Learning Knows No Age

Otong Guimbalang with his Completion Certificate and his fellow ALS completers

 “Age does not limit opportunities,” says Otong K. Guimbalang, 73 years old from Barangay Kinebeka, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao as he started to narrate his story.

He had a hard life as he started working at a very young age and moved from one home to another – living with his uncle, older siblings, and distant relatives – to be able to survive.

Even after he raised a family of his own, tragedies continued to follow him. His wife, Saada, died of a bullet that came from a firefight between two feuding families (locally known as rido). He had five kids in his second marriage to Suraida but three of his children would pass away because of illnesses and inborn disabilities. Suraida later on suffers a stroke and succumbs to cardiac arrest.

These various circumstances were the reasons why Otong never had a chance to go to school. But despite all these, Otong never lost hope.

He lived in Camp Abubakar for quite some time during his younger years. The elders, during that time, used to tease the younger camp residents about their inability to read and write. There were exercises on writing their names and reading the alphabet, which kindled Otong’s interest to learn. He began to teach himself using the sounds he often heard around him until he learned to how to read the basics.

From Camp Abubakar to Camp Badre, Otong transferred to Barangay Kinebeka with the help of their community leader who treated him as family. He learned how to farm and make a living in Kinebeka, which he has called his home for over 50 years now.

Otong heard that an Alternative Learning System (ALS) was being launched in Kinebeka as part of the Mindanao Trust Fund – Reconstruction and Development Project Phase II (MTF-RDP/2), which aimed to address the needs of those who have not been to school but are interested to pursue an education or obtain practical knowledge or skills. It rekindled an old interest. “Allah led the way to fulfil my ultimate dream,” he cheerfully said.

Otong firmly believes that education is the key to a good life. Thus, regardless of his advance age, he enrolled in the Basic Literacy Program (BLP). “Who am I to refuse free education,” he uttered. “This is a chance not everyone in this phase of life can have,” he added.

Nowadays, as his children live in separate dwellings with families of their own, Otong continues to survive on his own and occupies himself with his new hobby – reading and writing. Even after the ALS sessions ended, he continues to learn things of his own. He also looks forward to furthering his studies and to advance to a higher level. 

Otong Guimbalang giving the Inspirational Speech during the ALS Completion Ceremony

Otong is one of the 574 BLP learners out of the 1,613 ALS completers whose achievements were celebrated in a Completion Ceremony, where he received several recognitions as an active student and where he was chosen to give the inspirational speech. 

“Thank you for making my hopes possible,” he said. He explained that his eagerness to learn comes from the thought that education will endow him with good manners and a brighter future. “The opportunity to acquire knowledge through this program is a great blessing from Allah,” he ended to a rousing applause from his fellow learners who were all on their feet.

Adapted from Community and Family Services International (12 April 2019). Stories From the Field: Hope Beyond Age.  URL: https://cfsi.ph/stories-from-the-field-hope-beyond-age/ (accessed on 06 June 2021)