Loreto, Agusan del Sur—For her birthday last June 4, 10-year-old Ferly Joy Ferrol wished for all the things a young girl would: teddy bears, video games and a television. But these ordinary everyday things are a rarity where Ferly Joy lives: afloat on a wooden shack in the still waters of the Agusan marsh in Mindanao.
“Lahat kukuhanin ko,” she states in Bisaya, “kapag nakapag-aral ako.”
Ferly Joy is in the third grade this year in Panlubahan Primary School, popularly known as the Floating School. Located at least an hour away by motor boat from the nearest land mass, the school rests on top of a bamboo raft supported further by a couple of logs, like the rest of the houses of the Manobo community who settled in Sitio Panlubahan in the marsh. To get to school, she must paddle across a vast distance of water, which outsiders believe to be the home of the mother of Lolong, the largest crocodile in captivity.
“Ang sakit na ng paa ko sa pagsagwan ng bangka,” she admits. This has been the life she and her parents have been brought up in. The elders of her tribe settled in this part of the marsh in the 60s after discovering a sustainable fishing livelihood there.
Nearly five decades later, the community still lives in poverty with no electricity and no source for clean water except from rain. The floating school was only opened in 2005 thru the iniative of the non-government agency Sikat. Before then, there was no school in the sitio. Due to the distance and the cost of sending a child to the mainland of Loreto to study, many of the second generation Manobo could not go to school.
This school year, 12 children of different ages enrolled in the combined Grade 2 and Grade 3 classes; it remains uncertain if the five enrolled in preschool would continue to have class because the twenty-five-student required minimum to proceed. And while already recognized by the Department of Education, the school is still under evaluation for inclusion in the national budget. For now, it is dependent on the local government of Loreto for funding. But come first day of class, not a single piece of chalk arrived for their use.
“Kung may sarili kaming pera kusang loob na lang kaming bibili para sa mga kabataan,” says newly assigned grade school teacher Jemuel Ramacula. “Dahil wala pa kaming sahod, wala rin kaming pera pero gagawa kami ng paraan para may magamit na rin kami.”
—Research by Von Belinario, News5.
• To know more about Agusan’s Floating School, watch the full documentary on Under Special Investigation, tonight, June 10, 2012 at 7 PM in AksyonTV 41 and at 10:30 PM in TV5.