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Top students in Phillipine mining village awarded real gold medals

Bright students from other villages transfer schools for chance to compete for valuable prize

Students in a Philippine gold mining village strike gold every time they graduate at the top of their class — literally.Robec June Calunia, a 12-year-old valedictorian of Mount Diwata Elementary School, was among 10 students who received a 10-gram gold medal last Friday.

Francisco Tito, leader of southern Diwalwal village who came up with the idea, said the aim is to encourage students — children of small-scale gold miners — to excel in school. Mountainous Diwalwal is home to 40,000 settlers, most of them miners. Tito said he thought of the program six years ago when he saw an impoverished mother weeping after unsuccessfully trying to pawn her sick child’s fake gold-painted school medal.

Since 2003, village leaders have solicited gold contributions from miners for 10 medals a year. It costs US$263 to produce each of the 16-karat medals. They go to the top honour students in grades one through six at the 1,200-pupil elementary school and to students in the first through fourth years at the 750-student high school. The two are the only public schools in the village, while the rest are privately run.

“The students are inspired. In fact, the competition has become stiff because some parents from nearby villages with bright kids now send their children to school in Diwalwal,” Tito said.

It was the fifth gold medal for Calunia, a consistent top honour except for one year, he said.

A bodyguard-turned-miner, Tito described his forays into makeshift mining tunnels that dot Mount Diwata, about 930 kilometres southeast of Manila. He said it is like “entering the mouth of a crocodile” where the miner “gets a 50-50 chance of dying” — each time hoping to hit the jackpot with a big gold find. He said even those who make some money on gold do not have the skills to make their small wealth grow, and accidents are common. Three years ago, 12 miners died when a tunnel caved in.

“So we are really striving to educate our children, because education is something they can hold on to,” he said. “We have seen that education is more important than gold.”

-with a report from CP 

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