Dadong was among the first batch of beneficiaries of the Lumad scholarship program set up by the Mindanawon Initiatives for Cultural Dialogue (MICD) that year. These scholars entered the school system with minimal pre-collegiate preparation and were immediately integrated into regular classrooms where modeling eloquence meant having teachers lecture in straight English.

Dadong's unhappy countenance then brought to mind the Spenserian doctrine of survival of the fittest. Here is how to quietly go insane, I thought. The tragedy was that there really was no need for that.

That is not to censure the MICD that to this day and given its limited resources is doing the best it could to provide these kids opportunities for education. I am also thoroughly convinced – as I had been back then – that just because one does not speak English does not mean he cannot deal with college material, or that he won't be able to learn it from me.

So I did not drive Dadong stir crazy after all. He survived general psychology under me – my lectures and exams in English notwithstanding – which is more than what can be said about some of his more affluent counterparts.

He has survived more than just general psychology obviously. This semester, he is in my child psychology class, steadily working his way to earn for himself that coveted teaching degree.

It was a welcome delight to find Dadong and his fellow MICD scholar Kim in my classroom on the first day of class. I immediately made a note to redesign the course so as to maximize their learning benefits from it. I will supplement my lectures with Visayan translations if I have to, and never mind the criteria for evaluating teaching
efficiency. The bottomline always is whether the student has something to show for the time he spent in the classroom.

Dadong's group drew first dibs in the reports on child development theories. Last Wednesday, he brought to class a chart written on Manila paper that summarized the particulars of Freud's psychosexual stages of development. He peppered his report with his personal observations and experiences of childhood socialization, seeking to
render Freud's theory comprehensible to himself and to his classmates. He used English all throughout an oral report that bore the hallmark of narrative explication for which the Lumad mind is known.

Dadong's communicative facility in English, though showing a remarkable progress from how it was three years ago, still leaves some room for improvement. Listening in, I was able to catch many instances when he corrected himself in his use of tenses and pronouns. In the conduct of his report, Dadong demonstrated for me the power of education in promoting self-monitoring, judgment, and logical presentation that blends the learner's native and adopted cultural patterns in filtering, representing and integrating new information.

There he stands today, a picture of a well-adjusted young man among his peers, cheerful and calm in the face of life's demands. It is a vastly marked difference from the face of quiet despair and confusion that he first presented to me.

We become what we do. Experiences like this make teaching something I desire to do for life. A teacher's life is generously littered everyday with the little miracles of young people actualizing their potentials and going further than they were yesterday in harnessing innate talents.

Once, I asked Dadong where he was from. The farthest I had gone into the Paquibato district where he hails from had been to an Ata-Manobo mountain village that was about two hours away through habal-habal. Past that, the habal-habal driver said, and your life hangs in precarious balance. He advised me not to tempt fate.

Dadong said we have to hike four more hours from that village to get to his birthplace. Just six hours away. But it sounded like it would be a lot easier to get to Guandong or Sydney.

Outsiders rarely make it to Dadong's community. Once a year, someone from the Education Department comes up to inspect the schoolhouse. On those occasions, the teacher gathers the children and allows them to handle the books that under normal circumstances are kept locked away so they don't get soiled, torn, or destroyed. When the visitor goes, the books go back under lock and key.

A resigned grimace was all he could give me wh en I asked him how he felt abuot that. You don't have a reading corner for kids?" I persisted. Daong replied in the negative.

"Well, do you think the teacher would supervise one if someone else provided the books?," I asked. I thought of the teacher because we all have to engage the institutional structures in place when we dream of inputting change from outside. For that matter, we also have to engage the structures when we choose to belong to a change agency that is already in place, like if one chooses to be a faculty of an
educational institution that prides itself in – among other noble aspirations – producing eloquent graduates.

But really, as far as I'm concerned, the teacher could keep her own books locked away if that would be what she believes it takes for her to meet the requirements of her job. However, to someone for whom books had been and continue to be the gateway to liberation of the mind, it is very distressing to think that children somewhere are denied access to them, and by a representative of the Philippine
educational system at that.

I would without hesitation donate my entire library for the opportunity to open up some little kid's horizons beyond the borders of his life circumstances. Dadong seems to agree. Someone could be found to run the community reading corner if they had the books for it.

Dadong stands as an example of how far kids from his community can go when given a leg up. And so, we're starting a drive to collect children's books and school materials for the kids in Dadong's community. At the end of this semester, Dadong will be going home bringing the token of our aspiration that the kids in his village get
to share more of the world. Soon, Dadong won't be the only one to have the potential to mediate the social uplift of his people.

Little miracles. We get a lot of that everyday if we just learn to recognize them and amplify them despite the officious barriers that we have to creatively circumvent: of, for example, evaluation criteria for teaching efficiency and community teachers who would rather keep the books away from the hands and minds of children.

Little miracles generate untold dividend, and ultimately, that will spell a difference.
Interested readers may send in their donations of used books and educational materials (crayons, paper, clipboards, pencils, and notebooks) to MICD at the Jesuit House, ADDU Jacinto Campus. Please indicate that your gifts are for Dadong's Corner.

(Wayward and Fanciful is Gail Ilagan's column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Ilagan teaches Social Justice, Family Sociology, Theories of Socialization and Psychology at the Ateneo de Davao University where she is also the associate editor of Tambara. You may send comments to gail@mindanews.com. "Send at the risk of a reply," she says.)