How do we measure success?

Several have pursued to collect frames of diplomas on their walls. Some have sought to buy what they always wanted. On the other hand, others became contented in chaining power and status in their hands.

Truly, in this world and at this exact time, we are defined by what we have gained and what we have achieved. Different walks of life embraced this reality, even educators like us are exempted.

But please, do spare Sir Ricky.

In his eyes one can see the immensity of his spirit which endured years of living. Yet, that extent is shaped by resilience, marked by struggles, and adorned with strong principles. His voice suggests pure conviction, and the words from his thoughts express such wisdom which cannot be ignored, never to be silenced.

Call him Enrique San Gabriel Cabuyao.

At fifty years old, he already served as an educator for twenty-six years. Indeed, half of his life has been spent as an educator. However, Sir Ricky shows no sign in becoming lenient in a profession requiring will, perseverance, endurance, and compassion all at the same time.

Man of honor

Throughout the scope of the interview, Sir Ricky always notes that he is not a successful educator.

Yet, more than the stories of academic honors and details of holding higher positions, one can tell that Sir Ricky does not give a care. He, himself, has his own brand of triumph, which is not equalled by such common recognitions.

A father to Neil Darwin Feleo and Nina Philine Ann and a loving husband to his wife, Mary Ann, Sir Ricky rather described himself as a simple man. According to him, his way of living is the result of how his parents had brought him when he was young.

“Minana ko lang sa mga magulang ko ang pagiging simple. Huwag mong bilhin ang hindi mo kailangan at huwag mong kailanganin ang hindi mo kayang bilhin,” Sir Ricky recalls.

On the contrary, it was not only simplicity that is evident in Sir Ricky’s character. Sir is also full of determination as the sole provider in providing food on their table and making ends meet, especially when it comes to his children’s education.

He explains, “nag-tritricycle ako, nag-aalaga rin ako ng baboy. I am the only one who’s working in the family. Many doubt how [I manged] to send my children to Manila. It’s simple. It’s because of the simplicity of my life and of my family. I made them understand our situation.”

In the end, all the hardwork pays off. Feleo graduated in University of the Philippines – Los Baños with a degree in Communication while Nina graduated in Arellano University with a degree in Tourism Management.

Expressing his unconditional love to his children, Sir Ricky even currently supports Feleo after his son told him that he wanted to pursue a degree in Legal Management in Far Eastern University. Yet, with still an on-going challenge in sending off a child to a university, he still reminds his son and daughter that no matter where they go, they should always inculcate value of simplicity.

“Sabi ko nga, tayo’y mga simple lang. Gumawa kayo ng buhay ninyo para naman ang buhay naming mag-asawa ang haharapin namin. At kahit ano man ang nais nilang tahakin, asahan nilang sila’y aking susuportahan,” he said.

In addition, Sir Ricky is also a man of principles and empathy. When he was still young, he became an activist where he was given the chance to feel the pressing needs and hear the dire concerns of the poor. Since then, the activist inside him continued burning.

“I’m still a member of organizations of Association of Concerned Teachers (ACT). Sa kasalukuyan, ako ay isa sa Board of Trustees ng Quezon Public School Teachers Association under Philippine Public School Teachers Association,” Sir Ricky expounded.

Humble Beginnings

Starting in this field had been rough for Sir Ricky. An amount of courage and a promise of a future made him decide to start teaching in a far flung barangay in Tiaong, Quezon in 1990. When a chance of being nearer to his family became possible, Sir Ricky was then transferred to Brgy. Katigan where he taught in multi-grade classes in 1993.

Yet, he still felt far away from his family as this community is far from the town proper. Again, he further pushed his luck, choosing to then teach in East Palale Elementary School in 1996. Finally, in 1999, he transferred in Tayabas East Central School, where he served as the district Physical Education and Sports Science (PESS) Coordinator. Thereon, he served as a teacher in TECS-III.

In those beginnings, Sir Ricky tried to find a school where he could call home.  Instead, the home he encountered were the smiles and the friendships of different teachers, students, and administrators who had been there for him through thick and thin.

And when his son became ill, Sir Ricky vividly remembered those who helped him push through, whether the support was financial or a boost of morale. Sir Ricky is forever grateful to those men and women who helped his family.

In those pressing times, he felt that he was never alone.

Change of Heart

When position for the ALS was offered to Sir Ricky in 2014, he readily accepted it and served as one of its teacher in the service of the citizens in “Laylayan ng Lipunan.” The opportunity of being an ALS teacher made him discover his own capabilities as an educator, capabilities which he thought he could never do in his entire teaching life.

It was indeed a sacrifice, a great sacrifice for him.

But that sacrifice was never his own, rather he also witnessed the sacrifices of the ALS students in their quest of having an education and a ticket to change their lives.

“Noong ako ay nagturo sa ALS, nadama ko talaga mismo ang mga estudyante ko na hindi nakapag-aral. May ibang 30 years old na. Pinakinggan ko ang dahilan kung bakit hindi sila nakapagtapos ng pag-aaral at ito nga ay dala ng matinding kahirapan,” he explained.

