STRIKE HOME| School borrows page from the Lord’s book with good results

LONG before President Duterte preached the need for change, the cash-strapped Southern Christian College in Midsayap, Cotabato decided change was long overdue.

Spotting an empty piece of wooded land that literally teemed with snakes, Dr. Edwin T. Balaki decided he knew exactly what to do when he assumed as school president in 2012.

“It’s a page borrowed from the book of the Lord who was the first agriculturist,” he said, recalling the time he asked the board to authorize him to set up a poultry farm.

No one believed it could be done at first but when the poultry farm’s first 5,000 layers were laying eggs with regularity, school officials conceded they had stumbled on the key on how to keep their school afloat.

The school established in 1949 had only more than 2,000 enrolees when he assumed. It was struggling to keep its finances intact. Most of the buildings needed repairs and the school ground itself was partly flooded most times of the year.

But Balaki, a trained agriculturist and plant scientist, discovered the school owns sizeable landholding, including a six-hectare lot that was partly planted to hard wood. He lost no time convincing the school’s board to invest in a poultry farm and a commercial feed-producing facility.

The idea clicked and soon 2,500 layers were added to the poultry farm which now supplies part of the town’s needs.

The school’s version of a “garden of Eden” inside its eco-farm is a community favourite that also earns additional income.

One idea led to another. Two wells dug within the farm led to the production of mineral water both for the school and the community. Bottled calamansi juice from the school’s lemon orchard also proved an asset.

As income increased, Balaki shifted to modernizing the school buildings. One eye-catcher is the 5,000-seater modern civic center complete with offices on the sides that is a sharp contrast to the wooden structure it was in the past.

All classrooms were provided with overhead projectors as teachers were required to teach with a lap-top.

The tree houses strapped to centuries-old acacia trees in the campus were linked to Wi-Fi to the delight of students.

The water-logged campus now features a well-drained, spruced-up school ground with an added collection of modern classrooms to boot.

School officials now claim the college has become competitive in most courses. Balaki made sure that several courses including theology should incorporate a few units in agriculture.

Agriculture is taught hands-on with students required to feed the layers, to fertilize the plants, to prune the flowers and to plant and to harvest the plants.

“You can say this is a self-sustaining ministry,” said Dr. Balaki who heads the school’s 234-strong faculty.

Balaki was a former senior corporate scientist of Dole-Philippines and underwent specialized training on plants abroad.

To ensure operation is not interrupted in a region beset by brown-outs, the school also purchased a 300 KVA generator to augment power.

Culled hardwood trees from the school’s tree farm provided the school the materials it needed to churn out tables for its offices, function rooms and facilities.

With an increase in population, Dr. Balaki said the school can easily qualify for university status. The community is also beginning to take notice. From an enrolment of 2,681 students in 2012, it surged to 4,718 students for the current school year. In preparation for university status, the school has required its faculty members to finish their masters and doctorate degrees on a scholarship basis.

The school’s unique mix of courses included accountancy and business management, education, hotel and restaurant management, social work, theology and agriculture among other courses.

Balaki said change has indeed come for a school that used to be spurned in the past with its productive farm providing the difference. (JKL)

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