HOPE Goes the Distance for Last-Mile Schools

An unforeseen incident during a materials delivery to Calfungal Elementary School shed light on the value of classrooms in far-flung regions.

Located in Maasim, Sarangani Province, Calfungal Elementary School is considered a ‘last-mile school,’ a term used for classrooms located in distant, often inaccessible places. It is 33 kilometers away from the town center, 15 kilometers from the nearest highway, and the roads that lead to it are uneven. Calfungal ES was nearly half-finished when construction had been paused last year due to the unavailability of delivery trucks that can pass through the route. And so, the delivery of materials, which took place on April 11, 2022, marked the resumption of a much-awaited yet challenging task.

However, things did not go as planned for the HOPE team that braved the long roads to the site where four classrooms were to be constructed–the school’s first-ever standard buildings.

“It was a sunny day and we were optimistic about the delivery,” shares April Barrientos, HOPE’s Monitoring and Evaluation Officer. “We were targeting to finish it before 3 pm. We started the activity around 11 am. Unfortunately, we did not take into consideration that the week before, the rains had made the ground soft. Plus, we made a wrong turn into unstable terrain. We were just two kilometers from the school when both the left-side wheels of the truck got stuck in the mud. Maneuvering the vehicle made matters worse.”

April was joined by six members of the HOPE team whose day-to-day tasks include managing all classroom builds from start to finish, including quality assurance checks along the way. Luckily for everyone, two members of the group had brought their motorcycles and bolted off in search of assistance from nearby residents. Parents and students offered their help, and for more than three hours, everyone exhausted all efforts to lift the wheels.

Finally, minutes before the rain was about to pour, the team was able to get the truck out of the mud. Despite being relieved of the painstaking task, the team faced another issue of lightening the vehicle’s load, causing them to leave behind five cubic meters of sand which the community offered to bag and haul themselves the next day. Filled with gratitude, the team continued their journey towards Calfungal where they were able to deliver the materials needed for the long-awaited build.

This challenging experience shed light on the realities behind the lack of educational infrastructure in far-flung regions, hence the term ‘last-mile classrooms.’ Factors such as difficulties in transportation, hauling, and safety affect the feasibility of constructing in such areas. However, more than the logistics involved, the community’s involvement not only underscored their generosity and bayanihan spirit but also their value for education. April echoes, “We saw in the efforts of the community helping us that this school meant something for them or they would have not toiled with us the way they did. The longer we were there the more people actually came to help. There was even no mention of money in return for the labor, it was we who actually insisted to give them something back.”

“In the end, in our line of work, no matter how much blood, sweat, or tears we shed, it’s who we serve and what we change in their lives that matter. HOPE will continue to strive to deliver classrooms where they are needed most.”

With the classroom build in progress again, Calfungal Elementary School is expected to be complete in time for the next school year (2022-2023).

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