No mountain high enough for school-in-a-bag

As the sun was setting on the mountains of Benguet province, the first few climbers from a group of 41 employees from PLDT and Smart Communications started the assault. The steep final leg of the six-hour trek would end in Sitio Lanipew, in the remote and off-grid mountaintop municipality of Kibungan.

The climbers struggled through the difficult ascent, made more challenging by the occasional rain showers and the disappearing light, all the while mindful of the items they were lugging on their backs—assorted gadgets that would bring digital learning to the students of Lanipew Barrio School.

Waiting for them at the school were students, teachers, parents and other members of the community, who would receive the Smart School-in-a-Bag, donated by the PLDT Employees Credit Cooperative Inc. with the support of the PLDT Mountaineering and Outdoors Club Inc. and the Smart Mountaineers Club.

The oversize bag contains a laptop preloaded with K-12 content, mobile phone, LED TV, solar panels, Smart Bro Pocket Wi-Fi units, and five tablets loaded with a literacy app and the “Maging Laging Handa” series of disaster preparedness videos.

Volunteer mountaineers from the PLDT Mountaineering and Outdoors Club Inc. and the Smart Mountaineers Club deliver the Smart School-in-a-Bag, donated by the PLDT Employees Credit Cooperative Inc., to the studets of Lanipew Barrio School in Kibungan, Benguet (inset). 

The climbers began their journey after clocking out at the end of a workweek. They had spent the night on the road to Baguio City, then gone on a five-hour, winding jeepney ride to Barangay Amilongan on the boundary of Ilocos Sur and Benguet.

From Amilongan, the group had to pile onto several 4x4 vehicles that tackled for close to an hour the incline of the Amilongan-Kayapa Road, as it curved up and down the side of the mountain, a road so steep and narrow that one wrong move could send a vehicle tumbling down the ravine.

From Brgy. Kayapa in the municipality of Bakun, Benguet, the group then set off on the six-hour trek through muddy trails and difficult slopes lush with vines and greenery, interspersed with crystal-clear water flowing down the side of the mountain.

These trails were broken only by a series of aged and rusty makeshift bridges hanging at dizzying heights over streams and rapids, and at times opened to terraces of rice paddies that provided hiking space fit only for two feet.

After navigating the assault in total darkness and aided only by headlamps and flashlights, the climbers arrived one by one at Lanipew Barrio School bearing the School-in-a-Bag. This is the third unit sponsored by PECCI; the first two units were turned over to Macabud Elementary School in Rizal and Malipay Elementary School in Cavite.

Teacher Estela T. Bangleg, one of only two teachers in Sitio Lanipew, recognizes the important role technology plays in education.

“We find ways to expose them to technology. I download nursery rhymes whenever I am in La Trinidad, so that my kindergarten students can watch them on my cell phone. The videos and the colors excite them,” Bangleg said.

Smart School-in-a-Bag will help digitize their teaching methods and improve the students’ class performance, she adds. Teaching will be easier with the use of laptop, TV, and other devices, and the teachers’ competencies will be upgraded.

The School-in-a-Bag donation comes with teacher training and monitoring.

Students will be more enthusiastic to learn and participate in class. Even if they live in a remote place, they won’t be left behind by children in urban areas. Technology-aided studying will broaden their horizon and encourage them to dream bigger, Bangleg says.

The daughter of Kibungan Mayor Cesar Molitas, Khristine Molitas, joined the hike and warmly welcomed PECCI’s Smart School-in-a-Bag donation to Sitio Lanipew.

“Thank you, PLDT and Smart, for doing this for Kibungan, because as you can see, the places here are not easy to reach. To the amazing hikers who braved the rain, the twisted terrains, the wet and muddy trails, and of course, the leeches, I truly admire your kindness and your humor through it all. May your tribe increase. I and the people of Kibungan will forever be grateful,” Khristine said.

“We are glad to support Sitio Lanipew through our Smart School-in-a-Bag donation, because we know how important it is for children to have access to technology as a means to learn and be educated,” said Noel Santos, PECCI Chair.

The PLDT mountaineers were likewise grateful for the opportunity.

“We are happy to have delivered the School-in-a-Bag ourselves. It was not an easy journey, but this is something we really wanted to do,” said Rosalina Florentino, PLDT MOCI President.

Since last year, Smart has distributed 36 School-in-a-Bag units to different schools, 20 of which have been sponsored by individuals and organizations like PECCI. Each bag costs P100,000. Those who are interested to donate Smart’s School-in-a-Bag units may email [email protected]

Topics: Benguet province , PLDT , Smart , Kibungan , PLDT Mountaineering and Outdoors Club Inc. , Smart Mountaineers Club.
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