Photo Information

Philippine and U.S. service members pose for a photograph with barangay captains, religious leaders, San Fernando officials, La Union residents, San Agustin Elementary School faculty and staff, and students during a ‘Bundles of Joy’ event held before Exercise Balikatan 24 at San Agustin Elementary School in San Fernando, La Union, Philippines, April 13, 2024. The ‘Bundle of Joy’ delivery consisted of televisions, laptops, printers, and school supplies to improve the learning environment for students, staff, and San Agustin Elementary School faculty. BK 24 is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the U.S. military designed to strengthen bilateral interoperability, capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Trent A. Henry)

Photo by Cpl. Trent A. Henry

Tech for Teachers: AFP, U.S. Chaplains’ Initiative for La Union Elementary Education

15 Apr 2024 | 2nd Lt. James Estillore I MEF Information Group

In a showcase to strengthen local grade school learning, Philippine and U.S. Chaplains with the Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force led an interfaith prayer service at San Agustin Elementary School on April 12, 2024, to deliver a "bundle of joy" to students, faculty, and staff as part of a pre-Balikatan 24 Exercise activity.

Consisting of eleven laptops, four 55-inch TVs, four printers, and other classroom materials, the “bundle of joy” is a breakthrough for students and the San Agustin Elementary School educators, who seek information and communication technology (ICT) for modern instruction methods.

“The biggest challenges that the youth in San Fernando are facing right now are literacy and numeracy,” said Alma Baluban, the school head of San Agustin Barangay School barangay. Despite local hurdles, the school’s educators exhibit exceptional teaching skills. “Our teachers are doing great,” Baluban affirmed.

San Agustin is a barangay, similar to a village or neighborhood, where many residents speak some Ilocano, Tagalog, and English. Parents switch between the three languages at home but are often not literate enough to impart reading and writing skills. As a result, most teachers are trilingual, bridging language gaps and prioritizing communication development. Educators such as Baluban hail from the barangay and teach with a unique understanding of students’ learning needs.

The impact of the baranagay’s teachers transcends generations. One former San Agustin Elementary School student is Robert Andrada, a 1981 graduate who now leads San Agustin as a Barangay Councilor.

“I studied here from first year elementary to grade six,” Andrada said. “I live here in San Agustin, and this is our community.”

His journey exemplifies how effective schooling builds the skills and knowledge needed to positively impact a community. Educated through the barangay system, Andrada later pursued a college education in Manila and returned to San Agustin to give back as an elected official.

“I believe in education,” Andrada said. “When people invest in others’ education, it’s a ripple effect. The students will learn well, and once they graduate, they will bring it back.”

Conveying that same message, U.S. Navy Lt. Mark Weathers, Chaplain with the Combined-Joint Civil Military Operations Task Force, said, “There are barangay captains here. There are people from the civic government and the office of the mayor…but there are future barangay captains sitting here. There are future leaders from the office of the mayor.”

Supporting educators is a pursuit close to Weathers’ heart. As a Texas native, Weathers comes from a family of teachers. He was raised as the son, brother, and nephew of teachers, and before joining the US Navy, Weathers was a high school teacher himself.

“Teachers are routinely expected to do more with less,” Weathers said. “I recognize the challenges of being a teacher are oftentimes unknown.”

By meeting San Agustin Elementary School’s ICT needs, the bundle of joy elevates the teaching capabilities of barangay educators. The laptops and TVs will replace outdated technology, and will be used to implement interactive learning software and multimedia elements such as videos to cater to different learning styles; supporting teachers with the tools to succeed ultimately supports students with the tools to succeed.

As a testament to the wider barangay’s investment in local education, barangay captains, officials from the mayor’s office, and barangay religious leaders of several denominations attended the event alongside the students, faculty and staff of San Agustin Elementary. Together with the community, the AFP and U.S. chaplains are focused on the long-term impact of the bundle of joy.

“Let us all sustain this effort,” said Philippine Army Maj. Norman Lago, the Armed Forces of the Philippines Civil-Military Engagement lead planner with the Combined Joint Civil-Military Operations Task Force.

Empowering the teachers of San Agustin Elementary School through the bundle of joy event is one of many Balikatan 24 humanitarian civic assistance engagements. Balikatan 24 is an annual exercise between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and U.S. military designed to strengthen bilateral interoperability, capabilities, trust, and cooperation built over decades of shared experiences.

I Marine Expeditionary Force