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A Class of its Own

by Siegfred Valmones

Excitement enlivened the morning of March 17, 2008. Tani Ramirez couldn't contain her happiness as she watched her daughter rehearse for the graduation march. She shared her anticipation with other parents and visitors who were also awaiting for the ceremonies to begin.

“I am very happy today as this momentous occasion signals the beginning of a brighter future for our community,” Tani said.

Tani's daughter was one of ALCADEV's alternative high school education program first batch of graduates--10 boys and nine girls from different indigenous people's communities in Caraga region in Southern Philippines. ALCADEV or Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development has been providing alternative education to indigenous youth, mostly from the Manobo, Banwaon, Hiagonon, Talaandig and Mamanwa tribes, since its establishment in July 2004. ALCADEV was born out of the joint efforts of different non-government and indigenous people's organizations in Caraga such as MAPASU, KALUNASS, KASALU, TRIFPSS-NGO and SILDAP-SIDLAKAN.

A traditional ritual officiated by Datu Tayadan, chieftain of 15 communities in Lianga town where ALCADEV School is located, opened the graduation ceremonies. In his message, he said that getting an education relevant to their culture and needs has been a century-old aspiration of the indigenous peoples of Eastern Mindanao. For Datu Tayadan, ALCADEV's establishment is the realization of this aspiration.

Learning and beyond

ALCADEV's goal is to equip indigenous youth with relevant knowledge, skills and values for them to be able to improve the quality of life in their communities. To achieve this, ALCADEV designed a specialized curriculum focused on agriculture, livelihood and community development. Unlike ordinary schools, ALCADEV treats subjects like Math, English and Filipino as minor subjects. Instead, the instructors give more emphasis in Agriculture, Science, Technology and Home Economics, History, and Values Education.

For each year level, ALCADEV's program focuses on a core skill in agriculture. An introductory course, Farm Management is taught to first year students. Knowledge and skills in animal husbandry are enhanced in the students' second year. They get to know more about organic fertilizers and pesticide-making during their third year. For their practicum in the last year in high school, students can choose to be literacy and numeracy teachers or community health care organizers, or as community para-agriculturists.

The students practice what they learn from their classes in ALCADEV School's farm laboratories. Students are grouped by year, and each group is entrusted with a farm area to tend, cultivate and develop. Students devote 14 hours a week to farm work. To assess the progress and to further hone skills, facilitators, together with the students, evaluate the work done for the week. The farm produce is used for the school community's consumption. Revenues from the sale of the products made in the livelihood subjects help students to raise funds for their school expenses.

During summer break, Anyangan Sumisilat Student Organization, an independent group formed by the students themselves, plans for community work. Students help their families and elders cultivate farm lands in their communities and raise poultry and livestock using the knowledge they learned from school. With the help of the community leaders, the school can monitor the progress. Successes in community work are shared when classes resume.

Initial attempts to change the old farming practice of the people in the students' communities proved to be very difficult. Roel Neniel, one of the first batch of graduates, had an argument with his father over the burning of weeds that had been removed from the soil. Roel argued that the weeds can still be used in mulching, a process in land preparation to prevent soil erosion. The father was only convinced when he saw that Roel's method, learned from school, proved effective.

Paving the way

ALCADEV's effort is greatly appreciated and recognized even by the local government amidst the dismal situation of education in the Agusan and Surigao provinces.

“I am proud that this very important program has been initiated in our municipality because I know education is essential for development. I also appreciate the people behind the program. I’m so much aware of the needs of our constituents especially the indigenous people. Unfortunately, the income of this municipality, a fourth-class municipality, is not enough. I urge ALCADEV to continue this effort and replicate their programs in other indigenous communities in the province or even in the region,” Lianga Mayor Vicente Pedroso said in his message to the graduates.

ALCADEV's feat brings a ray of hope on the deplorable situation of the indigenous peoples in Caraga. Indigenous people's population in the region is around 875,000, or 7.4 percent of the total population of indigenous people in the country. While official statistics show that CARAGA is one of the poorest regions in the country, with 53 to 60 percent of the population living below poverty line, data from government agencies are not disaggregated to reflect economic profile of indigenous people. One can only assume that they belong to the poorest of the poor, Atty. Domingo Pareja, Regional Director, National Commission on Indigenous People (NCIP) of the Regional Consultation on Poverty Reduction said.

A study done in 2007 by a research institute in Butuan City showed that only 30 percent of the region's first graders were indigenous children and 9.7 percent of the sixth graders were indigenous youth. In contrast, only 0.3% of first year high school enrollees were from indigenous communities. Studies also showed that poor students were usually the ones dropping out of school. What this information implies but fails to emphasize is that it is the children of indigenous peoples that are most disadvantaged as far as access to education goes.

Empowering the youth

ALCADEV Director Marife B. Magbanua, in her opening remarks, said that through education, like any other Filipinos, the indigenous people are being developed into effective leaders and productive members of their communities. They are able to improve their socioeconomic status to competently deal with the challenges of today and the future.

“Slowly, by developing the capabilities of the succeeding generations who can contribute to the improvement of farming technology among indigenous people, the students will be able to support the enhancement of economic opportunities in the localities,” MAPASU chairperson Jalandoni Campos said.

The education provided by ALCADEV not only improved lives of individual students, but also the capacity of communities to address the problem of poverty as a whole. At present, most of the graduates are employed by TRIFPSS and ALCADEV as community teachers and farm assistants. Some are back in their communities where they are helping the community leaders in planning and implementing community development projects.

New World Philippine Program coordinator Pascal van Driessche, in his message during the graduation rites, said he was very happy to see the commitment of the young graduates. He also appreciated the ALCADEV's strategy in encouraging the youth to serve their community. Through the efforts of non-government and people's organizations, with the cooperation of the local government, Mr. Van Driessche felt confident that there is a bright future for the indigenous people in Caraga. New World, in partnership with ALCADEV, is currently implementing its Food Security Program in 37 indigenous people's communities in Caraga, of which 15 is being implemented in the 2008-2010 program.

“The knowledge and skills that I have acquired in this school increased my capabilities in helping our community progress. I am committing myself in leading in efforts to improve lives in our community,” ALCADEV graduate Romielyn Enggayas said.

Every year, ALCADEV is seeking ways of improving their methods, programs and curriculum. In the future, they are looking forward to organizing their alumni and providing them a venue for sharing their experiences in community development.

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