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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Chalk dust in Siam

by Maria Eleanor Elape Valeros
August 23, 2004; posted at www.thefreeman.com

CHERUBIC Fabela is a Filipina grade school teacher in Thailand. She popped up on main room of Cebu Tambayan 6, one of few chat rooms I frequent, introduced to me by another chat mate in Dubai as Bicchuchu.
We exchanged pleasantries online and later figured out we come from the same grade school—Andres Soriano Memorial School—de la Salle in barangay Don Andres Soriano, Toledo City.

From our four-hour conversation till the break of dawn, I learned that Bicchuchu left the Philippines for obvious reasons —to escape poverty, to find self fulfillment, and to experience career development.

I posed Bicchuchu a challenge. There is nothing ever more special to a teacher than the chalk she utilizes to gain command over an illiterate world. But I think there is nothing more important too than the chalk dust that make up for the entirety of the chalk.

You see when I was young, I also considered the teaching stint. But a joke about teachers hurt much too much: “Maestra? TB-hon, sige hanggap ug abog sa chalk”. Oh, chalk dust! They are like cinders in space. Without dust there couldn’t be any heavenly body, I suppose. There has to be minute parts to create one big mass.
Chalk dust—like the atom in each molecule. Dust holds and/or fastens every particle of a youth’s dream; gives that dream the possibility to soar under one sky. Dust from a teacher’s chalk inspire more flights than that at Kitty Hawk, more satellite launchings, more moon landings, films and researches, computers, mobile phones, roads and bridges, airplanes and submarines, housing projects and food production.Chalk dust. Very much like the blood that pumps up every fiber and every system in our body to make them work in synergy, in synchrony—all functional.

Oh, chalk dust! I used to watch them admiringly as they fall onto the blackboard ledge. But I would want to tell the story not from my eyes. This time, it would be from Bicchuchu, a youth on my Yahoo Messenger Buddy List. One youth who found the realization of her dreams in Muang Thai (Land of the Free), an Asian country my teacher told me as, “it used to be Siam back in the old days”.

And Bicchuchu wrote:“One straight line, the next a loop; one small line topped with a dot; one cursive stroke and a horn and I am teaching the world to write. At my back are thirty-four pupils mimicking the strokes, mastering the alphabet that would fill up the spaces in their notebooks, occupy all the blue-to-blues and red-to-reds on pad papers, and flush out all the ink their pens could contain.

The dust taken off slowly from the humble piece of chalk I am using to lead my pupils from the plight of illiteracy reminds me of the efforts my grade school teachers exerted in shaping me and thousands of other children. Now, I am taking the course to educate the many children that have come after us.

But who would ever think that I, an idealistic girl at 12—and still so at 26—would head for a journey far from home, far from the children of the nation I so long to serve. Here I am wielding my own battle, down south of Thailand, as an educator, nurturing the minds and the hopes of Siam’s children.

Here, I saw all the chalk dust carried by the air of old, old Siam into the brains of the Thai children who I know will one day have a grip of the world. But boy, it pains! For these should be the children of home, the Filipino children for whom my heart truly, deeply, madly beats. I desire to be a teacher of my people, but there are sound reasons why I set foot away from home.

With a four-year teaching experience in the Philippines, hopping from one private school to the next, the bug of reality bit me. The compensation just wouldn’t suffice especially when you’re a breadwinner.

Then came the opportunity for a job outside of the country where plane fare, and food and accommodation were made free. I grabbed the blessed chance even if my decision meant leaving behind my family, my friends, a culture, a lifestyle, and the country I should have served. The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Buzzzz…there goes the bell again. Class is over! As my pupils each walked out of the room, I pondered on how I had touched their lives today. And as I play with my fingers the chalk dust left on the blackboard ledge, I would imagine these children’s dreams as if they are my own. This mound of dust—the very witness to every stroke that succumbs to silent death in my country with the many teachers turning as domestic help to be able to survive and feed a family, or send their children to school.

Teaching in Thailand is challenging, the compensation good. As I play with chalk dust, I chuckle at the thought of counting more young people following my footsteps. Not taking anymore the risk of nobleness, but the risk of the coldness out of home. You know what I mean.

I miss home, who wouldn’t? But it is better to be homesick and lonely than to be famished.”

Bicchuchu is just one of a lot of young people who have found work out of the country. The incumbent administration promised the creation of 6-10 million jobs for Filipinos in a six-year period. But it never dawned on me that the effort would be focused more on overseas employment. What I am expecting is for sound economic policies to be implemented to generate this figure here in the Philippines. I would want Bicchuchu home.

If the exportation of our trained or skilled people to the labor force of other countries would continue that would mean draining the country’s human resources and strengthening other country’s economies, not ours.
And I thought all the while we can have a strong republic made through sound development strategies. Oh well maybe, am still a dreamy-eyed youth who hasn’t outgrown yet the images of fantasy. (crank up my addy: wild_pechay@yahoo.com, and I’ll buy you coffee)©