The letdown came onthe first day of the city’s Special Program for the Employment of Students (SPES) last April 23. Majority of the 250 students the local government hired this year expected to be assigned to office work. To their chagrin, at least 20 of them were told they would be doing manual labor in Busol Watershed and at the clonal nursery in Pacdal.
The 20, all girls and 18 of them fresh high school graduates, were told they could back out, but nobody did. They needed summer jobs under the program that enables youth from low-income families to earn for their tuition and other school expenses before classes open this June. They just kept within and among themselves their initial disappointment, revealing it only at the end of their summer job, when asked to write their impressions on what it meant to cut grass and coax pine seeds to sprout.
Before the orientation, only two knew what they were up to. Last year, they worked in Busol and at the nursery and liked it. So they asked SPES coordinator Romelda Escano for the same field assignment this year.
“I thought (it would be) office work (which) would be boring,” wrote newcomer Joan Bandarlipe. “Such feeling changed when we were assigned to the watershed and to the nursery.”
“ I thought that being assigned here at Busol and (at the tree nursery) would be so hard, a misfortune;” scribbled Judith Abellera on a sheet she tore from a notebook page. “But someone told us: ‘You won’t enjoy your work if you will not love it’.”
Their accomplishment report in Busol read: “We cleaned the shed, removed pine needles on the roof, weeded the grasses and swept the surroundings of the shed; weeded and made the fire lane on the mountain; removed morning glory on the YMCA ‘muyong’”.
(They established the fire lane to save thousands of young pine, mostly planted by children under the Eco-walk program, should a fire occur. They cleared tree saplings of morning glory, a wild vine, called “lanut” in the dialect, which was choking young pine. “Muyong” , an Ifugao term referring to the forest watershed above the ancient rice terraces, was adopted as label for each tree planting and maintenance area assigned to specific groups, mostly of school children.)
“As the cool breeze blew, I felt it was good to be here in Busol,” wrote Weldy Martinez. “The wind as it blows the grass touches my heart,” agreed Donna Marie Biano.
As the afternoon rains more frequent and pronounced, establishing a fire lane was no longer as urgent as preparing seedlings for the planting season. So after six days in Busol, they shifted to the clonal nursery of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources at Pacdal to produce seedlings for the “Eco-walk” children’s environmental program. .
For the next 19 days, they “ weeded ( the potted seedlings), potted and bagged soil, did pricking (of tiny pine seedlings); cut and prepared mulberry (twigs) for rooting, planted them on pots and watered the cuttings; repotted, transferred and re-piled seedlings in other beds; applied fertilizer and watered them; recycled soil into new pots; regularly cleaned and maintained the Seed Technology Laboratory where we stayed when resting and having our lunch break”.
“Nakakasawa rin ang pansit at tinapay na meryenda naming araw-araw (One also gets fed up with the daily break-time fare of noodles and bread),” admitted Chyna Mangibin.
“The part I enjoyed most was planting mulberry,” said Vanessa Layco, who was on the same field assignment last year.
Charlyn Pangan wrote: “I became closer to nature and learned simple things that would surely make a difference in taking care of our environment and met the most wonderful people; that made my 25 days fun, exciting and worth it”.
“I experienced the hardship of one working in the farm or in the nursery where I learned a lot of things I can use in the future,” said Jeraline Joy Salagma. “I learned the hardships of the workers here,” added Julie Anne Docyogen.
“It’s been a privilege,” said Lyn Flores. “In working here, I was able to help in saving plants.”
For Lorievy Ligante, experiencing “responsibility, hard work, patience and honesty made my vacation a memorable and meaningful one. Finding new friends (who were) with me through all the laughter made it more fun.”
“I’ve gained friends and knowledge here and it’s been worth the sweat and the body pain,” said Laurie Ann Maske. “I had so much fun caring fore our environment (and b ecomeing) a nature lover,” confessed Samerose Abanag.
“It will be one of our best treasured memories,” summed up Jolly Ann Mantias, while Blaize Palangdao hopes to see her “new friends and nice bosses again next year”. – Ramon Dacawi.