**1/2 (out of ****)
From the moment she arrives at Malawig, a remote, impoverished village a bus ride from the Philippines bustling capital of Manila, Melinda Santiago realizes she has her work cut out for her. A young and optimistic graduate of Manila's City University whose family wishes her to repatriate to America where the real opportunities are, Melinda is not exactly prepared to meet the many challenges of her new position, that of Elementary School teacher.
These challenges appear in many forms--an unscrupulous principal (Mrs. Pantalan) who sells ice candy to the students simply to stuff her own pockets, a motorcycle-riding "Bombay" (Indian merchant) who charges 10% for cash advances on delayed teacher's paychecks, and aggressively passive parents who believe that only the rich can afford to dream, insisting that their sons and daughters would do better to work the fields or provide domestic help rather than securing an education.
And then, of course, there is the monsoon season, torrential rains that aim to destroy the school's meager supply of schoolbooks, lesson plans, and other dwindling resources.
Melinda goes about her work with daily diligence though, always having a smile, a kind word for her neatly uniformed charges. But her battles against apathy, corruption, and contempt are constant, further hindered by the volatile political climate in which fathers and sons are constantly recruited to join guerilla forces fighting in the mountains.
When a funding opportunity in the form of a regional singing contest presents itself to Melinda, the idealistic teacher must smartly juggle uncooperative school administrators, confrontational parents, and the torn children themselves in order to let their small voices be heard.
Gil M. Portes's simple, sincere "Small Voices" ("Mga Munting Tinig") offers a rare insight into a culture we...