While most children his age are about to finish primary school, Kit-kit, 12, is only just beginning. Approaching his school after a two-hour barefoot walk from home, he washes his feet at a water pump, takes out his slippers and puts them on.
“First thing I always do is greet my teacher a happy morning,” he shares in his local T’boli dialect. Being the oldest and tallest in grade one, he sits at the back of the classroom where he takes out his paper and pencil, and happily takes part in the songs and games in the class.
“My favourite is identifying numbers, colours and animals and singing songs. And I love writing too – especially writing my name,” he says proudly. Kit-kit mentions that while he loves writing and singing, he sometimes finds it hard because of his short fingers and his nasal defect (his right hand fingers are shorter than normal and he has difficulty speaking for his age). “But I don’t mind, I am proud that I am in school. Even if I have to walk every day, it is okay. I love learning. And I want to be a teacher someday,” he beams.
Kit-kit’s dream of being a teacher started when his father took him to the market two hours’ away from their village. There, he saw a building with children wearing the same clothes, playing, reading and talking to people. When he got home, he asked his mother about what he saw, and his mother explained that he had seen a school where children went to learn and someday get a good job. Kit-kit, who was 8 at the time, asked to go to school but his parents said they couldn’t send him – they just didn’t have enough money to spare for school.
Living in a remote area of South Cotabato province, Kit-kit’s parents work as labourers at a pineapple plantation and earn a meagre Php500 each month. This is never enough to feed the family so none of Kit-kit’s seven siblings have been to school either. His parents promised that they would find a way to send him to school but he would have to wait. And wait he did.
“We don’t have a school near us so there are very few people in my community who went to school. Those who did always said it was hard to study and learn, and that school is not for our tribe,” Kit-kit says. He adds that those who went to school also shared their difficulties in attending class because of the different dialects the teachers and students used. The bullying they faced from other children and the long walk to school added to the hardship. They also said Kit-kit’s physical disabilities would make it even worst for him. “My neighbour told me most of her classmates were already good at writing and even reading when they started school which made her feel left behind. I told myself I had to learn before going to school but no one could teach me,” Kit-kit explains. “Then one day, our kagawad (community leader) told us that Save the Children was giving our community a teacher!"
“We were in the field and I remember him running towards us, shouting the good news,” Kit-kit’s mother laughs. “He has always wanted to meet a teacher in person and he has always wanted to learn.”
Save the Children in partnership with IKEA started up a Summer Learning program (SLP) to provide introductory learning sessions for elementary students who hadn’t attended preschool due to a lack of access. Kit-kit’s community was amongst the 10 chosen SLP locations supported by the project. As a result, 22 children in Kit-kit’s community were able to experience school and learn how to write their names and identify letters and numbers for the first time.
“We held our sessions in the community chapel and used the pews as tables for the children to write on,” Alma, the teacher assigned to Kit-kit’s community, shares. “I'm fond of Kit-kit – it was difficult for him at first to hold a pencil and crayons because of his disabilities but he always tried his best. He was the most active student I had,” she adds.
Teacher Alma explains how she found it difficult at first to teach Kit-kit and the other children as they didn’t have any previous experience in identifying letters and numbers. “It’s because their parents either have little school experience or none at all. Sometimes, parents and older children would sit outside the chapel, listening and sometimes participating with the children,” says Alma.
The program lasted for two months but Kit-kit did so well that his parents agreed to send him to school. With the help of Teacher Alma, Kit-kit and his classmates in the program were enrolled in the elementary school.
“Every day, I wake up early to get ready for school. The walk is exhausting but I always remind myself of my dream whenever I get tired. School is fun! I want to learn more!” Kit-kit smiles.