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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Philippines: “If you are not educated, then you have to just sit quietly in the corner”

There is a dark side to life in the Philippines, and its Indigenous Peoples, mainly living on the island of Mindanao, most definitely live in the shadow. As it goes with many Indigenous communities across the planet, they have been squeezed out to the margins of society. They are routinely and illegally pushed from their homes when businesses have an interest in the land. They are largely uneducated; which means they often do not understand their rights and wouldn’t know how to advocate for them even if they did.

This is why college educations for motivated young Indigenous people is such an important part of HOPE International Development Agency’s work in the Philippines. We received a few letters from some of our students and they are full of reminders of the value of this kind of investment. Below is just one of these letters:

My name is Jinefer Serrano. I belong to Bagobo tribe, located at Davao city. I graduated last year with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. Currently I am volunteering as a preschool teacher for children aged three and four.

At the beginning I found the Pamulaan program very challenging. You have to be very serious, really apply yourself, because this is not just like any other school. Pamulaan is not just about academics. It is the process of forming a person – in attitude, in values, in creating a vision of life in the future. It instills in us the value of service, of giving back. Currently I am a teacher in the Matigsalog tribe, a tribe with a culture and language very different from mine. That makes it a challenge to relate my teaching to their lives. But overall I am very happy with my choice.

I consider myself an optimistic person, especially about the future of indigenous people in the Philippines. That is what drove my studies – my belief in the value of education. I wanted to learn my rights so I can fight for them. If you are not educated, then you have to just sit quietly in the corner, because you don’t know what you are entitled to in life. This was the problem in my community. No one knew their rights, or the process for asserting those rights. There is a lot of discrimination against indigenous people in the Philippines, and this is how we can fight back. We can say with confidence: ‘we are educated, so don’t put us down.’

I am already sharing my experiences at Pamulaan with the children I teach. I constantly tell them that we must acquire knowledge. It is only through that education that we can claim our rights to our land, our territories.

The notion of people sitting ‘quietly in the corner’ is one that resonates. This description is not limited to the Philippines’ much-abused Indigenous Peoples. It is a problem that we see in poor communities across the world. People who are very poor and uneducated tend to fatalistically accept their lot in life. Education is one of the things that breaks through this mentality and inspires a lot of hard work and smart investments into things (be it a road for a water drilling crew to travel on, a savings pool with a group of neighbours, or a foundation for a new school in the village) that will pay huge dividends down the road—that will end poverty in one’s family, one’s community. To be a part of this process of motivating poor people — like Jinefer — to seize life with confidence and competence is inspiring.

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