Friday, November 16, 2012



At the first ever Pusong Pinoy Summit held in Manila last July 21, 2012, volunteers and guests alike marveled at ventures of the young man holding the microphone. They listened intently as he recounted all the daily challenges he faced as a mobile teacher in the mountains of Palawan. They were moved by the photos he shared of his young students. He revealed that he used to be obese but not anymore. His regular hikes up and down the mountains of Palawan led to his dramatic weight loss. He then proceeded to show his stretch marks as proof, much to the delight of the crowd. At the end of the young man’s sharing, there was applause and great admiration from the Pusong Pinoy audience.
REUBEN "JONG" HERRERA graduated with honors with a degree in Secondary Education major in Mathematics. He taught in the local public high school for a year before he acquired a permanent position at the Department of Education (Dep Ed) Alternative Learning System (ALS). One of the programs of the ALS is Basic Literacy for the katutubo (tribe members also called Pala’wan). Because of this, Jong had no choice but to subject himself to the physical rigors of his new job. There was much concern from his superiors because Jong is asthmatic and has in fact battled asthma all his life.

He recounts that as a child, he always missed his classes and important school events. He would be absent for long stretches. His asthma attacks came often and were so severe that nobody expected him to live through high school. One anecdote that he shared was when he was in sixth grade, he was absent for a month because of a prolonged asthma attack. He and his family were surprised when one day his classmates arrived at their home laden with flowers and monetary donations because they all thought he had already passed away! But such was the validity of the concern his superiors had for him as a mobile teacher. How could a bona fide asthmatic like him scale the mountains of Palawan? But he did, and how!
Jong relates that he has visited and taught in many communities where the katutubo dwell. He expresses his frustration that nobody from among them pursued further education. After they learn the basics of reading and writing, they move on and look for work. As much as they want to stay in the program, they don’t have the money to buy even the cheapest pencil and paper. But when Jong was assigned to the communities of Bolnok and Magagong, he saw that many of the young ones were interested to learn. He made a firm resolve that he will not leave these communities until he actually sees someone graduate from high school. He immediately set in place his own programs for learning but he quickly realized that these programs will not last if he cannot provide for the basic school needs of the katutubo. Thus began Jong’s quest for sponsors.

Thanks to Facebook, Jong discovered Pusong Pinoy. He took a chance and asked for help. In June 2011, his communities received 400 children’s books and assorted school supplies from the heroes of Pusong Pinoy. In that same year, it was a happy Christmas indeed when they again received books, school supplies and food from Pusong Pinoy! At the recently concluded Pusong Pinoy summit, Jong was given seed money by PP partner group, PUSO AT DIWANG PILIPINO, to make school desks for the children of his community. He cannot stress enough how these donations have improved the lives of the katutubo. They treasure the books most of all especially because some of the children have learned to read not only Pilipino, but English text as well.

Currently, Jong is successfully managing three areas under his stead and he divides his days visiting these areas. One area at the Bayan (town) is for out of school youths and adults ages 13 to 43, another area is in Bolnok which is about 20 kilometers by motorcycle ride then an additional 30 minute hike. Here, he handles learners ages 5 to 37 years old. The third area is in Magagong, which is situated above Bolnok. It takes a back breaking 2 ½ hour hike from Bolnok to Magagong. In this third area, Jong handles learners 6 to 21 years old.

His dreams for his students are simple - to see at least some of them graduate from high school or even college and for their learning center to be a formal elementary school so that the children will have the benefit of a teacher who will be with them from Monday to Friday. For Jong, these are but dreams but the odds have always been in favor of this idealistic young hero who has overcome poverty, obesity and illness. With this young man championing their cause, the students of Magagong and Bolnok have a fighting chance. 
(Jong's students did not have any desks)
(Jong's students writing on their new desks)