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Volunteers give dirty classrooms a face-lift

Teachers remember how the Diosdado Macapagal Elementary School in Tatalon, Quezon City, looked like five years ago.

The paint on the walls was peeling off, the roofs of the classrooms were leaking, and a poor drainage system was bringing murky water into the classrooms, submerging them when the rains came.

But since the Department of Education (DepEd) started its National Schools Maintenance Week dubbed “Brigada Eskwela” in 2003, there has been much improvement in the school, according to assistant principal Dr. Evelyn de Leon.

Tatalon is mostly a depressed area composed of poor to lower-middle class families. But entering the Diosdado Macapagal Elementary School is like being transported to another world.

The walls gleam with a fresh coat of paint. The roofs of the buildings have been repaired and the classrooms have been cleaned. Now, a bathroom can be found in nearly all of the 64 rooms.

A concrete pathway and an improved drainage system have kept floodwaters from entering the classrooms.

“Parents usually didn’t send their children to school on the first day of classes because the students would be doing the cleaning,” De Leon told the Inquirer.

“They would go home all dirtied up,” she said. “But now with Brigada Eskwela, the students went straight to their lessons because they didn’t have to clean up first.”

Brigada Eskwela was conceived partly to address the deteriorating physical state of public schools around the country.

DepEd officials said Brigada Eskwela was also a way to attract greater participation of the community, through volunteerism.

DepEd officer in charge Fe Hidalgo explained that the program was a nationwide voluntary effort of teachers, parents, students, members of the community, local governments and other organizations to do minor repairs in their schools in preparation for the start of the school year.

Brigada Eskwela (Bayanihan Para Sa Paaralan) encourages volunteers to donate materials such as paint, cement, lumber and other materials, which could be used for minor repairs.

Volunteers are also enjoined to contribute man-hours in the repair of the schools. The principals are in charge of marshalling the materials and soliciting the volunteer “man-hours” for the activity.

Hidalgo said the DepEd started the project to offset gaps in the education budget.

She estimated that the department could save around P2 billion in school maintenance and operating expenses (MOE) a year as a result of the Brigada Eskwela.

Last year’s Brigada Eskwela involved 26,034 public schools (or 61 percent of all public schools nationwide). A total of 2,008,628 volunteer man-days (worth P572.49 million) were generated and P455.43 million worth of donations in-kind were gathered.

This year, Hidalgo said a total of 42,221 public elementary and high schools, or 70 percent of public schools around the country, participated in the project, up 9 percent from last year.

There are 37,000 public elementary schools and 4,769 public high schools in the country.

Because of the program, the money saved by the schools from their MOE rose to P2 billion this year from P1 billion last year, according to Hidalgo.

“Brigada Eskwela is bayanihan in action. Here we see the spirit of volunteerism very much alive among our school communities. This is an important value we should teach each and every Filipino child,” she said.