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This Teacher Took Up Trail Running to Reach Her Students in the Mountains

Teacher Evan Campos hikes 22 kilometers through mud and mountains so she can teach Tagakaulo folk. 

Teacher Evan Campos always prays for a dry spell, even if it’s just for two weeks. But the mountains of Sarangani are never short of rainfall. There is no dry season here, and the skies are committed to pronounced rainfall six months a year. 

“Palaging umuulan dito,” (“It’s always raining here.”), Campos tells ALL-STAR

For Teacher Evan, a dry spell is a blessing because it means she can ride a motorcycle through the mountain and she doesn’t have to trek the 22 kilometers of muddy mountain to get to her school in Ulo Latian, an isolated community populated by the Tagakaulo indigenous people. She took up trail running to build strength and stamina so she could run to her students in the mountains every week. 

Teacher Evan Campos takes a selfie on the muddy mountain path that leads to her school.
Teacher Evan Campos

Even for experienced trail runners, 22 kilometers of slippery slope is no easy task. That’s the same distance from Manila to Alabang, or Manila to UP Diliman. But Teacher Evan braves the mountain and crosses four rivers every Sunday for at least 7 hours just to reach her students. 

“I am an Ilongga assigned to the indigenous peoples’ school for Tagakaulo. This is going to be my sixth year as a teacher. I am a teacher leader in a Last Mile School in Ulo Latian Integrated School,” said Campos. 

The Department of Education developed the Last Mile Schools Program, which aims to address the needs of learners in geographically isolated and disadvantaged areas. 

“Since I work at a Last Mile School, our routine is irregular. On Sundays after lunch, we would start traveling with other teachers up the mountain because it is not safe to travel alone. We also bring a lot of supplies, so we need each other’s help. At 1 in the afternoon, we start gathering, and then we would ride a motorcycle for two hours, which we call ‘skylab,’ which takes us to the foot of the mountain,” said Campos.  

Teacher Evan Campos, head teacher at Ulo Latian Integrated School

“Our backpacks are very heavy that’s why we need to ride. My bag is at least 10 kilos, not counting the rice grain, learning materials, and food supplies, among other things. We have a full pack every Sunday going up the mountains. There are no stores in the mountain,” said Campos. 

The motorcycle ride takes two hours, taking them to a town at the base of the mountain. 

When it’s rainy, they wear a raincoat. Sometimes, they don’t. After two hours of rough motorcycle ride offroad, they would arrive at the town proper. For Teacher Evan, that’s the last moment of comfort. What lies ahead is 22 kilometers of dangerous mountain slopes that they have to cover on foot. 

And if the mountain doesn’t daunt you, its wildlife will. 

“May mga snakes pa, mga cobra pa kaming nakikita,” said Campos with a shuddering laugh. 

(“We encounter snakes, cobras on the path.”)

Even on the rare occasions when the ground is dry, the path remains perilous

Part of the path that Teacher Evan takes to school has eroded.
Part of the path that Teacher Evan takes to school had eroded.

“Mayroon ding nag tumbling dahil wala nang strength, nag give up ang tuhod. May nag roll down, may nahulog sa motor at kabayo. Walang teacher doon na hindi nahulog sa motor o sa kabayo,” said Campos. 

“Lahat po kami nahulog. Ang daanan, nasisira kapag umuulan. One time, there was 6-feet hole sa daan, nahulog doon yung motor na sinasakyan ko. Lumipad po kami.”

(“Someone tumbled down because her strength failed, her knees gave up. Someone rolled down, someone fell from the motorcycle or horse. All teachers have experienced falling off a motorcycle or horse.”)

“Foot trail, pang kabayo ang daan. Kung maulan, six to seven hours namin lalakarin iyon. Pero sa bundok, palaging maulan. Mas madalas kaming naglalakad kaysa sa nagmomotor papuntang school.”

The Sarangani Mountain Range that Teacher Evan hikes for 22 kilometers to get to school
The Sarangani Mountain Range that Teacher Evan hikes for 22 kilometers to get to school

Teachers Cry on the Way to School

Teacher Evan Campos refuses to be defeated by the mountain on her way to Ulo Latian Integrated School. She wanted her body to be stronger and more powerful, so she trained in trail running. But even as her stamina is exceptional at her age—she turns 40 in August—she admits there were times her body could not take the physical stress.

Some teachers who are not as strong as Teacher Evan would cry on the mountain on the way to school. 

“Usually, kapag may mga bagong deploy kami na mga teachers, umuulan. So kadalasan, sila, umiiyak talaga pagdating sa cottage. Even on the way, umiiyak sila, bakit daw sila nandoon. Ang aming nilalakad, 22 kilometers po kapag umulan at basa ang lupa,” said Campos. 

(“Usually, when there are newly deployed teachers, it rains. Most of the time, they cry when they reach the cottage. Even on the way, they would cry and ask why they were sent there. We trek 22 kilometers whenever it rains, and the ground is muddy.”)

