It was a nightmare for all of us. Everything happened so fast that our minds were filled with jumbled thoughts, deep regret, instant concern, and finally, overwhelming sadness. It happened last March 1—a day that I will forever remember as one of the most heartbreaking days of my life. On that day, seven of our students met an accident in Nalapaan, Pikit, North Cotabato. Of the seven, only three survived.
It was a typical day. I went to school at around 8 in the morning, blabbered in front of my class on the concept I am teaching, finished at around 11:30 a.m., and then went home for lunch. Everything seemed perfectly fine. But at 1:09 p.m., I received a call from one of my friends in Midsayap, North Cotabato, saying that there had been an accident involving some student nurses at the boundary of the Aleosan-Pikit road. At first, the call seemed out of place. I was inclined to ignore it because there were no details on the accident and I thought the student nurses were from other schools. But at the mention that they were probably students of our school, a shiver went through me and denial instantly took place.
My friend having confirmed that I was not the clinical instructor supervising the students, and my safety having been assured, she hung up. But within minutes a colleague phoned me and said it was definite that it was our students who were involved in the accident. We immediately prepared to travel to the crash site.
As we journeyed from Cotabato to Pikit, I was still in denial and persistently imagining our students as having only minor bruises. I fervently prayed to God to spare them, even at some point bargaining and offering my life in their stead. But after confirming the sad event at various places (Midsayap, Pikit, up to Kabacan, North Cotabato), it became clear that a tragedy had befallen us.
We went home, disheartened and in shock. And as I lay down on my bed, still shaken, I was filled with memories of my students. I began reminiscing on the days when we became acquainted, when I became their instructor, when we eventually became friends.
They were a good bunch, these student nurses. Individually, each one was unique; as a group, they were excellent—united and having each other’s back. Each would complement another, as if the group would not be complete if one was not around. They were constantly helping one another, and in time they became one of my cherished groups, a favorite group, for I remembered my old group when I was still a student just like them—carefree, outgoing, competent, and coping with ups and downs.
I became personally attached to them when I was assigned to handle their group for a clinical rotation in community exposure. I can still recall how I grumbled upon getting that assignment, saying how much I preferred the hospital setting and insisting that community work would be a nuisance, with the heat, the barking dogs, the general suspicion of outsiders. But on the first day of the four-week exposure, because of their group I quickly took to the setup and looked forward to the days we would spend together.
Every day we endured a 30-minute ride from the school to our adopted community, where I gave them assigned tasks to complete for the requirements in their related learning experience. It was there that I saw each one of them interact with the community folk, established rapport, and built trust. We were quickly accepted by the small community because of my students, who early on took my words to heart: “We are here to help them, even in a short time, in the best way that we can.”
I was amazed by my students’ efforts to reach out to the members of the community—listening to their needs, performing basic nursing care, providing lessons in health and sanitation, etc. When I required each one of them to pick a family to focus on, they chose the families with a greater health problem or risk. When I asked one why she chose a particular family, she beamed and said proudly: “So that I can do much for them, sir!”
It was good to know that there were still student nurses motivated by love for the profession and genuine concern for others, and who were not merely using the course as a stepping stone to flying overseas and earning more money than they would here. Their concern for other people was heartfelt and true.
But what I really enjoyed was their joyful presence. There was a constant cheerfulness in their group; they joked around and laughed wholeheartedly as though they didn’t care if they looked stupid. When a task was assigned they turned serious, but when it came to fun—oh, they had a lot of crazy antics. It was in their community exposure that I became more of their friend and less of their clinical instructor, and I cherish all these memories. I can still see them clearly—the way they demonstrated the correct way of washing hands to grade school kids, the way they instilled the dangers of smoking in high school students, and the way they presented their feeding program for the children of the community, all with a smile on their faces and each one giving their best.
And now all that is gone. The student I was most proud of is now at peace with our Creator.
Since the tragedy, all of us who knew the ones who died and those who survived have been trying to come to terms with our pain and our loss. Each one of us has yet to fathom the event. Each one remembers, but each one is hopeful of eventually moving on. The group I once knew will never be complete again, but these students had become part of my life. My memories of them cannot be taken away from me. Our happy times together will always be remembered.
My students also became my teachers. They taught me as much as I taught them, and I enjoyed the learning I acquired—that work can be accomplished with fun, that an obstacle can be faced with a smile, that a mistake can be corrected with laughter, that a challenge can be made easy with encouragement…
So in the end, in that brief span of time, who taught who?
Kennor Brent John N. Pegarro, RN, 23, is a clinical instructor at Saint Benedict College-ARMM/Southern Philippines College of Sciences and Health Education.