Change, One Classroom at a Time

Children performing during inauguration of Mt. Pulag Klasrum ng Pag-asa at Babalak, Bashoy, Benguet (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

School opened last month in the Philippines, and many school children who live on the highest peak in Luzon, Mt. Pulag, and in Patikul, Sulu, the lair of Abu Sayyaf, and many other small towns in between, will be attending classes in newly constructed, renovated school buildings and classrooms. The facilities come complete with toilets, computers, television, painted facades and walls. All were built with the help of an inspired community that realizes that the old tradition of “bayanihan”still works, and because Angelo Valencia aka “Kuya Pultak”cares.

Kuya Pultak is not your typical community worker. He was a successful corporate lawyer for one of the biggest companies in the Philippines and had proved his ability to make things happen at all levels of his responsibility. 

Angelo Q.Valencia, Esq. aka Kuya Pultak (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

A near-death accident while diving in Tubbataha made him give up high-profile lawyering to become a builder of schools and to help communities empower themselves in many aspects of their daily lives. While Valencia still practices law, a big chunk of his day-to-day life today is all about building schools in far-flung areas in the Philippines.

Using his network of friends and supporters, his own resources and partnering with NGOs such as Ten Moves, Alphabet Warriors, Black Pencil Project, Art Attack Team, Help Portrait project, and U.P. Sigma Rho Fraternity, he helped build around 40 classrooms in a short period of time. Corporate donations from Feedmix Specialist II, Inc., Fisherfarms and AUO and Family greatly helped in meeting the financial requirements of the projects.

While Valencia still practices law, a big chunk of his day-to-day life today is all about building schools in far-flung areas in the Philippines.

What makes his “Klassrum ng Pag-Asa” a unique and welcoming trend is that it costs less than what the national and local governments have spent on comparable structures. The average classroom costs the government more than 600,00 pesos ($14,000); Kuya Pultak's classroom costs on the average 475,000 pesos ($11,000), mainly covered by donations and volunteer work. He partners with local residents, and individual volunteers and organizations to make it happen.

Mayuko Shimakage shows children of Babalak, Bashoy, Benguet how to make origami. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

Some local government officials have reservations about Kuya Pultak's work because it highlights the glaring difference in the delivery of public services. Valencia shows that without the bureaucratic delays common in government projects, communities get to enjoy the benefits of the infrastructures immediately.

In Mt. Pulag, what started out as a two-classroom unit is now a whole complex of buildings providing unprecedented quality education to children. The teachers are no longer volunteers but fully accredited by the Department of Education. 

Some members of the community were also hired as employees of Fisherfarm in Bulacan, one of the major donors of the Mt. Pulag project.’

A young boy In Bashoy, Benguet enjoying the origami he made with Japanese volunteers. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

The renovation of classrooms damaged by a major fire in Barangay Tulay in Jolo, Sulu, became a model for the ongoing partnership between the community in Patikul and members of the Philippine Marines stationed in Sulu. Before the opening of this school year, four classrooms were built and a lasting foundation for peace was also established in the area known for the activities of Abu Sayyaf. 

Kuya Pultak said, “If we want to ensure peace, we have to take care of the Tausug kids of Patikul and show them a better path.” Lt. Col. Antonio “Chuck” Mangoroban of the Philippine Marines, the Hunters for Peace MBLT 6 and the local residents of Patikul made long-term commitments to continue what they started.

Flag-raising ceremony during the inauguration of the new school. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

Valencia is doing this without any hint of ideology. He recognizes that for the country to move forward, there has to be an educated population, especially in areas where there is limited political mileage for self-promoting politicians hungry for credit. 

By partnering with concerned individuals, corporate donors and organizations with like-minded goals, Valencia sweeps all obstacles along the way to make it happen for the children.

Families of Barangay Bashoy receive their Christmas packages. (Photo by Rick Rocamora)

I took every opportunity to take photographs of the Klasrum ng Pag-asa project because I strongly believe that Valencia's work is a great model for concerned Filipinos in the Philippines and overseas. We don't have to wait for our government to act and create change; we ourselves can contribute to nation-building.

If you like to help in Kuya Pultak's efforts to build classrooms, contact him directly at

Rick Rocamora

Rick Rocamora

Rick Rocamora is an award-winning documentary photographer based in Oakland, California whose work has been published by The New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle and other domestic and international publications. He is the author of Filipino WWII Soldiers: America’s Second-Class Veterans. His work has been exhibited in many galleries and museums and is part of the permanent collection of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.