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Jul 10th
Home Sections MiscellaNEWS Willie Dechavez Wins the First-ever “BalikTeacher” Award
Willie Dechavez Wins the First-ever “BalikTeacher” Award PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 17 November 2007 02:40

This writer-editor and the are launching the so-called “BalikTeacher” Award (BTA). The award consists of an all-expense-paid trip for three weeks to the home province of a Filipino-American teacher who is chosen by the project proponents. It will not be a mere trip; it will be more of a mission to establish or reestablish the shared cultural bridges and linkages between the peoples of the Philippines and the United States. The proponents will approach and persuade Filipino-American provincial or town community organizations to help in raising the resources to undertake the mission. Several private and public entities in the Philippine province so chosen as the destination will also be requested to render assistance and full cooperation.


The first Filipino-American educator chosen is Willie Dechavez. He is a resource teacher for Detroit’s public-school system. Mr. Dechavez is a very-active community leader.

Editor's Notes: Willie D. Dechavez has served as the Executive Director of NaFFAA Midwest Convention 2003, Vice-Chair of the Filipino-American Community Council (FILAMCCO) board member of Philippine-American Community Center of Michigan (PACCM), and Executive Director of the Filipino-American Political Association of Michigan (FAPAM).He is an active cultural chairperson of the Council of Asia Pacific Americans ( CAPA) in Michigan.

He holds government-appointed positions: past Macomb County Historical Commissioner, former member of the Board of Directors of the Cornerstone Development Authority, City of Southfield; the current chairperson of the Ethnic Community Issues Committee, City of Sterling Heights. He was appointed three years ago by Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm as a member of the Advisory Council for Asian-American Pacific Affairs.

Willie received the 2002 Banaag Presidential Award for Filipinos Overseas, 2002 Governor Service Award, 2001 Macomb County Volunteer of the Year Award, 1997 Fulbright Teacher Japan Travel, 2001 Michigan Teacher of the Year -Finalist, and the Marygrove College Professional Teacher Award. He also received the 2005 MetLife Foundation Ambassador in Education Award and was the 2005 Diversity Champion awardee.

Willie is an educator with the Detroit Public Schools. He earned a Masters Degree in Special Education and an Educational Specialist Degree in School Administration from Wayne State University. He is married to Winifred and blessed with an only child, Jacqueline.

Mr. Dechavez will make his trip, nay, mission to Sorsogon Province in July 2008. This writer also hails from Sorsogon Province and in fact maintains his legal residence in Sorsogon City. Mr. Dechavez’s itinerary will be announced in due time.

Depending on the resources raised, the project proponents and their supporters and corporate sponsors may also plan for the sending of more Filipino-American teachers on a “sentimental journey” to their respective home provinces in the Philippines. More details will be published in this online magazine.

Here is a description of Mr. Dechavez’s mission and items in the agenda, the results of which will be published in a book or booklet format, aside from being posted online.

* * * * *

A Trip to Sorsogon, Philippines: A Look Back in Time, a Search for History and the Fulfillment of a Shared Heritage
By Willie Dechavez, as developed jointly with Bobby M. Reyes

As the first-ever recipient of the “BalikTeacher” Award (BTA), I plan to make an educational trip back to my home province of Sorsogon in the Philippines. Sorsogon is the southern tip of the main island of Luzon in the Philippine archipelago. The BTA is a brainchild of Bobby Reyes and it will be promoted by the in cooperation with some of its corporate sponsors and perhaps with provincial or town associations of Sorsoguenos in the United States.
It is said that life is a continuous process of educating oneself. A teacher like me educates not only himself and his kin but also his students, his fellow educators and the community at large. While growing up in the hometown of Bacon in Sorsogon Province, I took for granted the contributions that Spain and the United States added to the making of the Filipino heritage. It was only when I became a public-school teacher in Michigan that I realized the importance of the Hispanic and American roles in the history and heritage of the Philippines and in particular, the province where I came from.
To go back to where I spent the childhood will be like entering a time machine. The proposed trip will be undertaken from an American educator’s perspectives. It should enable not only my family, especially my teenage daughter, and me but also my students to have a second look at a world that is getting proverbially smaller every day because of the Internet, interdependence and international travel.

The mission to Sorsogon Province will enable me to meet with fellow public-school teachers, so that we can learn from each other’s experiences. Perhaps if properly scheduled, I can devote several days to actually witnessing elementary classes in action. We can do a dialogue in form of a symposium that can be aired by a local radio station, so as to enable other teachers in the different towns to listen and participate in a form of a workshop.

Spanish-built Churches

The first thing that I plan to do is to take photographs of the Spanish-built Catholic churches and houses not only in my hometown of Bacon but also in some neighboring towns in Sorsogon Province. The Spaniards built many churches in the province, the biggest of which was constructed in Barcelona town, which is the only one named after the great Iberian city of Barcelona in the Philippines.
The United States and the American people are becoming bilingual. The Hispanic Americans will soon become the biggest single ethnic group in the country. Documenting the Spanish in me and the heritage will enable me (and my Spanish surname) to reach out more to the Latino-American students in the Detroit public-school system. Possessing a shared heritage should improve the rapport between our students who have a common Spanish denominator or cultural DNA.

Endangered Monitor Lizard

I will go to the hinterland of Bacon town—near the provincial boundary of Albay—to look for a monitor lizard that has been declared way back in the 1980s as an endangered species. The monitor lizards, known locally as “layagan,” live in tree canopies and they are classified as fruitarian, as they live on fruits and small insects. They are endangered because of the illegal logging that is still going on. I am sure that the students and the other pupils in our school district will be thrilled to know of the efforts in saving the “layagan.”