On her own, Teacher Evan can finish the hellish 22-kilometer trek in five hours. But that doesn’t always happen because she’s always accompanying other people. “For first-timers, of course it would take longer than 7 hours because there would be many breaks.”

“I took up trail running because I saw how difficult it was for teachers to hike to their stations. Your love and passion for teaching will just be overpowered by physical challenges,” said Campos. 

Evan Campos, the Trail Runner Teacher
Evan Campos, the Trail Runner Teacher

“Usually kasi, ang hirap. Minsan umiiyak ka na dahil sa pagod, ang sakit na ng paa mo, lalagnatin ka, pagdating sa cottage hindi ka makakaturo kaagad kasi may lagnat ka, masakit ang paa mo, nag-slide ka doon sa daan. So kailangan ko maging matatag. Kailangan kong maging matatag ang aking mga binti,” she added.  

“Dapat ka-level ng aking katawan ang aking passion to teach and to touch the lives of indigenous peoples. Equal dapat sila, hindi puwedeng passion lang tapos hindi ka naman physically fit to go to your station. Iyon ang naging turning point ko. Na-realize ko na may trail running naman. So I trained myself para maging hindi ganoon kahirap yung papunta at paplabas sa school pauwi sa pamilya.”

(“Usually, it’s difficult. You would cry because of exhaustion and pain in your feet, you would have fever, and when you reach the cottage, you couldn’t immediately teach because you’re sick and you’re feet are aching because you fell on the mountain. So I had to be strong. I had to train my legs to be strong.”

“My physical strength should be equal to the level of passion I have to touch the lives of indigenous peoples. They should be equal, you can’t have all passion but are not physically fit to go to your station. That was my turning point. I realized there I can do trail running. So I trained myself so the mountain will not defeat me on my way to school and going home to my family.”)

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Diane Hidalgo, a friend of Teacher Evan, interrupted the interview to say “Hardcore talaga sila Teacher Evan!” (“Teacher Evan is hardcore!”)

Teacher Evan burst out laughing. 

“Hardcore core talaga! No choice! Kailangan hardcore ka talaga. Kapag malalimmasyado ang putik, hindi ka masyado makakatakbo. Ang type of soil doon ay clay, it’s very slippery, and we wear boots. It’s painful to run while in boots,” said Campos.

(“Of course I’m hardcore! I have no choice! I need to be hardcore. When the mud is deep, I would not be able to run. The type of soil on the mountain is clay, it’s very slippery, and we wear boots. It’s painful to run while in boots.”)

“We wear boots while climbing the mountain. It’s painful to hike while in boots.”
"We wear boots while climbing the mountain. It’s painful to hike while in boots.”

Natives Rejoice at 1 a.m. as the Teachers Arrive 

When the Tagakaulo tribe hears the teachers’ voice on the two-way radio transceiver, excitement shatters the night. 

For the Tagakaulo people in Ulo Latian, the two-way radio transceiver is an indispensable piece of technology that creates heightened anticipation every Sunday night. 

“Alam nila ang pinagdadaanan namin, kaya naaappreciate din ng community at ng mga learners namin yung pagdating namin doon. Kahit 1 a.m. ng gabi, nandoon pa rin sila, naghihintay. Kasi excited sila na parating ang teacher, ‘May pasok tayo! Dumating ang teacher!’ they would say.”

(“They know what we go through to reach them, and the community and the learners appreciate us when we arrive. Even if we arrive at 1 a.m., they would still be there waiting for us because they’re excited. They would shout, ‘We’ll have classes because our teachers have arrived!’”)

A mother gives Teacher Evan pako or fern sprouts as a gift. It is a precious vegetable harvest.
A mother gives Teacher Evan pako or fern sprouts as a gift.

Teacher Evan and her companions would usually arrive at the Ulo Latian at 11 p.m. or 12 midnight. But if the rivers they have to cross has a strong current, they have to wait for the water to subside before crossing it, and they would arrive at Ulo Latian by 1 a.m.

Teacher Evan takes a break on a grassy mountaintop on her way to Ulo Latian Integrated School.
Evan Campos

“Every time we hike papuntang school, nagraradyo kami sa kanila. That’s our only way of communication kasi walang signal sa bundok. Naririnig namin sa radyo na very excited yung mga parents, sumisigaw sila,” said Campos. 

(“Every time we hike to school, we radio them. That’s our only way of remote communication because there is no cellphone service on the mountain. We would hear the excitement of the parents, they would shout.”)

“We could hear the parents and children anticipating our arrival. We would hear parents telling their children to be quiet because they need to hear us through the radio. They would tell their children to prepare for their classes in the morning because we arrived,” said Campos. 

That’s why it breaks their hearts whenever they can’t climb the mountain because of inclement weather. 

Exhausted but still strong, Teacher Evan speaks with her students and parents.
Exhausted but still strong, Teacher Evan speaks with her students and a parent.

