Always look left, right and left again when crossing the street.
A record-level 27.75 million Filipino youth will flock to schools starting Monday, June 3, as classes kick off across the country. Some of them, however, might not even make it to the gates.
For many students, the young ones especially, the daily commute to school can be a tough, sometimes treacherous journey in itself. All year round, their tiny and frail bodies are exposed to the country’s deadly roads, where vehicle collisions are commonplace and the safety of both motorists and pedestrians are constantly at risk.
Jeraya Mykel Ablola, 10, knows this fully well. Twice a day, he and around 7,000 other children from the two campuses of Paranaque Elementary School and the nearby San Dionisio Elementary School share the busy Victor Medina Road in Paranaque City. Like him, most students walk to school or use public transportation, such as jeepneys, tricycles and pedicabs, while some ride the back of motorcycles.
Abola has witnessed how the chaos of vehicles, vendors, children and parents had resulted in near-miss incidents, like when his 86-year-old grandmother almost fell out of a moving jeepney.
Tragic tales like these prompted a collaboration among the schools, advocacy groups, enforcers, educators, barangay officials and parent volunteers to transform an unsafe school zone into a road safety model that other schools in the country could take their cue from.
As road crashes remain the global top killer of the youth, these schools have installed zebra crossings, signages and protected sidewalks, enforced pedestrian safety rules, observed shifts to lessen the volume of students on the road, implemented a one-way vehicle flow during class hours, and put grade schoolers in charge of educating their younger peers to stop, look, and listen.
“Outside the school gates, all dangers are present. The situation is very critical...After class, there’s the bulk of students coming out of three schools, hailing rides at the same time,” Susan Corro, principal of Paranaque Elementary School II, said in Filipino.
Ablola and Corro joined the celebration of the United Nations Road Safety Week led by non-profit organization Safe Kids Worldwide Philippines (SKWP) Philippines last May 20, which involved a walkability audit that sought to assess the safety of the road environment in the schools’ surrounds.
Since 2017, the organization has rolled out safe school zone initiatives in the three Paranaque schools, which were later funded by the local government.
Satellite images taken in 2014 reveal safety features, such as barriers, have been added and improved over the years.
Before 2017, there had been no road signs at all, said SKWP’s Program Officer Amalia Rolloque. The road had been so crammed that it took almost 30 minutes for one to get to the nearby fast food center by car, which is just a few meters away, she recalled.
“There were no crosswalk paintings. If there was, I remember they were faded,” Rolloque added.
Another satellite image taken February 2018 shows a signage barring vehicles from passing through a portion of Victor Medina Road when children are supposed to enter and exit the school’s premises. Education officials say this intervention, along with convincing vendors and tricycle drivers to vacate the sidewalks, were done by barangay officials to make sure students can use them. In recent years, SKWP also identified children who were being brought to school on motorcycles and provided helmets that fit their size.At the event, World Health Organization Philippines’ National Professional Officer John Juliard Go stressed the importance of good leadership for road safety, especially among students, who, as pedestrians, are among the most vulnerable to road crashes.
“Most people who die from road crashes belong to this sector, which most often lacks protection,” Go said of pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
Road traffic injuries are the leading cause of death for children and young adults aged five to 29 years, according to the 2018 Global Status Report on Road Safety. The report also revealed that more people die from road crashes than from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and diarrheal diseases.
While the Philippines has a record of strong road safety legislation, such as the recently-passed law requiring child car seats and a law that bans children on motorcycles, among others, advocates, including the SKWP, have been calling for stricter enforcement of these laws.
Meanwhile, the UN notes that “strong leadership for road safety” is needed at national and local levels to attain road safety targets, such as halving the number of road traffic deaths and injuries by 2030.
“Leadership is not only for those who hold positions in government. All of us can be leaders,” Go told grade schoolers in Filipino.
“When we are role models in following (traffic safety) laws, that’s an example of being a leader in society, a leader for road safety,” he added.
Beyond enforcement and engineering interventions, creative approaches in teaching road safety to students were also adopted by the schools. Aside from integrating road safety lessons in social science subjects, students, teachers and parents participate in seminars, advocacy campaigns and practical drills, such as simulations of proper road crossing.
“There needs to be willingness from leaders, teachers and of course, parents, so we could achieve our road safety targets. Road safety is not attainable overnight. There needs to be willingness, planning and education. Education is really number one,” said school principal Corro.
In all three schools, select students are designated as “young road safety advocates,” whose task is to teach younger students from the third grade and below the importance of safe behavior on the road.Ablola, who will be in grade four by Monday, is one of them. At the May 20 event, they were asked to write their demands from the government to make their walking environment safer while walking to and from school.
Inside a speech bubble printed on a white placard, he wrote: “I demand for politicians to prioritize the road safetyness [sic].”
On why he wrote this, the 10-year-old said in Filipino: “Because some politicians don’t prioritize road safety.”
“They are always after criminals, always [focusing on] crimes. It’s so important because without road safety…more children might die on the roads,” he said.