The Magallanes Expedition

Then I will spend time in Magallanes town in Sorsogon Province to look for the ruins of the Spanish shipyard and other Hispanic relics. It is one of only two towns in the Philippines that were named after Fernando de Magallanes (Ferdinand Magellan), whose expedition was the first to circumnavigate the world from 1519 to 1521. Come to think of it, my students should have a head start in preparing for the historical event in this century. The world will celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Magallanes-led expedition and the commemoration is only 12 years from now when mankind will begin to retrace the epic voyage that resulted in the naming of the world’s biggest ocean, in naming the Rio de Janeiro Bay in Brazil, the Magellan Strait between Argentina and Chile, among other historical firsts. Magallanes town in Sorsogon Province lies at the beginning of the San Bernardino Strait where Magellan and his crew crossed in March 1521 on their way to making their first landing in Samar Island of what would become the Philippine Islands. They came from Guam, which was the first island they saw after the crossed the ocean that Magellan named the “Pacific.”

The Scene of the Biggest Naval Battle in History

And I intend to take photographs and video of the San Bernardino Strait, which lies between Sorsogon and the Island of Samar. It was part of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. The Battle of Leyte Gulf was actually the biggest naval engagement in World War II. I can just imagine the looks of the students in Michigan when we view the video shots that will be produced during the Douglas McArthur-like “sentimental visit” to the Philippines.

American Educators

Then I plan to visit the Sorsogon National High School in Sorsogon City, the provincial capital. The American colonial authorities actually established the high school as part of their founding of a public-school system in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. I plan to get the names of the American teachers, the so-called “Thomasites,” who were the very first educators assigned at the high school in Sorsogon. By the way, they were named “Thomasites,” as the first batch of American teachers landed in the port of Manila in 1902 on board the USS Thomas. Then when I go back, I plan to encourage the students to do an online search in looking for the scions and descendants of these American teachers who taught the ancestors how to speak English and the history of the United States and of course, the Philippines.
Would not the people of Sorsogon Province be thrilled to know that one of their descendants is now teaching students in Michigan not only how to improve their proficiency in English but their outlook of life in the universe?

A Mission for the Black-American Heritage

I will also research on the Black-American soldiers who fought in the Philippines from 1899 to 1901 and during World War II. America sent to the Philippines more-than 6,000 Buffalo soldiers during the Filipino-American War that started in 1899. Some 1,200 of these Black-American soldiers decided to stay in the Philippines and get married to Filipino women after peace was declared on July 4, 1902, by then President Teddy Roosevelt. The United States Army also sent in a division of predominantly Black-American soldiers during the campaign to liberate the Philippines from the Japanese invaders in 1944-1945. There are anecdotal sources that say that some of these Black-American soldiers settled in the Province of Sorsogon. The proposed trip, therefore, will be a mission to look for the descendants of these brave Black-American warriors who fought from the Civil War to the Indian Wars and then in the Philippines.

The Taft Centennial

The search for American teachers and civil servants in Sorsogon Province will make a lot of sense not only to the school district in Michigan but also perhaps to the entire United States. The establishment of a public school system in the Philippines was started in 1901 by William Howard Taft, the first American civil governor general in the Philippines. And by coincidence of coincidences, the centennial of William Howard Taft’s presidency will come in 2009, just a year after from the projected trip. I will be able to add more documentary evidence of Mr. Taft’s leadership in putting into action America’s benevolence, passion for education and development of the human resources.

The Hawaiian Golden Anniversary

There will be another task that I hope to do in the “sentimental visit” to the place where I was born and spent the early days. I will look for the descendants of any Sorsoganon who migrated to the Hawaiian Islands. Filipinos farm workers started arriving in Hawaii in December 1906 and some of them probably came from Sorsogon Province. The Filipinos in Hawaii now account for some 16% of the state population. Hawaii will celebrate its golden anniversary as a State of the American Union in 2009. The search, therefore, for the family or families whose son(s) might have migrated to Hawaii would add an additional purpose—from the historical angle—to the trip.

The Whale Sharks

Capping the “sentimental visit” is doing a life-long wish that I was never able to accomplish because I migrated to the United States. In the town of Donsol in Sorsogon Province is the playground of the whale sharks, which are actually the biggest fishes in the world. By quirks of geography, Donsol is the closest point at the mouth of Sorsogon Bay where the Pacific Ocean meets with the China Sea. It is where San Bernardino Strait begins. This is probably the reason the whale sharks or “butanding,” as they are locally known, spend lots of time feeding and gathering strength in the waters off Donsol, as they prepare to navigate the Pacific Ocean. Diving with the docile and very-meek whale sharks and taking video shots of them will really captivate the students, fellow teachers and friends in Michigan. Not only will I be able to conclude the trip by getting the feet wet in the issue of global warming and the rising sea level but also promote the need to protect the environment.

To view a YouTube video of whale sharks in this web site, please click on this link


Yes, the three-week trip to Sorsogon, Philippines, will actually amount to more-than a lifelong learning. It is a life-touching adventure of an experience. It will actually be a look back in time—to the era of Magellan, Admiral Nimitz, General McArthur, William Howard Taft, the American teachers and Filipino immigrants to Hawaii and beyond. It is actually a search for Filipino-American history and the fulfillment of a shared heritage with the Hispanic people, the Black-American community and the multiethnic Filipino and American societies. It will be THE once-in-a-lifetime adventure and venture for the future generations of Michigan and Sorsogon students. # # #

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Last Updated on Monday, 19 November 2007 15:20
Comments (2)
1 Monday, 15 June 2009 07:11
Hello! I am so proud of you. I myself is a teacher too from Louisiana. I arrived here last july 2008. I hope to be like you someday
2 Saturday, 12 June 2010 07:51
hi mr.willie dechavez may i ask if you know marilyn japone decahez?i'm looking for her....ages already,searching....

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