He adds, “nang ipaliwanag nila sa akin ito, na ang aking mga estudyante ay may dalawang pamimilian lang. Alin ang mas mahalaga, ang pumasok na kumakalam ang tiyan, o ang nasa bahay ka lang nang hindi makita ng iba ang iyong kahirapan?”

Power of Dreams

Sir Ricky heard, from his students, the cycle of poverty and the shame that comes with it. However, aside from the silent but screaming pains of his students, it was not the only thing he heard.

“May mga kwento rin sila ng pangarap,” Sir Ricky said.

He cites the story of one of his students, Florita Naval, a mother who was a non-reader and only finished first grade in primary school.

“Gaano kasakit sa isang ina kapag nagtatanong sa iyo ang iyong anak na nanay, paano ba magsulat ng kabit-kabit, ano bang basa dito, na siya mismo ay hindi maalam magbasa at sumulat,” Sir Ricky recalls, remembering her words when she delivered her speech during their graduation in ALS.

From their first meeting, Sir Ricky knew that he needed to do something for Florita.

“Sa awa ko sa kanya, tyinaga ko sya ng abakada, tyinaga ko siyang dalhan ng mga pinaglumaang libro galing sa elementary, writing notebook, sinusulsog niya, sinusulatan niya. “

Through the help of Sir Ricky, Florita managed to learn reading which eventually led her to pass the test and graduate in the ALS program.

“Iba, iba ang pakiramdam. Hindi ko maipaliwanag. Noon nagsasalita siya, nabanggit niya ang pangalan ko. Nagpasalamat siya sa akin at sinabing hindi siya, kasama ang ibang ALS students, bibitaw hanggat kaming mga ALS teachers ay umaalay. Pinangako nilang aabutin nila ang kanilang pangarap,” he explained.

Different path

Sir Ricky thought that being a PESS Coordinator will become the topmost prize of his career as an educator. He, together with the other key personnel in the division, had brought Tayabas in its prime status as the group emerged victorious in different sports competitions, beating nearby towns and delivering student athletes to provincial, regional even in national arenas.

But he was wrong. It was in the Alternative Learning System where he found what he could not find.

“Noon akala ko, noong akoy PESS Coordinator pa, na sampung taong champion ang Tayabas sa district na palaro. I claim na magaling ang PESS Coordinator kaya Tayabas lagi ang champion. Hindi pala.”

“Although tagumpay para sa akin iyon, hindi pala iyon ang sukatan. Ang mas sukatan pala ay kapag nakita mo na ang mag-aaral mo ay nagsikap dahil lang sa iyo. Ang isa ko pang tagumpay ay ang magkaroon ang estudyante ko ng pangarap.”

Sir Ricky further shared on how he sought help from his friends just to feed his students during their meetings, and even gave them the opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world through field trips in Lucena City and other places.

“Noon naming nagkaroon kami ng field trip. Naalala kong kumain kami sa isang fastfood restaurant. Tuwang tuwa sila sapagkat ngayon lang sila nakakain ng ganoon at may extra rice pa. Nakakatuwa rin na may ibang nag-uuwi pa ng kanilang ulam para lamang maipasalubong sa kanilang pamilya.”

The greatest service

Yet, as the reality goes, nothing lasts forever. Sir Ricky needs to go back to the formal school.

“Medyo malungkot sa akin na babalik na ako sa formal school. Kung bibigyan pa ako ng pagkakataong magturo sa ganun, gugustuhin ko pero syempre utos naman ito ng nakakataas sa atin.”

It saddens him that he may not fulfill the wishes of some of his students. However, he only wishes dedication to the teachers who will be the next ones to experience the ALS program.

“Bilang isang guro, salihan mo sila. Ilubog mo ang sarili mo sa kanila. Doon mo makikita ang ganti nila, ang pagmamahal nila.”

He also expressed his perspectives on the current educational system. Coming from a background where he readily felt the needs and heard the misgivings of the poor in the rural community, Sir Ricky wishes educators and policy makers to make an effort to eventually see the plight of his students.

With such hardwork and sacrifices, Sir Ricky wishes that teachers will see their students beyond their behaviors in the classroom. Educators ought to know more their children and do whatever they can to see these young minds pursue their dreams.

“Yung walang baon, yung walang gamit, yung talagang wala, na akayin mo, tulungan mo, yun ang sinasabi kong tagumpay na hindi malilimutan”

Indeed, if one may notice, the story of Sir Ricky is short of accomplishments of an ordinary teacher who rose to become a key official in education. Yet, he greatly acknowledges that fact.

He may fail to rise from the ranks but he had fulfilled the pledge of an educator that not everyone can claim of. Sir Ricky became the key of his students’ dreams. At the end of the day, Sir Ricky said that he can sleep soundly every night because he have done his best for his students. Above all, he entrusted his future will the Lord and what shall be of him afterwards.

“Hindi ako isang successful na guro, hindi ako isang guro na naging supervisor, naging superintendent. Ako’y Teacher I noon, hanggang ngayo’y Teacher I parin. Ang masasabi ko lang na tagumpay ko ay ang mga eskwela ko, iyon aking mga ginapang, at ang matulungan silang makamit ang mga simpleng pangarap nila.And that is success enough.

Alfonso Mabuting