Building Communities; Sr. Maria Perfetua Bulawan, DC

What is a good literacy implementer? Is he one who teaches, clothes, and feeds a thousand people? Is he one who brings them to the Lord and guides them through? It is all these and more. At the most fundamental level, the implementer must ensure that the welfare of the people – in all its myriad guises – is given attention.

Sr. Maria Perpetua “Mapet” Bulawan DC, 38, of St. Louise de Marillac College of Sorsogon (SLMCS), Sorsogon City has done just that – and still doing it. She has devoted her life to harnessing the talent and energies of the people in Sorsogon for productive use; and creating a society built on Christian ways. Sorsogon is the second poorest region in the country so her devotion to advance the status of the people is no mean feat.

She was rewarded a Special Recognition by the Literacy Coordinating Council (LCC) for her exemplary performance as a literacy worker of the Louise de Marillac Foundation, Inc. Community Extension Services (LMFI-CES), while her “Education for Life Program” got top honors during the 2008 LCC Recognition Day in Teachers Camp, Baguio City in September of this year. In 2005, her program “Literacy Intensification and Values Education” also got third place in the LCC Awards. Literacy has been her covenant – and she has never failed. 

Tell us your secret, Sr. Mapet. The nun is on a roll.

The Education for Life Program

“There is no secret,” says Sr. Mapet while seated on a chair wearing a veil over her habit. “We just realigned the Foundation’s programs and services to the UN Development Goals and responded to the people through alleviation of poverty and hunger, access to primary education, ministry to migrants and persons with Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), environmental sustainability, and many more,” she rattles in a voice that is heartbreakingly soft and measured. 

SLMCS in Sorsogon City has been among the forefront institutions responding to the call of government in the eradication of illiteracy since the 1980s. In 1989, the then Bureau of Nonformal Education (NFE) now Bureau of Alternative Learning System (BALS), asked SLMCS to be the service provider for the Literacy Service Contracting Scheme in Sorsogon. 

Certainly, Sr. Mapet would not disappoint anyone. She is famously accessible and has taken her crusade for functional literacy classes to 15 learning groups in Sorsogon West, Sorsogon East, and Bacon District every year. Along with the sessions are bible sharing activities either in the barangay hall, Day Care Center, chapel, classroom, or even in an unfinished house. Word of each small success spread from town to town and gradually, she won the support of many. Indeed, it is hard to exaggerate the impact of the community service done by Sr. Mapet, but from among her learners, a number have become domestic helpers abroad; others have become officers of the kapilya pastoral council, and a few turned into barangay health workers. 

The learners are recruited house to house with the assistance of the barangay kagawad and other elders in the community. “I interview them to identify their needs. Ang mga learners mismo ang pinapipili ko ng schedule at lugar ng learning sessions,” she says. 

This is one of the most challenging aspects of the Program: to maintain the learners after a calamity. “Naku! Ang hirap lalo na nung tinamaan sila ng super typhoons Milenyo at Reming. Syempre inuuna nila ang pagpapatayo ng bahay nila at sa ikabubuhay nila bago nila harapin ang learning sessions,” she says with a sigh. 

Yes, life for Sr. Mapet could have been easier if she had not chosen to take on the burden of joining the Sisters of Marillac. But she did. Hence as a nun, she also mobilizes donation brigades and extends relief assistance to the often typhoon-visited Bicol and other areas. Her dedication spills over to her role of extending assistance in the housing construction of disaster victims; providing stress debriefing and home visits. In fact, LCC Secretariat Head Dr. Norma Salcedo says of Sr. Mapet: “She’s not a talker. She’s a doer.” 

Gliding from one mission to another, and loving every minute of  it, Sr. Mapet’s jail apostolate is equally impressive. She does spiritual formation, gift giving, and socialization to the inmates of Sorsogon. 

She has also devoted her life assisting out-of-school youth and adults to formal secondary and tertiary schools through the Balik Eskwela Program. The Study Help and the Marillac Grantees Student Assistance Program help finance the needs of students. 

In this interview, she recounts with all humility that the Education for Life’s Adopt-a-School Program established in 2005 has also helped hundreds of undernourished kids. The program caters annually to 120 malnourished elementary pupils of Bitan-o Elementary School, Sorsogon West district, and this program is bound to go a long way more. This is her great hope. 

“We strive to help bring the world a little closer to the ideal,” she says. The Foundation also hired two experts from the Benguet State University to teach the community farming techniques and high value crop production. “Now the community raises its own carrots, strawberry, sayote, sweet peas, and yacoon,” Sr. Mapet smiles as she clasps her hands. 

Sr. Mapet’s indefatigability is beyond compare. There is something in her that is devoid of the trappings of bigness and grandeur. There is something about real greatness and selflessness when you see her. She continues, “we also reach out to the spiritual formation of the elderly in barangays Tugod, Cambulaga, Sampaloc, Talisay, Bulabog, and San Juan Roro in Sorsogon. This is in preparation especially for their next life.” 

After a perfectly timed pause, I suddenly interrupt her, “have you had boyfriends?” She answers, “Yes, but Iam happier with the Lord.” I laughed after that and Sr. Mapet sneaks into a girly giggle. I realized that beneath that gentle mien of a nun is a warm person with a sense of humor, even-in-your-face wacky. 

Volume II No. 13
September 2008

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