“Kapag hindi kami makakaakyat, ang lungkot, masakit sa puso kasi hinihintay at inaanticipate ka nilang dumating nang Sunday ng gabi.”

 We reminded her of the opposite situation in schools in Metro Manila. 

“Teacher Evan, alam mo ba, sa Manila, kapag hindi makakarating ang teacher, masaya ang mga estudyante!” we teased her. 

(“Teacher Evan, you know, in Manila, if the teacher is absent, the students are happy!”)

She laughed. 

* * * 

Teacher Evan remembers the day she accepted the job of teaching in an isolated community. It started as a joke and a dare that she took seriously. 

“I was not supposed to be the school head at Ulo Latian, but the teacher who used to teach there gave up. When Ulo Latian had no school head, they challenged me,” said Campos, who used to work in a comfortable office at the Department of Education. 

“Akala nila Disney Princess ako na maarte, na lagi naghi-heels lang,” she added. 

(“They thought I was a Disney Princess drama queen who loved to wear heels.”)

“They asked me, ‘Can you handle it?’ and I said, ‘Yes, of course!’ They were shocked. 

Akala nila Disney Princess ako na maarte, na lagi naghi-heels lang

Now, every time Ulo Latian invites a visitor to the school, they would tell Campos, “What are you doing here! You shouldn’t be here, the passage is too difficult, there is no electricity, no internet, no cellphone service. You should go back!” 

But she would not leave. 

When she first arrived in Ulo Latian, Teacher Evan was disheartened to learn only 20 students regularly came to class out of 120 enrolled learners. 

“The school is dying, it shouldn’t be like this!” she told herself. 

To revive the school, she marshaled her powers and braved the Tagakaulo households armed with kindness canned goods from home. When she knocked on the door of strangers, her first words were, “Kumain na po kayo? Tara, lutuin natin ito.” (“Have you eaten? Come, let’s cook this together.”)

Teacher Evan would listen to the stories of the families, and learn the heartbreaking realities of the community. It was common for families to marry off their daughters rather than send them to school so they could receive a dowry of P60,000. Meanwhile, young children were told not to go to school but to work on the coffee farms so they could earn money. According to Teacher Evan, families who send their children to school only do so because they want to receive government dole-outs in exchange for their child’s school attendance.

Teacher Evan Campos meets with the Tagakaulo community in Ulo Latian in Sarangani Province, Mindanao.
Teacher Evan Campos with Tagakaulo parents

“It takes a village to raise a child, so I asked the help of the families there to be involved in community work and school work,” Campos told ALL-STAR

“When I started, things were very traditional, just like in the ancient times when people did not value education. It was very evident in the number of class attendees, only 20. That alone is a manifestation na that the value for education did not exist.”

Teacher Evan Campos poses with her grade school students
Teacher Evan poses with her grade school students

Every day, Teacher Evan would visit the families outside of school, and build relationships with them. Eventually, with her persistence and her sacrifice of climbing the mountain just for them, the community started helping her. The parents slowly started to change their minds about education. They built makeshift classrooms for her, and started sending their kids for her to teach. But what stirred her most was when they stopped marrying off their daughters for dowry. 

“Nakita ko po na umaakyat yung value nila for education! Ineembrace nila. Nakita nila na importante pala ang role namin, they would say ‘Tulungan natin ang sarili natin kasi si Maam Evan, nagpupursige.’ 

(“I saw how their value for education had improved. They are embracing it now. They see how important our role is in their community. They would say, ‘Let’s help ourselves because Maam Evan is working so hard for us.’”)

Teacher Evan shares a light moment with a female student
Teacher Evan and a female student

The Tagakaulo indigenous people of Ulo Latian saw Teacher Evan’s work as a servant leader, and how she’s inspiring them to be part of their children’s education. 

“Nakita ko rin ang pagbabago sa values ng mga bata. NPA area kasi doon, rebel-returnees ang aming mga parents. When I asked the kids anong gusto nila, they would say sundalo ng mga people. When they play games, they would play gunfights. But now, very drastic yung change sa kanila, very active sila sa school. Even now when I radio them, everybody comes to school. They would ask me, ‘Maam, ano po pwede kong gawin?’” said Campos. 

(“I saw how the children’s values have changed. The region is considered a hotbed of NPA rebels, and some of the parents are rebel returnees. When I asked the kids what they wanted to be when they grew up, they would say a soldier of the people. When they play games, they would play gunfights. But now, the changes that are happening are very drastic. They are now very active in school. When I radio them, everybody comes. They would ask me, ‘Maam, how can we help out?’”)

This is the reason why, despite the mountain and physical pain she has to endure every week, Teacher Evan Campos chooses to stay. 

“My dream for my students is for them to graduate, not just in high school but also in college. I want them to inspire their younger siblings to value education. Not just to end the cycle of poverty. More than that, I want them to find fulfillment in nation-building, and to be part of it. I want them to realize their worth as a person, that they can go beyond what their parents have reached, and not be content with marrying off or thinking about survival every day.”

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