DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/03 July) — When they would have been knee high to the grasshopper, re now in my classroom greeted each other that way – slapping palms front and back then linking hands and laughing.
It was early in November last year that, like a breath of fresh air, Hiyas ng Kadayawan 2011 Bai Rahima Usman and runner-up Bernalin Mambo-o appeared in my classroom and stamped an indelible impression on the psyche of my students.
I was teaching Psychological Research that semester, and as a phenomenological and discursive exercise I wanted my students to interview someone their own age who, by virtue of culture and family upbringing, may have a different view of their generation’s experience of the world. We invited Rahima of the Maranaw Tribe and Bernalin of the Ata-Matigsalogs of the Paquibato District.
What meaning did the Muslim and Lumad youth make of their experience of the world? And can our students – budding psychologists – view such with empathy? Empathy after all is the primary ingredient that makes or breaks one’s future as a psychologist.
Hearing about our event, my colleague Hadji Balajadia dragged along his Filipino Psychology students, so we moved the activity to a bigger venue. Hadji volunteered to traffic the exchange. We were going to do an intercultural dialogue, a tradition at the Ateneo de Davao University through which we try for an open exchange of perspectives, appreciating divergent views and remarking on similarities on the fundamental qualities of the human mind and the human heart.
Rahima and Bernalin graciously accepted my invitation and came to the venue ten minutes earlier than did our students. I could tell that they were excited. They were delighted to see their pageant pictures on the poster we put up to announce the event, remarking that it made them feel like celebrities.
Of course, they are. They are Davao City’s youth ambassadors. And soon they proved to us that they had every right to be.
It was not a difficult task to make Rahima and Bernalin feel comfortable. They got up there in front and charmed my students, confidently sharing their views on family and education, love and courtship, prejudice and discrimination. It was easy to see why they were chosen to be fitting representatives of their tribes to the Kadayawan festivities. They were both well-spoken and self-deprecating, yet not afraid to tell it as they saw it.
The young ladies were soon making the audience laugh with their candid replies. Hadji and I sat back and let them at it. Time flew fast, and at the close of the program, before Rahima and Bernalin disappeared from our classroom that day, our dialogue participants had decided among themselves to engage each other more, connect on Facebook, and do things together to serve our indigenous communities.
And this is how we came to take part in the outreach program of the Hiyas ng Kadayawan 2011 court. Together, we went with these hardworking young ladies to be with residents of indigenous communities – to Upper Kibalang, Paquibato, Times Beach, Waan, Tibungco, and the Almendras Gym. My students got exposed to setting up reception desks and fielding community residents for medical and dental outreach services. They had a wonderful time feeding the school children and doing story-telling sessions, entertaining them with games and contests, coloring books and impromptu sing-and-dance numbers.
The Hiyas outreach was a hit among the Psych kids. We could only allow about a dozen students each outing, but the volunteers would spill over what could fit in the sign-up sheet. Our students worked out among themselves who would get to ride the Army truck that would take us there. Some followed in their own cars to these parts of the city that Ateneo students rarely see.
Soon, even our alumni were in on it, coming home to us on these occasions, telling us that what we were doing for our students held meaning for them beyond the end of their years with us. Indeed, even for the activities that ran during school breaks, our volunteers showed up ready to serve, bringing with them stuff that they had put together from everywhere for the children out there that would be waiting for the Hiyas and her court to come.
In the communities, we got to work with the Deputy Mayors, barangay officials, community health professionals, soldiers, and other stakeholders. We learned to anticipate what service providers needed in order to deliver their services. If the classroom was to prepare our students for community service, going on outreach with the 2011 Hiyas ng Kadayawan court was literally breaking them out of the safe confines of the four walls, making them see how things really were in those communities that they too would someday serve.
Deputy Mayor for the Maranaw Tribe Randy Usman and his beautiful wife, Alma, generously saw to our needs while we were out there, as did Colonel Lysander Suerte of the 1003rd Infantry Division who provided us with transport and road security. The Psych kids can’t forget the boodlefight sessions at the end of every community visit, the Valentine’s Day socials, and the battleship tour, among others. These are experiences that are largely out of the ordinary for them, and thus they were enriched. We went home each time happy and fulfilled.
Needless to say, the partnership with the 2011 Hiyas ng Kadayawan court was a very fruitful engagement for us at the ADDU Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services. It was a venue for us to foster among our students an appreciative understanding of our Lumad and Muslim brothers and sisters. It honed our skills at community research and engagement. It made us see the third world realities of our government service providers and how they labor to get things done. It showed us how we could insinuate ourselves to lend a hand. It gave us the opportunity to really be among our people and to delight in serving their needs.
We lent a hand and came off the collision with that hand firmly clasped in return by the hands of those on the ground. Together, there is so much more these hands could get done.
Truly, working with the 2011 Hiyas ng Kadayawan court made us Men and Women for Others, able to do More and provide our Personal Care. As we should.
Gail Tan Ilagan, PhD heads the Psychology Department and the Center of Psychological Extension and Research Services at the Ateneo de Davao University.