A favorite story among former colleagues is about a worker who was new on the job and stumped at how he could make his way across a rather perilous river to get to families served by the agency. A veteran worker told him to request a horse which the new worker did, writing ‘horse, 1 unit’ on the Request Form. Reading it, the finance clerk checked the new worker if he was deranged because no one puts horses on the Request Forms, ever. Horse was crossed off. When he returned to his desk he found the veteran worker and the others laughing. It was a prank. This happened in the 80s. Whenever I listen to the story, I always end up with a cramped stomach, from over laughing. One could request for a vehicle but not a horse. The agency at least its administrators will think you crazy if you do. And to me then the story was like Caligula all over again, when he appointed his horse as Minister.
Obviously with Unicef ECCD on Horse a reality the last laugh is on us. Time has shown he was more open-minded than his colleagues at the time. Where could that worker be now? Does he know of the ECCD on Horse? What was in his mind, reading the feature? Does he even care now?
I’m chastised because now I see what could be more noble, local, and sincere than women on horseback making their way into the hinterland in order to reach and teach young children? Romantic is also how the image strike me, because it conjures images of yesterday’s horse-backed travelers, crossing arid deserts and treacherous paths, to deliver vital messages and supplies, to find a new community. It’s the ultimate test of human endurance and I add humility because surviving formidable forces of nature one is acquainted with limitations of the human being. I imagine the travel the playgroup facilitators make into the hinterlands of Sarangani, the horses a more convenient transport than walking, but all the same horses and riders are bared unto the elements. Recently, I listened to a sharing by Dr. Ma. Lourdes Carandang, a well known local child psychologist, who enjoined the audience to recall the person who has touched their lives deeply and whose impact is lasting. Most recalled their teachers as that person. Similarly, if I were the young child in the hinterland receiving care and early stimulation from these horse-backed women, I’d say the person are these women. Only true love and genuine concern would move these women to get onto the horses, leave the security of their homes, put up with risks, be happy with what they receive in exchange, to reach the young children who, otherwise, are forgotten. There’s not a salary here, just an allowance and a pithy sum by professional standards. There are perks now and then but not big ones. There perhaps were temptations to be in greener pastures abroad but they choose to stay. And only the young woman who is sure of her self and purpose would willingly carry bulky bamboo baskets at her side. I mean at that age I would rather die than be seen lugging around big and what to me then uncool objects. These women each deserve if not the Nobel a full half hour of resounding standing ovation. Same to whoever conceived the idea, did not laugh at it, believed in it, and turned it into reality. More of this low-cost, localized model alongside others that work in inner rural communities and the rhetoric of education for all Filipino children could come true within a decade.