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Meralco Power Club - CEO Corner

"Classrooms in the Cloud"

Angelo Valencia had a promising career ahead of him. After earning his law degree from the Ateneo de Manila University, he worked for a few reputable firms. Then came 2011, when Valencia found himself fighting for his life in a near-fatal diving accident. He recovered, yes, but instead of continuing on the same path, Valencia took a pivot that led him to establish Klasrum ng Pag-asa (Classrooms of Hope), an advocacy that builds classrooms in far-flung communities in the country.

Valencia, chief operating officer of Mindanao Grains Processing Inc., the post-harvest facility of the La Filipina Uy Gongco Group, takes pride in the achievements of his advocacy. To date, Klasrum ng Pag-asa has built 76 classrooms nationwide, even as far as the Kalayaan Group of Islands, Tawi-Tawi, and Basilan.

This advocacy may have been an accident, so to speak, but its success is a product of great focus and well-built partnerships. Here are some lessons you can take from Valencia’s journey.

Find a focus. That accident in 2011 changed Valencia’s view of life. “In the darkness, we find the strength to see the clarity of it all,” he recalls. “While the company gave me opportunities, I was no longer happy. I was looking to do something more.” He quit his job and took a 14-day sojourn from north to south of the country.

"In the darkness, we find the strength to see the clarity of it all"

At a barangay on Mt. Pulag, Luzon’s highest peak, a local family asked him to find work for their daughter, a fresh graduate. Valencia suggested she remain at the day-care center where she was helping out, but he offered to help build classrooms: a voluntary act that set him off on the road less traveled.

Build trust. Patikul, Sulu is one of the many project sites for Klasrum ng Pag-asa. It is remote and impoverished, an enclave of the notorious Abu Sayyaf terror group. However, this didn’t stop Valencia from building classrooms there for the Tausug children in 2013.

“It’s not because I’m fearless,” he shrugs. He trusted the community to have his back and do what it could to keep him safe. He knew the stakeholders–the parents, teachers, and the rest of the community–were united and committed in keeping the kids in school.

Address a need, but don’t give dole-outs. Valencia also recognizes the need to provide livelihood to ensure the townsfolk’s kids stay in school. By addressing the community’s economic needs, he believes, business growth and development will follow. Hence, Klasrum ng Pag-asa set up a fund to provide microfinancing loans for Pulag farmers, with support from generous friends, businesses, and civil-society organizations.

Meet skepticism with engagement. Building classrooms on Mt. Pulag—at 7,748 feet above sea level—seemed an impossible task. In those days, there were no roads or electricity in the area. Valencia’s involvement was met with suspicion, particularly by skeptical townsfolk who had already been disappointed by similar promises. How did Valencia win over the community? He urged the parents to work with him in building the classrooms for their children.

“The community must want to be part of Klasrum ng Pag-asa,” Valencia declares, “or we wouldn’t be there.” His bonds with the Pulag community earned him the affectionate monicker Kuya Pultak, or “bald big brother” in Kalanguya, the local dialect.

Klasrum ng Pag-asa eventually built 22 classrooms on Pulag, complete with computers energized by solar power.

Measure results. The success of Klasrum ng Pag-asa is reflected in the national achievement test (NAT) results of the students. “You just don’t build and build, with nothing to show for it, so we look at the scores to see how the program is helping.” Valencia proudly notes that the average NAT score of 79.91 at Mt. Pulag Elementary School is well above the national average. “We’re not just building classrooms,” he enthuses. “It’s nation building: one child at a time, a family each moment, a community at large, and the country for a lifetime.”

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