BUTIG, Lanao del Sur -- Soldiers belonging to the Army's 49th Infantry Battalion (49IB) unveiled Monday a newly-repaired classroom for more than 40 kindergarten pupils in Barangay Ragayan here.
Lt. Col. Edgar Allan Villanueva, 49IB commander, said they started the renovation last month after seeing the situation of around 40 children -- aged 4 to 5 years old -- who were squatting on the floor as they attended their classes.
It was learned that the original school building was only built in May by Wahab Macabayao, a husband of one of the teachers, who is the school's watchman.
Macabayao volunteered to build the makeshift classroom using only light materials to assemble a roof, a blackboard, and a long wooden chair where the children could sit. It had no walls or tables.
Namraida Bao, Ragayan Elementary School principal, said some of their classrooms were destroyed during the series of armed clashes between terrorist groups and the military in 2016.
"We put on a mat for the children to squat while having classes, but this set-up caused some learners to fall asleep," Bao said, adding it was particularly challenging when it rains as the classroom had no walls.
Bao said the school had 260 pupils before the 2016 clashes, but only 171 so far have come back to Butig after several families decided not to return to the town.
Villanueva said the Army-led renovation repaired the roofing and installed laminated plastic sacks around the classroom to protect the children from the elements.
"We were able to communicate with the ICRC (International Committee on the Red Cross), but since the process is long, we decided to temporarily fix the classroom so that they can hold classes every day without them getting wet from the rain and be burned by the sun," the Army official said.
"The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) under its Development Support and Security Plan (DSSP) is not only focused on addressing the insurgency but also in facilitating the delivery of basic services in coordination with local government units and other government agencies," he added.
During the turnover, Lanao del Sur District Supervisor Johaila Balt called on the teachers to "be passionate in their work" to reciprocate the effort of the soldiers "who are in Butig to secure the community and help the Department of Education."
Balt said there are 11 elementary and eight primary schools in the second district of Lanao del Sur that needed rehabilitation.
"My problem is... these schools are geographically far from one another and many are inaccessible to motor vehicles," Balt said. (PNA)