“HIndi ito ang buhay na pangarap ko. Magtatapos ako!”
They say that sometimes, discontent is a necessity for progress. While Noemi Lumbao has always been grateful for the cards she’s dealt, it was acknowledging that she’s more than capable of overcoming adversities that motivated her to keep going. Known as “Ning” by her family and friends, she knew early on that focusing on improving herself so she could also improve the lives of others will be her life mission. And she has been achieving this by being a teacher with big dreams for her students and their communities in Sorsogon.
Ning’s father earned a living from farming a small piece of land. Her mother who worked as a teacher instilled in her the value of education which inspired her to take the same path. As the eldest child, she took care of her younger brother and sister while spending most of their time at their grandparents’ house because it was near the school they attended. On Fridays, they went back home to help in their father’s farmwork. Together with her siblings, she would sell the vegetables they harvested to fund their allowance for the week. Every member of the family toiled away but this did not save them from living in dire poverty.
Ning appreciated every small blessing that they had, but she knew deep down that barely surviving just to put food on the table was not the life she wanted to live. She hoped that education would be their ticket out of poverty. Back then, there was no public high school in their area so she had to enroll in a private high school. This meant scrimping on other school requirements such as school uniforms. One of her vivid memories was being called to the principal’s office due to the wrong color of her uniform. She recalled, “Ang palda na dapat sana’y itim ay nagkukulay light brown na. Bakit nga naman hindi, eh ito’y isang bigay na palda lamang na yellowish ang kulay na tinintaan ng “dyobos” na itim para lamang may maisuot. Natural, makailang-laba eh, pupusyaw na. Samahan pa ng nakangangang sapatos na sumisilip na ang hinlalaki sa paang nakamedyas.”
She did not mind the embarrassment and focused on the more important things, such as seeing her parents’ smiles whenever she’s conferred with medals and recognition during school commencement activities after persevering in her studies. Going to college presented tougher challenges, with boarding house fees and travel fares on top of her school expenses, which she managed to get through with the help of her hard-earned scholarships and her mother’s loans from lending institutions.
With her diligence and determination, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education and passed the board examination. She happily shared most of her salary in financing the education of her sister who studied accountancy and her brother who took up electrical engineering. Her efforts were not in vain as her siblings not only graduated, but her sister also ranked 14th in the Certified Public Accountant Licensure Examination while her brother also passed his Electrical Engineer Licensure Examination.
Her promise of sharing the gift of education was not just extended to blood relatives. “Dahil, alam ko ano ang pakiramdam ng pumasok nang kapos sa baon, kasabay ng pagtulong ko sa aking mga kapatid ang pagbibigay ng kahit ano mang tulong pinansyal sa mga kamag-anak at ilang mga mag-aaral,” she shared.
As always, Ning goes the extra mile in every role she has to fulfill. San Rafael National High School (SRNHS) in Pilar, Sorsogon was a place she grew fond of despite being constantly hammered by strong winds and sandstorm, especially during monsoon season as it was located on top of a hill that overlooks the sea. It only had one temporary school building with no flooring in its first year so Ning appealed to social media for aid from generous donors. Help poured in from private citizens, and since then, the school has three properly constructed buildings with six classrooms, an office, and a toilet.
When Ning was assigned as the new OIC of Pilar Comprehensive National High School, she was faced with the challenge of rebuilding SRNHS from scratch when someone donated a hectare of land, in a barangay where the only options are to drop out of school after elementary school, study in the town center and ride the boat every day, or trek several kilometers to the closest secondary school. Her desire to help this small village thrive pushed her to do what she does best. She mobilized another fundraiser where kindhearted netizens, OFWs, parents, and other residents in the area donated and enlisted their help to make the dream of constructing a learning institution from the ground up possible.
In 2014, of the 94 first batch of SRNHS graduates, 27 were fishermen or out-of-school youth way past the normal high school age in the country. Prior to the construction of SRNHS, they could only daydream of graduating from high school. “Si Mommy Nitz, isang 54 years old na naglalabada at fish vendor na nakumbinsi naming mag-aral at magtapos sa loob ng apat na taon,” Ning proudly shared about one of their notable graduates.
Almost a decade after the first batch of graduates of one of Ning’s most ambitious projects, she continues to serve as the School Head of Donsol Vocational High School. She’s been a constant partner of The Yellow Boat of Hope Foundation (YBH), a non-profit organization that aims to ensure socially disadvantaged regions in the country have access to excellent education and overall flourishing of quality of life, through the provision of dignified access to school, proficient teaching, and livelihood opportunities, among other services.
Some of Ning’s projects with the organization include Yellow School Boat for the students’ transportation, procurement of Bosch Power Tools for their carpentry, aid from Seeds of Hope and Support Our Schools Printing Solutions for their educational and extra-curricular materials, and YBH Educational Hub as their research center. “Walang hanggang pasasalamat sa Yellow Boat of Hope sa patuloy na paniniwala sa aming kakayahang maipaabot ang kanilang tulong sa ating mga kababayan,” Ning said.
Teacher Ning is a living proof that no one has so little that they cannot give as long as one has the persistence to be of service to others. She has contributed so much more than what’s expected from her job, but a leader like her doesn’t keep count for her giving heart simply has no limit – she can give so much because she pours from her full cup.
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