SARANGANI (MindaNews/23 September) — In November 2010, we were happily trekking the trails of Barangay Pag-asa, Alabel, Sarangani on our way to conduct a youth mentoring activity among the first-year students of the newly established integrated school in New Canaan.
After an hour of walking, heavy rains fell. We immediately untied the large cellophane we used to cover our bags and wore it as raincoats. Truly, Filipinos are resourceful. Unmindful of the dangers of the river, we continued our journey.
At the start, we were merrily counting the times we crossed the river but after a while we shifted focus. Our primary attention was drawn to holding tightly each other’s arms because the current had become stronger.
While braving the current, I sadly imagined those little indigenous children crossing rivers every day in order to be in school. How could they attend school during rainy days? No wonder, there is high absenteeism rate among them which often leads to dropping out from school.
After five hours of walking, we reached New Canaan Integrated School. The female teachers immediately gave us towels and served us coffee while the male teachers prepared dinner. The inspiring stories of the dedicated teachers—the heroes of the school—made the dinner both mouth-watering and eye-watering. It was good that only the oil lamp glowed on the table or else the tears falling on our plates would have been obvious.
As soon as dusk had settled, I noticed the community members arriving. Some had native chicken, some brought bananas, and others offered sweet potatoes and vegetables. The warm welcome from the community members replaced our exhaustion with delight. The next day, my colleagues Jove and Blessy conducted youth mentoring among the first batch of first-year students in the newly-established integrated school. The students were very dear in our hearts because they had personally vowed to finish college education and to bring honor to their tribe despite all odds. In 2009, they were given a three-day exposure tour in General Santos City and Sarangani Capitol.
The educational tour, tagged “Making Little Dreams Possible,” was a life-changing experience for them. It was their first time to descend from the mountains, see the city with their own eyes, ride a bus, enter a mall, a fishport, an airport, some universities, a power plant, a radio station. It was also a first for them to watch a movie and interact with non-ethnic groups. Thanks to Ms. Cecile Dominguez, who was then the prime mover of QUEST (Quality Education for Sarangani Today), for sponsoring the tour.
While youth mentoring was conducted in a room, I met the parents in another room. I couldn’t hold my tears. I couldn’t stop my voice from breaking. As a member of the indigenous people—I am a pure B’laan—my heart bled in realizing how marginalized we are. While other tribes may be enjoying basic social services, it is still a daydream for many of our indigenous communities. This heartbreaking reality constantly fuels me, makes me stronger despite all the challenges faced today by those who want education reforms.
I still don’t know where I got the confidence that day to have said to the parents, “I do not know where we’ll get the funds yet. But I promise that on my next visit, a ‘class-dorm’ will be constructed for your children.” I am so glad that after 10 months, a beautiful
two-story building was built inside the school premises. The first floor serves as a classroom while the second floor is a dormitory.
Twelve months later, another “class-dorm” was built in Sofan Elementary School, also in the interiors of Alabel. To date, eight
additional “class-dorms” have been constructed in remote and strategic upland communities. I suppose the impetus for all this came from the lessons inculcated to us by Sarangani Gov. Migs Dominguez, who has constantly pushed us to have an abundant mindset. This mindset has been our key to resource mobilization which has led to the opening of more schools, hiring of more teachers, building more classrooms and other education interventions. Truly, there is no better way for my fellow Lumad to get out from extreme poverty, except by having real access to basic education.
As a member of the indigenous community, I am offended at seeing my fellow Lumad being made to assist during elections, even if they get paid. They are exploited simply because they do not know how to read and write. I am dismayed by the fact that we are constantly discriminated upon and considered as low-class citizens. This is enough motivation for me to never tire of helping my tribe. I know that I still have many mountains to climb, many rivers to cross, and many trails to trek. But if all this will serve as a beacon of hope to the indigenous nation, then this is my lifetime trek.
(Batang Mindanaw is the youth section of MindaNews. You may send your article, essay, feature, poem, photograph to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Annalie Edday, 24, manages the QUEST program at Sarangani Province. She has travelled extensively, and was awarded one of the Top Young Filipino Leaders in 2011 by Asia Society.)