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Home » ALTEC Speeches » ALTEC Launch: Speaker #3 Jaton Zulueta, Founder, AHA Learning Center

ALTEC Launch: Speaker #3 Jaton Zulueta, Founder, AHA Learning Center

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Magandang Hapon po sa inyong lahat!

It’s 3 million schools— 3  million students— not 3 million schools. Baka ma-fake news po ako. Usong-uso po ngayon eh. I’m 38 years old, and for the last 19 years, I have dedicated my life to helping those who have the least in life get the best in education. For 19 years, since I was 19 years old, that’s been the dream.

As a volunteer in a public cemetery, I would go there every Saturday as an Atenean and tutor children how to read. I did that for six years as a volunteer-run organization. I was running small community centers in the slums of Metro Manila as a non-profit foundation. We have shifted our years and have looked not only for the poorest students, but the best teachers, which is where I find myself now, with the best teachers. I am not lying by any means, pinakain po ako nang mabuti, nag-digest na po, when I see that, it is a tremendous honor not only for me but for everybody who is in this space to work with you and to meet you today. Nanggigigil po ako. Gusto ko na pong pumunta sa table na iyon at makipag-usap at makipagkwentuhan sa inyo at matuto. Kaya po kami nandito; we realized that there is a gap in the education ecosystem. Katulad po ng kwentong development, there is a gap in programs in most cases in leadership forums. We can go three, four, five hours without mentioning what’s happening to the country today. We can go for hours talking about policies that will affect children, the next generation of children in the next 15 years, but we have no spaces to talk about what we can do tomorrow to help the child in the nearby barangay.

For the last couple of months. the tone of these discussions have gotten grimmer and grimmer. In most cases, depending on who you voted for in the election, it’s been a hopeless conversation. Interestingly, many of these hopeless conversations are happening in coffee shops and in university faculty rooms. The more hopeful conversations are happening over phones, happening in barangays, in makeshift schools wherein the teacher is teaching using leaves under a coconut tree. These are where the hopeful conversations lie, and this is why ALTEC is such a blessing. I think most of us are in this space because we have been called, not by Father Karel, but by a Higher Being. It takes someone—not only a little bit crazy—but maybe a little more purpose driven na tumaya po, na ito po ang gusto niyong gawin, na tumulong, na magkaroon ng malasakit, para sa mga tao na hindi niyo kilala.

When we talk about the gap, not only in programs, there’s also a gap in mindset, that we— who are supposed to be the most hopeful—have lost a lot of our hope. We look at the systems and we say, will anything change? Is it just too much for us to work together? And that is, I think, something that we need to reflect and pray about. At lunch, Doc said, what if Jesus—before he did anything—wondered if there was any kind of success before he went over and started evangelizing? What if Jesus hesitated? What if Jesus was figuring out, “Is this something sustainable?” Can I do this first? What Jesus did and what I am reminded by and humbled by is that he built a flock of small, like-minded people, and started hitting the ground running. If there is anything that we have to learn from the Son of God, it’s that he worked and worked and worked hard. It was that he was the embodiment of hope and love so much so that we are still driven by this message today.

Sometimes, you know, when I am called by Jesus, I don’t want to answer the phone. We are called and sometimes I want to put it on missed call, seenzone, katulad ng sinasabi ng mga bata diba? Sinasabi pa rin ba ng mga bata ‘yon? Seenzone: nabasa pero di talaga nabasa. For the things that are inconvenient and uncomfortable, it is very easy to ignore the call.  We find ourselves at a pivotal moment where the call is stronger than ever. Never before has the educational system been in this much peril. Never before do we have this many people coming together. Also, as much as there is a challenge, there are also opportunities to come together. I find myself more of an apostle like you coming together, figuring things out, raring to go. But I know that a launch is the start, and I know that the launch is where everyone is at its most hopeful and as things get longer and harder, we often fall apart and that’s our challenge. Will we support each other as we try to figure out these meaningful conversations with DepEd? Will we, as students, think not only about what we can get from AdZU but what can we give to AdZU? Will we start thinking and owning in problem-solving an issue that might not affect us but does affect all of us? These reflection points I do not know the answer to, but what I do know is what makes this room incredibly special is how varied it is, and how we are a special group of people, not because of who we are, but who we represent.  I represent students who cannot read in Tondo, and in two months they will be readers. I represent teachers who are given so little but are attending our programs even when their whole village is flooded. I represent the Yellow Boat of Hope Champions who are lining up in our embodiment of this idea, that the Filipino teacher isn’t just overworked, they are also underpaid. But the Filipino teacher is excellent, and if given the opportunity, the Filipino teacher is not only willing to work but is willing to change.

We have to just spend enough time to understand, to organize, to experiment, and to try. I am excited, and I am filled with joy whenever I hear about AdZU, because you are not only an innovator in teacher excellence, but you’re innovator in education innovations. This is the only university I know of who has a program like SUGPAT who functions more like a non-profit than a university. I was so surprised when I found the work that you did and I was so proud to know these great Filipinos. We represent not only the people we help, but we represent people like us that can help. So now the room is probably half a conference room, but our challenge in the next year or when we spend their anniversary is to expand this room to the poorest barangays all over Mindanao, to the best and brightest teachers, to the different schools, and student leaders. We need to work together.

Before I end my, monologue? Homily? Father Jaton po, maraming salamat. Lagi po ako napagkakamalan na Father.

When I leave, I just want to leave with one quote. At every convening we have, we say, “Tayo ang pagbabagong ating hinihintay.” Ibig pong sabihin noon, unang-una, hindi po tayo maghihintay ng iba pa para tumulong— tayo na po ‘yon. Unang-una, mayroon tayong lakas ng loob, may tapang na gawin ‘yong pagbabago kasi naniniwala po ako na kung kami lang ni Doc at kasama namin na nakagawa ng ganito, paano pa kaya kung kasama kayo? Tayo ang pagbabagong ating hinihintay. 

Next year kung nagkita-kita ulit tayo, hopefully we don’t have to talk as much because we have brought all the people that ALTEC has helped and all the different other collaborators that we have.

Maraming salamat po. Tayo ang pagbabagong ating hinihintay.