Becoming a ‘second home’ amidst adversity

SM-Foundation-Zamboanga SPED Center-NGO-Philippines-1The School Building Program of SM Foundation enables the Zamboanga Central School-SPED Center to accommodate more students amidst the increasing number of enrollment.

The 2013 Zamboanga siege threw the education of about 140,000 elementary students into disarray. Schools in DepEd Region IX's Zamboanga Central District bore the brunt of the conflict, finding themselves at the epicenter of the chaos.

Amidst the turmoil, Zamboanga Central School-SPED Center, then divided into two schools, opened its doors and stood as a haven for displaced Zamboangueños.

School Property Custodian Joseph Bernardo recounts that the school utilized every facility–from classrooms to covered court–to accommodate and provide comfort to those forced out of their homes.

“Hindi namin pwede iwanan ‘yung mga tao na nawalan ng bahay,” Bernardo opened. “Mahalaga po ito sa amin lalo na po dahil ang mga mag aaral din po namin ay kabilang sa mga lumikas noon. Masakit para sa amin kung maiiwan ang mga bata at hindi makapag aral.”

“Binuksan noon ang school, at naging shelter kami ng mga residente ng nawalan ng tirahan. Ginawa rin itong learning area. Inaccommodate rin ng paaralan ang mga mag aaral mula sa mga karatig na lugar kagaya ng Sta. Barbara at Rio Hondo Elementary Schools habang patuloy po naming inaccommodate ang dati na naming estudyante,” he recounted how the school adapted to the needs of the community to provide a sense of normalcy and hope to a community in turmoil.

Despite the influx of displaced families and other challenges, Bernardo shared that they prioritized the well-being of the learners. The school continued to hold classes for its students and catered to pupils from other affected schools in the area.

“Nagkaroon kami ng morning at afternoon shift para pagkasyahin ang oras at siguraduhin na hindi madi-disrupt ang pag aaral ng mga estudyante. Dahil dito, natulungan din namin ang mga estudyante ng mga ibang eskwelahan at mga pamilyang nawalan ng tirahan,” he added.

Building a school, providing renewed hope

SM-Foundation-Zamboanga SPED Center-NGO-Philippines-2In 2019, SM Foundation built a school building at Zamboanga Central School-SPED Center, equipping it with learning tools that would boost the learning outcomes of students.

As the school was packed beyond what they could normally handle, Teacher Minette Jaro recalled how some teaching materials got lost in all the confusion. Many books that had been lent out were never returned. The crowded conditions and disorder made it hard to keep track of school supplies.

She said that as they slowly recovered from the wounds of the past, the SM Foundation’s support helped restore hope. In 2019, the social good arm of the SM Group built a well-equipped school building. 

“Nagkaroon po kami ng dedicated classroom kung saan magkakaroon ng hands on learning experience sa Home Economics ang mga estudyante. Kumpleto po ang i-dinonate ng SM Foundation na comfort rooms and instructional materials. Bilang teacher, natulungan po ako nitong mapadali ang aking pagtuturo,” she smiled. 

Over a decade after the conflict, Principal Lepidaptera Villanueva said the SM Foundation didn’t only allow them to rise, but also innovate and adapt to the needs of more members of the community. 

It enabled them to fulfill their mandate to provide inclusive education. While catering to persons with disabilities, the school can accommodate more students, including 500 students from the Badjao tribe.

“Itong school building donated by the SM Foundation ay malaking tulong. Kahit na increasing ang enrollment sa aming paaralan, walang nagka-klase sa covered court o sa ilalim ng puno sapagkat lahat ay may dedicated classrooms.”

As one of the city's oldest public elementary schools, Zamboanga Central School-SPED Center has gone above and beyond. Since the siege, it hasn’t only been a place for learning, but a true second home. The school is among the 108 school buildings built by SM Foundation, aiming to create a conducive environment for learning that will enable the youth to perform better in school and inspire teachers to become more effective.

SM-Foundation-Zamboanga SPED Center-NGO-Philippines-3After the completion of each school building, SM Foundation regularly monitors and refurbishes its facilities as needed to ensure a conducive learning and pleasant teaching environment.