By Carrie Tharan

Amidst the gloom and doom of the pandemic are stories of kindness and compassion, of hope, and strength of character and tenacity of spirit.

Junalie’s is one such story. Her life is fraught with struggles but she maintains a dogged determination to follow and work on her dreams.

Junalie, 26, is a student under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) and a single mother with two children one of whom is in first grade and the other, 3 years of age. Up until a few months ago, she took care of a bedridden mother in their wooden house in an interior mountain barangay in Maribojoc, Bohol. Her mother who had a lingering illness has passed away. Junalie feels devastated as she and her mother have always been together from the time she was born. She has a brother from a different father.

Maribojoc is a coastal town in the southwestern part of Bohol province, a fourth class municipality with about 20,000 people. It is 14 kilometers away from the province’s capital, Tagbilaran. The town has 21 primary and elementary schools and three secondary schools with a literacy rate of about 98%.

Junalie completed basic education only up to Grade 5. Her dream is to finish ALS, go to college and become a nurse someday. She dropped out of school when her mother started to fall ill feeling she needed to just be at her side. Later, she got involved in a relationship and had a baby at a young age.

The ALS is a parallel learning system in Philippine education that provides a practical option to the existing formal educational structure. It is an alternative for those do not have or are unable to access formal education in schools. It takes into account one’s specific situations and needs. Barangay halls and community learning centers are often the sites for conducting classes managed by facilitators and mobile teachers.

There are two levels under ALS: junior high school and elementary level.  Students need to complete six strands (with 18 modules) which includes the following: communication skills in English and Filipino, scientific and critical thinking skills, mathematical and problem-solving skills, life and career skills, understanding self and society, and digital citizenship.

From 2012 to 2019, there have been 128 ALS passers in Maribojoc school district. Some have continued studying up to college level, others found jobs, and two have even passed the examination for licensed professional teachers.

Junalie is at the elementary level. She has 18 modules to complete. For now, she has just finished eight. Her ALS teacher/facilitator, Mr. Villas explained that the pandemic has restricted his interactions with Junalie and this has posed great difficulties on her in trying to understand her lessons which are all in English, and without his close guidance and coaching.  Mr. Villas expressed that she is greatly challenged by her low reading ability and comprehension in English, having completed only Grade 5 in formal education.

Junalie revealed that this is her second attempt to complete ALS. When she enrolled the first time, she did not get the support from her husband. Instead, he complained of her not having time to do housework which led her to drop out. Eventually, the husband left her and their two young children and with no financial support at all.

“I want to finish my schooling this time, for my sake and for my children’s sake,” Junalie said. “My children are my priority in life. I have to feed them three times a day. I need to look after them well.”

For now, although struggling with her school work, she is not giving up.

Her plate is overflowing. She works three times a week in town as a sales agent to earn additional income. After work, she goes home, cooks dinner and can only then answer her activity sheets. This she does, side by side with her daughter who is in Grade 1 and who needs to be guided as she studies from home.

Like most Boholanos who are steeped in religious fervor, Junalie puts a lot of trust and faith that that she and her little family will pull through. Thus, to her, the pandemic is not a big obstacle in pursuing her dream.

Junalie is surrounded by a few supportive people who help her navigate the arduous journey in education and life. An uncle regularly provides her with some kilos of rice. A sister-in-law watches her children when she goes to town to work.

Junalie’s ALS teacher is a key source of support. He understands her difficult situation especially her state of poverty as he was once a poor student who had to work to pay for his high school and college education.

Mindful of Junalie’s challenging situation, Mr. Villas goes to her house on Sundays in his motorbike to deliver and collect her modular lessons and to coach her, even briefly. 

The stakes are high for Junalie.  She must pass her exams and get a certificate. She struggles.  She copes and manages.  She says, “It is difficult but I keep trying and giving my best.” WWW