A farmer’s son becomes a topnotch educator

Manila Bulletin 

Many of the decisions we make now will have far-reaching effects in our lives in the future.

If Dr. Ruben Abucayon, for instance, had not persisted in finishing college, Surigao del Norte would have lost an invaluable educator, and children from across the country would not have heard of his inspiring story.

Laki Sa Gatas, the nutrition education advocacy initiated by Bear Brand Powedered Milk, taps into the ideals of a Laki Sa Gatas person — one who successfully surmounts life’s challenges and makes a name for him/herself by remaining strong in mind and body – from whom parents, educators, and children could take inspiration from.

Dr. Abucayon advocate spent his childhood years at the foothills of Mt. Kanayawan in Surigao del Norte. There, his parents, a farmer and a housekeeper, and six siblings worked hard in making ends meet.

“It was my mother who instilled discipline in me at a very young age. Looking back now, I think her being strict when it comes to my studies and the food I ate helped a lot in making me strong in facing life’s challenges,” Dr. Abucayon says.

He relates that her mother was especially meticulous when it comes to her children’s food and drinks.

“My mother always made sure that we ate vegetables and drink our milk. During harvest season, my milk consumption increases to two glasses a day — one before school and another one before going to bed,” the educator shares.

The Abucayon children needed to stay healthy and strong to make that long trek towards Capayahan Elementary School, which was three kilometers away from their home.

“I had to get up really early and leave at 5:30 a.m. for school, and walk another three kilometers to go back home,” Dr. Abucayon says.

The sacrifice paid off, as the young Abucayon graduated salutatorian from elementary school and eventually received a high school scholarship at a private school that his mother wanted him to attend.

HARD WORK PAYS OFF

The fifth child of a brood of seven, the young Abucayon also worked hard at helping his parents augment the family income.

“My weekends were spent helping out in our family’s rice and coconut fields. During Sundays,
my mother would harvest root crops that I would sell in school early Monday morning. I would then buy fish from my earnings in the afternoon to bring home to my family,” Dr. Abucayon shares.

During Sunday, the Abucayon family would hear mass in the morning, and in the afternoon, the siblings would be playing with the neighborhood kids.

“We had to go home by 5 o’clock in time for our 6 o’clock rosary,” Dr. Abucayo says.

It was during playtime on Sundays that the young Abucayon displayed a penchant for teaching.

“I would be playing teacher with my playmates as my students. I would use the heart of the cassava plant as chalk,” Dr. Abucayon reveals.

NO GIVING UP

When he graduated as 4th honorable mention in high school, Dr. Abucayon had high hopes that he would eventually pursue his dream of becoming a teacher. Tragedy, though, struck the family and almost ruined his chances of getting into college.

“My mother died and my father told me that it would be better if I didn’t continue college. I cried so hard that time. I told him, ‘Pa, gusto ko talaga makatapos ng college (Pa, I really want to finish college)’,” the Laki Sa Gatas advocate recalls.

Instead of giving up, though, the young Abucayon prayed hard that help would come along, and indeed it came. His grandmother heard of his predicament and offered the earnings from her rice field to pay for her grandson’s first year college tuition. During weekdays, Dr. Abucayon worked as a waiter in one of Surigao City’s restaurants to earn money for books.

By the time he was in his sophomore year in college, his siblings pitched in to help put him through school. “Two of my brothers were farmers and my sister was a barangay secretary that time. They themselves didn’t pursue college, but they were kind enough to make sure that I finish school,” Dr. Abucayon says.

In March 1993, the young Abucayon graduated cum laude with a degree in Secondary Education. He then went on to finish a master’s degree in Biology Education from Ateneo de Manila University
here in Manila. In 2007, he earned his PhD in Educational Management from St. Paul University in Surigao.

After college, he likewise started pursuing his dream of being a teacher. He taught in high school and college and now works as an associate professor for Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.

His dedication to the teaching profession, meanwhile, had been richly rewarded. In 2006, the education materials he developed won first prize in the National Strategic Intervention Material Competition of the 3rd National Science Fair. He also won the Most Outstanding Science Club Adviser for the Caraga Region.

The following year, Dr. Abucayon was declared by the Metrobank Foundation as one of the country’s most outstanding teachers and likewise received the Outstanding Caragan Achiever Award from the National Economic Development Authority.

“I think my greatest achievement is seeing my students do well in life. I once had a student who experienced difficulty in Physics. After a few years, he went back to visit me and told me that he was already an engineer and told me that had he not found Physics difficult in college, he wouldn’t have worked hard in mastering it,” he says.

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