Disaster preparedness focus of Brigada Eskwela

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/19 May) — Brigada Eskwela opened Monday with a directive for public schools to implement innovative measures to make local campuses or school communities resilient and ready against possible disasters, officials said.

Dr. Allan Farnazo, regional director of the Department of Education in Region 12 said he issued a memorandum directing all schools within the region to focus this year’s Brigada Eskwela activities on disaster preparedness and other related concerns.

DepEd-12 Memorandum No. 105 specifically mandated the division superintendents of Region 12’s nine school divisions to implement the “2014 Innovative Brigada Eskwela.”

Farnazo said the initiative mainly focuses on the implementation of various mitigation measures to make schools ready against the possible onslaught of weather-related disasters or calamities.

He said school officials and personnel should make sure that their buildings and facilities are strong enough to withstand heavy rains and strong winds.

The official reiterated the need for local schools to comply with the provisions of DepEd Order No. 83 or the Disaster Preparedness Measures for Schools.

Such order mandated public schools to implement measures for the protection against rains or floods of all school materials such as textbooks, teaching manuals, school records and equipment; educate all pupils and students on disaster preparedness; conduct of regular disaster drills; properly inform pupils and students on early signs of weather disturbances and their effects; and, observe policies in coordination with the local government units on decisions regarding the suspension of classes during disasters or calamities.

Thousands of public school personnel and community stakeholders trooped to various school campuses in Region 12 on Monday morning to join the start of the Brigada Eskwela 2014.

Pancho Balawag, Department of Education (DepEd) Region 12’s Brigada Eskwela focal person, said local schools have reported a significant turnout of volunteers from various sectors for the week-long initiative.

He said the volunteers comprised parents, local government officials and employees, Army and police personnel, workers of private companies and members of community groups and non-government organizations.

“We’re overwhelmed with the turnout of volunteers so far and we’re hoping for more participation in the coming days,” he said.

Region 12, which is also known as the Soccsksargen Region, comprises the provinces of South Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat, Sarangani, North Cotabato and the cities of General Santos, Koronadal, Tacurong, Kidapawan and Cotabato.

Around 1,500 volunteers initially joined the regional kickoff of the 2014 Brigade Eskwela on Monday morning at the Koronadal National Comprehensive High School in Koronadal City.

The activity was graced by local government leaders and DepEd officials led by Education Assistant Secretary Jesus Mateo.

Brigada Eskwela, which is also known as the “National Schools Maintenance Week,” is a voluntary initiative that brings together teachers, parents and the community to do cleanup and repairs in public schools to prepare the facilities for the June school opening.

Undertaken in all public schools every third week of May or two weeks before classes begin, it is participated in by private organizations, individuals, national and local government agencies, local businesses, and international organizations and foundations, among others.

Volunteers paint classrooms, repair furniture and clean up the school grounds, with materials and supplies donated by the parents or by private businesses and foundations.

This year’s Brigada Eskwela coincided with the start of the enrollment in all levels in public elementary and secondary schools.

Farnazo said all 2,190 public elementary and high schools in the region opened on Monday for the conduct of the 2014 Brigada Eskwela.

He said all school heads in the area have committed to complete all necessary preparations before the scheduled opening of classes on June 2.

“By June 2, our schools will immediately start with the regular classes. Our pupils and students only need to report to their assigned classes because everything should be in place by then,” he said.

In Malaybalay City, DepEd-Malaybalay schools division superintendent Edilberto Opinia also urged stakeholders to make schools prepared for disasters aside from doing routine cleanups.

Oplinaria cited that with the recent occurrence of typhoons, flooding, and other calamities in Bukidnon and the rest of Mindanao, the Brigada Eskwela was now designed to help keep the schools safe from disasters.

Romulo Ongkiatco, chair of the local Brigada Eskwela committee, said the weeklong effort will focus on developing a disaster-resilient school environment aside from doing physical improvements.

DepEd-Malaybalay said Brigada Eskwela activities will include flood protection measures such as digging of canals or water passages and filling up of water basins inside school premises, clearing of clogged canals, fixing of water dikes and barriers, repair of roofs and gutters, and planting trees and bamboos to prevent soil erosion.

It said measures will also be done to make classrooms and buildings ready for emergencies like fire. These will include repair of doors of classrooms and buildings for easy evacuation, clear marking of exit doors, posting of exit route maps in corridors and classrooms, putting fire suppression equipment in each corridor and regular testing of these equipment, and firefighting training and drills for school officials and older students.

DepEd also included safety measures in case of earthquakes and strong winds such as removal of book shelves from exit doors and routes.

The agency used Brigada Eskwela’s kickoff program to award outstanding partners to encourage sustainable cooperation. It cited the help from the military and the police in school repair and ground clearing tasks.

Bukidnon National High School’s main campus is a two-time national awardee for Best Brigada Eskwela Implementer for school years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014. School officials said if they win again this year, they will be a “hall-of-famer” for the award.

Oplinaria reminded the stakeholders that beyond winning the objective should be to have clean and safe schools.

Richard Macas, president of the General Parents-Teachers Association of BNHS-Main said it is good to win as best implementer but what is more important is to consider Brigada Eskwela as a duty of the present generation to the next.

Alicia Cordova, a mother of an incoming Grade 8 student said it is important for her to help ensure that the school is clean and safe for her son and the other students.

She helped fix the garden near the school entrance Monday. Safety, she added, is important for the students so they can learn well.

Participants to Brigada Eskwela were given signed passes that will be required during enrolment.

Virginia Manansala said she did not mind helping because it was for the good of the students.

She noted that unlike before some parents skipped the community work and paid penalties instead.

“I think this is good for parents can help. Besides, this is our obligation to our children,” she added. (With Walter I. Balane/MindaNews in Malaybalay City)