Teaching beyond borders: The travails of volunteer teachers in Lumad schools

Oct. 06, 2018

Lumad pupils from the Salugpongan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Community Learning Center Inc at the UCCP Haran evacuation center in Davao City focus on their lessons. (davaotoday.com file photo)

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — The global observance of World Teacher’s Day highlights the heroism of teachers. While the occasion is celebratory, it also provides an opportunity to discuss the issues experienced by teachers and how they played a crucial role in the development of Lumad students and society, in general.

The case of volunteer teachers for the Lumad children in Mindanao, however, showed a different narrative—a tale of experience weaved from suffering, and harassments while on the forefront of giving free educational service to the indigenous people in the Mindanao’s hinterlands.

Members of the association of Community Educators (ACE) said that when President Rodrigo Duterte implemented Martial Law in Mindanao, Lumad schools in Mindanao became the subject of attacks in Mindanao after being tagged as a breeding school of communist rebels.

The military and other government agencies ganged up against these Lumad schools managed and operated by non-governmental organizations. Later, the threat of closures became real.

But the attacks against Lumad schools did not stop after the closure. It targetted volunteer teachers as well in a bid to malign and red-tagged these teachers as supporters of the underground movement.

Save our Schools Network (SOS- SMR) data showed that when Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao, the affected Lumad schools has reached 134 from July 2016 to April 2018. Some 56 Lumad schools were “forcibly closed due to a massive military presence in communities.”

SOS-SMR spokesperson Meg Monteverde said that around 2,209 students were affected by these closures. They also have documented 30 cases of the military encampment and 19 cases of destruction of school properties.

“On top of these cases, 15 teachers faced a different kind of charges as they were tagged as NPA members or supporters,” said Monteverde.

Teacher Jocelyn Zamora, a volunteer teacher in her community in Cogonon, Trento Agusan del Sur, was interrogated by soldiers of 25th Infantry Battalion.

She was being forced to admit that teachers were supporters of NPA and that Mindanao Interfaith Services Foundation, Inc., the NGO managing the Lumad school was a training ground for children to use arms against the government.

Her name, Zamora said, was included in the military’s list of NPA supporters, a claim she categorically denied.

Zamora is among with the 2,460 documented individuals who was “forced to surrender,” according to SOS-SMR.

“As a lumad teacher, I only want to see my student learn things like reading and writing. But as I strive hard to teach my students, I have been forced by the military to surrender because they believed that I am a supporter of the New People’s Army. I am neither an NPA supporter nor a terrorist” said Zamora.

Commitment to serve

For their years of service, they have been teaching different indigenous peoples communities all over Mindanao. Many of them were licensed professional teachers, but they opted to teach indigenous people.

These teachers are volunteers for Salugpongan Ta’ Tano Igkanogon Learning Center (STTILC) and Mindanano Interfaith Services Foundation Inc. (MISFI).

They crossed rivers, climbed mountains on foot and walk for hours and days just to teach Lumad children. They have been teaching under a big tree, in the fields, or in a Datu’s house, rain or shine.

Teacher Karl Tristan Butalid, 20, is a fresh graduate of Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology from the University of the Philippines-Mindanao, now teaching Grade 7 to 10 in one of the Salugpongan schools in Compostela Valley province.

His young professional year has been devoted to teaching young Lumad children affected by Typhoon Pablo in 2012.

Karl Tristan Butalid, University of the Philippines Mindanao alumnus, is currently teaching Grade 7 to 10 students in one of the Salugpongan schools in Compostela Valley province. (Kath M. Cortez/davaotoday.com)

He started his volunteer work just this year but he said, he “felt contented and proud” to see Lumad children learn basic education.

“I am not a Lumad but I have a heart for Lumads. For how many years, they are neglected to become educated to defend their culture, their beliefs, and their ancestral land. I see this every day I am with them, and I do believe that what we teachers who endured hardships and challenges can help them become educated Filipinos,” he said.

Teacher Karl who came from a family of teachers said that his families have been asking him to stop volunteering for the Lumad School because they worry for his safety. The school where he is teaching was being “tagged to be a training group of communist and identified by the military as NPA supporter.”

Months ago, teacher Karl had a motorcycle accident on his way up to the community. He had bruises, injuries, and even head laceration but continued teaching after he was released.

In Mindanao, Salugpongan school has 53 campuses in Region 11, and it caters around 1,500 indigenous students.

But not all their schools have fully operated when Martial Law started said Butalid. In addition, teacher Karl said that the number of enrollees has also decreased because of fear.

“At times I worry about my safety but seeing these children who need our help, I worry for them more. I worry about their future. I worry for what awaits them if they remain illiterate,” teacher Karl said.

“I am a teacher, not a terrorist,” he added.

Overcoming fears and challenges

“The stones and the rivers are my witnesses how I cried like a child thinking of going home or every time I am in crisis,” according to Ricky Balili, a volunteer teacher of MISFI Academy for seven years.

Teacher Ricky is a B’laan teacher who came from a remote municipality in Sultan Kudarat province. After he got a degree in college, he then committed to teaching the Lumad children. He grew up in a community were children has to walk for kilometers to the reach school.

He was then assigned by MISFI to teach Lumad children in a remote community of Manobo in the mountains of Kapalong, Davao del Norte where he needs to cross 42 rivers on foot for two to three days.

During his teaching years in Kapalong, teacher Ricky said he was motivated on how the people in the community are full of eagerness to learn. Many in the community, he said, “cannot even write their own names and do not know their age.”

“I cannot just quit and go home. I have my own experience how difficult for us Lumads to attain education, I cannot betray them and be selfish “said teacher Ricky.

Ricky Balilid, came from a B’laan community in Sultan Kudarat province. He grew up in a community were children has to walk for kilometers to the reach school, this inspired him to teach his fellow Lumads. (Kath M. Cortez/davaotoday.com)

Whenever teacher Ricky is in crisis, he runs in the river to cry for an hour. He writes down how he felt in the stones and throws them in the rushing water stream. It helped him coped with difficulties he experienced.

“That’s how difficult teaching in the remote area is. We, teachers, became artistic and creative in our teaching methods especially at times that our supply is short. What’s important is, at the end of the day you impart knowledge to your students and they learn,” he said.

Stop the attacks

Monteverde said that teacher’s commitment to providing free education in indigenous communities, “they have been vulnerable to attacks and false allegations.”

SOS-SMR in a press conference has called the Duterte administration to institute policies that promote genuine development in communities.

The group asked to “tone down its substantiated rhetoric against Lumad schools” as it impedes the delivery of educational services to the thousands of Lumad students enrolled in them.

The group also reiterates its demand to end the implementation of Martial Law in Mindanao. (davaotoday.com)

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