Teacher Who Hugged Students During N. Cotabato Quake Loses Home, Needs Help
Erlinda Ajero has always loved her students like they are her own children. This became dramatically evident when she acted as their human shield during the earthquake that struck North Cotabato on Oct. 29.
Not all heroes wear capes. Some can be found in far-flung places living ordinary lives. One such hero is 61-year-old preschool teacher Erlinda Ajero.
For the past 18 years, Ajero has been the only teacher at the day care center in Rodero, a sleepy barangay of over 800 people in the outskirts of Makilala, North Cotabato.
She was conducting a class on Tuesday, Oct. 29 when suddenly the ground started shaking.
On impulse, Ajero quickly wrapped her arms around the five children that were with her inside the classroom as debris started falling due to the magnitude 6.6 earthquake that rocked Central Mindanao.
The veteran teacher sustained head injuries during the ordeal after a wall collapsed behind her. She was rushed to the Makilala Medical Specialists Hospital for treatment.
Four of the five students she shielded from falling debris were safe, while one suffered a broken arm that required surgery at the Southern Philippine Medical Center in Davao City.
Upon hearing about what happened to his mother, Mark Ajero said he got nervous since his mother has a history of head injury. He heard about his mother’s ordeal after he and his students evacuated from a public high school in Kidapawan City where he works also as a teacher.
Being a teacher himself, the younger Ajero understands why his mother did not think twice about protecting her students.
“Twenty-five years nang day care teacher (si Mama], parang anak na po turing niya sa mga bata. Uunahin po niya kapakanan ng mga bata niya bago sarili po niya,” the younger Ajero said in an interview with The Philippine STAR.
“We encouraged her before na mag-stop siya pero mahirap po daw kasi part na ng buhay niya ang pagtuturo,” he added.
AnJean Piyang, a former co-teacher of Mrs. Ajero for seven years, was shocked to find out what happened to her former co-worker.
“Mga two days ko pa po bago nalaman ’yung nangyari… ‘Di po ako makapaniwala na nangyari iyon sa kanya, pero ’yung pagsagip po niya sa mga bata, alam ko pong kaya niyang gawin kasi noon pa man ay mahal na niya ang mga bata,” Piyang said in an interview with The STAR.
There was no electricity and her cell phone had low battery charge, which was why she did not learn about what happened immediately.
Piyang has since relocated to Sitio Lucatong in Arakan, North Cotabato where she is a pastor for the local church being run by the Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches of the Philippines (CAMACOP). But she remembers vividly her former colleague’s dedication to her job.
“She’s very committed sa work niya. Mahal niya ang mga students niya at tinuturing niya na tunay na mga anak niya. Kahit nga sa mga hindi niya estudyante, pinaparamdam niya talaga ang pagmamahal sa bata,” Piyang said.
Mrs. Ajero is now in stable condition and has been discharged from the hospital, although her right shoulder is still sore and she still suffers from occasional headaches and a sprained ankle. But because their house was among those destroyed in the earthquake, they have to stay in an evacuation center in Barangay Rodero.
“She is doing fine po. (Pero) ’di pa po masyado makagalaw si Mama dahil masakit po ’yung right shoulder niya. ’Di rin siya makalakad dahil sa sprained ankle po. Minsan po sumasakit pa rin ’yung ulo niya,” the younger Ajero said.
He said they are planning to have his mother undergo a CT scan and X-ray this week just to be sure of her condition. Several private organizations and public officials have offered to shoulder the cost of her continuous medical treatment.
While government assistance has been arriving in Makilala since the earthquake struck, deteriorating conditions at the evacuation center could hinder Ajero’s recovery. Toilet facilities in particular are a problem. Diseases such as colds and fever are also starting to spread.
“Medyo OK naman po ang pagbibigay ng basic necessities. Ang problema (lang) po namin dito ay yung toilet since lahat po ng mga bahay dito sa amin ay nasira. Nagkakasakit na po ang mga bata dito sa amin gaya ng sipon, ubo, lagnat at sakit sa tiyan,” the younger Ajero said.
Mark is appealing to anyone who can help them and their fellow evacuees especially when it comes to medical and basic needs. He also called for assistance for a student who suffered a broken hand during the temblor. He can be reached at 0909-0026962.
Likewise, Piyang is appealing for help for their village as many of the children in evacuation centers have started getting sick. She can be reached at 0912-2181119.
The successive earthquakes that have struck Central Mindanao since Oct. 16 have killed more than 20 people and injured hundreds of others, mostly students who were in school at the time of the temblors. The Department of Education estimated the damage to schools and other public educational facilities to be at P2.25 billion and with the extent of the damage, it looks like children are going to spend the rest of the school year in tents.