barangay center where the program was to be held. We went to meet the English teachers who were handling the Access Micro Scholarship program that is run the American Embassy in the Philippines.
Eighty-eight high school students were cramped inside Ms. Anna Liza’s room. But they were all well-behaved even when we took their teacher away for a meeting. We huddled in a small corner where Teachers Lyndl and Rosalie printed the program. The other teachers had their hands full preparing welcome leis. Another teacher came scurrying with trays of noodles which she prepared very early in the morning. Plates, forks and spoons were borrowed from the neighbors. And so were serving dishes where the fish which Lindell cooked was served.
Mr. Buenaflor came puffing and huffing. He was my phone pal for the last several days. He peppered me with questions as to the program flow and what food should be served. He was thinking of serving lechon until I discouraged him. I told him food should be the least of his concern. But still, he had to get my imprimatur on serving native delicacies like “muron” and “budbud.” I thought that his heart would break if the guests choose to leave straight for the airport and not relish the food that took them hours to prepare.
He was quite concerned that the children could not sing “The star spangled banner”. I told him not to worry. He assured me though that they downloaded the best version from you tube. It must have taken them some effort as there is neither internet connection nor a cell signal in the village. In fact, I have to wait until the wee hours in the evening to talk to Mr. Buenaflor when he comes home from school.
The High school has no canteen and no water supply except from harvested rain. That morning, the teachers asked the students to fill the drum with water which they carried with buckets from a stream that was far away.
We herded the teachers into our rented van to go to the barangay center. The makeshift stage looked majestic with a mountain as its backdrop. Two old desks served as steps to the stage.
The students welcomed Mr. Harold Samuels, the Regional English Language Officer. He was glad that he wore a purple shirt that matched the uniform of the students. He talked to them as if he were an old acquaintance and took time to pose for selfies as he distributed their certificates that were signed by the US Ambassador. His assistant Connie, nervously watched lest the stage give way to the number of students and guests.
The event was pretty special. Mayor Ace Binghay and the Vice Mayor graced the event. Mayor Ace emphasized how education frees people from poverty. The Vice Mayor thanked the Embassy for giving the children opportunities to learn a universal language. The barangay captain brought the house down with his anecdotes on how he gets away with his limited vocabulary that consists of “yes” and “no.”
Experiencing Gaas convinced me again that the Philippines is really a beautiful country with beautiful people, notwithstanding the banalities that we have to put up with from government every day.