EVERY year, we read of young ones who have triumphed in the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) examination despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Not to be forgotten are the hard-working pupils of Cumaca RC Primary School and the self-sacrificing teachers and principal who have persevered alongside them.
Last weekend the Express made the long and winding trip along dilapidated roads to the village of Cumaca to visit Francis Paponette.
At just 13 years old, Francis has been hailed as the young boy who has put Cumaca on the map. Like the rest of the village, Francis and his family live without electricity and pipe-borne water and Internet access. His family and others use water from the springs for drinking, cooking and bathing. For electricity they use generators and gas lamps.
For the past seven years, Francis has walked the six-kilometre journey, about an hour's walk to and from school every day, oftentimes becoming drenched by early-morning showers and encountering venomous snakes along the way.
By nature, he is shy and not very talkative, but lately he has been wearing a special smile and that's because come September, Francis will start attending the school of his first choice — St Mary's College (CIC) in Port of Spain.
The academic success of her son and his peers is enough evidence, said his mother Louise Paponette, that anyone can be successful regardless of their circumstances.
Paponette and her husband Theodore have put forth every effort necessary to make sure their children are successful at school. As such they have formed a close relationship with Francis's teacher, Michael Baptiste.
"As teachers, we don't view what we do as a job, we're dealing with lives here and we take that very seriously," explained Baptiste, who teaches Standards Four and Five at Cumaca RC Primary School.
"The school has no security officer, so Francis assumed the duty of opening and closing the school when the cleaner was not around. If there is any problem Francis was there willingly to help: picking oranges, maintaining the school's solar system, setting up the projector and computer for lessons, assisting me with car issues, electrical work, whatever it was Francis was there,"said Baptiste.
Cumaca can be found behind Valencia, tucked deep within the Northern Range. Anyone who has been there can truly understand the difficulties the villagers face when traversing the only road in and out of Cumaca which is especially difficult to access and resembles an obstacle course.
It can get impassable in the aftermath of heavy showers.
Because of transportation horrors many pupils often miss school. Their only other option, Valencia RC Primary School, is packed to capacity and cannot accommodate more pupils, explained Baptiste.
Cumaca RC Primary School can be found 14 kms along the Cumaca Road - and it's the only school using solar power. When the solar source is limited, the school is powered by a small gas generator. When that fails, Baptiste's car, connected to an inverter, is used. Yet, the school this year received a 100 per cent pass rate.
Last Sunday carried special significance for the community as the school celebrated its 66th anniversary with its first bilingual thanksgiving mass and graduation ceremony. At the ceremony Chilean Ambassador Patricio Pradel Elgueta gifted the children Spanish dictionaries.The big day brought together past principals and teachers of the school and lecturers from the University of Trinidad and Tobago.
Despite the inconveniences the villagers live with, they do not wear the trials on their faces. Instead they are upbeat, warm, hospitable and have a fierce loyalty and pride in their community. Cumaca also boasts some of the best views of the Northern Range.
"I like how Cumaca is quiet and the people are always so kind and helpful," said Francis quietly.
Francis loves reading books about adventures and not surprisingly he views his life as an adventure. He hunts and goes fishing with his uncles and godfather. So the extra effort it will take for him to get to school when the new school term opens will be just another adventure for him. Leaving his home and family in Cumaca just to be closer to his new school is not an option. So he is already determined to get up at four in the mornings to leave home by five with his father. He hopes to get back home in time to do his studies before it gets dark.
Francis knows exactly what he wants to become - a petroleum engineer.
Cumaca is where their hearts lie and while more challenges lay ahead for Francis, his mother is optimistic that he would get through them. But on behalf of the community she has a few requests.
"We all grew up here, it's peaceful and there is no crime so we could leave the doors and windows wide open. Everyone looks out for each other. But we need electricity and pipe-borne water because we are humans like everyone else. The roads also need maintaining. They were once maintained, but not any more," she said.
Because of the poor roads and transportation woes, the school has over the years struggled with a dwindling attendance, when school reopens there will be only 13 pupils.
There are unconfirmed rumours that the school's doors may eventually be closed for good. But Baptiste and the community want to see the school stay open and thrive. It is the only hub for activities in the community.
But for the sake of the pupils who want to go to school and for the community, Baptiste is imploring the Sangre Grande Regional Corporation and Ministry of Works and Infrastructure to fix the only road they use.
Anyone wishing to assist in providing school and stationery supplies for Francis and his peers can contact Louise Paponette at 354-9875.