Randy Halasan: winner, Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership

(From the website of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation — http://www.rmaf.org.ph/newrmaf/main/awardees/awardee/profile/355)

It is a truism that it takes a village to raise a child.  But it seems equally true that it takes just one person to launch this collective process of education.  In the Philippines, where a public school system has been in place for over a century, many communities remain either unserved or underserved.  Where physical access is difficult and dangerous, government’s presence weak and facilities are meager, and people are too poor to even claim an education, the work of public school teachers is nothing less than heroic, and yet largely  goes unheralded.

This is the story of thirty-one-year-old Randy Halasan, a teacher in Pegalongan Elementary School, serving the indigenous Matigsalug tribe living in one of the remotest villages in the mountainous hinterland of Davao City.  To reach Pegalongan from his family’s home in the city takes Halasan seven hours of travel – two hours by bus, an hour over extremely rough roads by habal-habal motorcycle, four hours of walking, and crossing the waters of two treacherous rivers.  When Halasan first arrived in Pegalongan in 2007, he was one of only two teachers in a two-room schoolhouse, teaching multi-grade classes between Grades 1 and 6.  There was no electricity, amenities were primitive, and the place was virtually cut off from communication with the outside world.  The young novice teacher’s first thought was that he would seek a reassignment out of the place the first chance he could get.

But today, seven years later, he is still in Pegalongan.  Moved by compassion for the children who have to walk miles and cross rivers just to get to school, and who often fall asleep in class from hunger and fatigue, and driven by a sense of duty to help the impoverished and defenseless forest tribals against the encroachments of powerful outsiders, Halasan has embraced the Matigsalug community as his own. He has turned down offers for reassignment, and his family often does not see him for many weeks on end.

Assuming as head teacher in 2010, Halasan proactively lobbied with higher authorities to expand the Pegalongan school.  What was once a two-room, two-teacher schoolhouse is now a permanent school with nine rooms, eight teachers, and 210 students. Through his representation, a cultural-minority high school has been established, with Halasan as teacher-in-charge.  Convinced that education is key to the Matigsalug’s survival in a changing world, he has convinced parents to keep their children in school; discouraged the customary practices of early and arranged marriages; and promoted values of self-help and egalitarianism in the community.

Recognizing that poverty is the community’s fundamental problem, Halasan has taken his advocacy beyond the classroom.  He says, “If I only focus on education, nothing will happen; the children will continue to go hungry.”  Envisioning a food-sufficient community, he inspired his fellow-teachers to donate seeds and encouraged the villagers to plant fruit trees and vegetables.  Working with the Pegalongan Farmers Association, he accessed assistance from private organizations and government agencies.  Prodded and encouraged by his leadership, Pegalongan farmers now have a collectively-owned rice-and-corn mill, a seed bank, a cattle dispersal project, and horses for transporting their farm products.  The village is also now participating in a government forest rehabilitation program which by 2014 will have a hundred forested hectares, with the Matigsalug of Pegalongan as stewards and beneficiaries.  And Halasan’s youthful graduates are helping their elders protect their future and the legal rights to their ancestral domain.

According to oral tradition, the word Pegalongan means ‘the place from which the light shines.’ Because of one highly motivated civil servant, the village has become truly what its name suggests. Explaining his motivation, Halasan says quite simply; “No one got rich out of teaching; it’s your legacy that matters.”

In electing Randy Halasan to receive the 2014 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership, the board of trustees recognizes his purposeful dedication in nurturing his Matigsalug students and their community to transform their lives through quality education and sustainable livelihoods, doing so in ways that respect their uniqueness and preserve their integrity as indigenous peoples in a modernizing Philippines. (From the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation website — http://www.rmaf.org.ph/newrmaf/main/awardees/awardee/profile/355)