Learning Sustainable Life book, published in July 2010
Peter Walpole, SJ and his team’s engagement with the Pulangiyen community in Bendum is one of accompanying the people in finding ways to live sustainably.
Since 1992, initiatives were undertaken to address the different community concerns: land security, livelihood, health, education, resource management, and peace. The engagement is characterized by a deep respect for the people’s culture and identity, and the various initiatives are founded on the basis of culture.
The various efforts with the community were documented in the book “Learning Sustainable Life: The Bukidnon Pulangiyen Community Experience of Integrating Mother Tongue Education for Sustainable Development,” launched last July 2010.
The book is written in English and is not readily understandable to the people of Bendum. With support from Caritas-Australia, workshops were held to discuss the book’s contents with various sectors of the community to check the validity of the information and the story presented in the book.
Three sets of workshops were undertaken. The first was with the school, the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC), and where the teachers and students from the upper grades took part. The second workshop was with the graduates of APC who are now studying in high school. The third workshop involved the community members represented by its tribal and sitio leaders.
It is Their Story
The development and success of the education program in Bendum relies greatly on the community’s initiative and desire for the program to actually happen. All the participants in the various workshops were reminded of the early beginnings of the school.
They recalled how the elders first approached the Department of Education in 1991, building a small classroom, with the hope that a teacher will be sent. Government support was not available at that time but the basic education program was realized by collaborating with a support group who initiated basic literacy for the adults. From then, the education program grew from basic reading, writing and arithmetic classes for the children, to a five-year curriculum in 1995, and what it is now a culture-based recognized school.
For many of the elder participants, the activity lent an opportunity for them to recall their past education desires which they seemed to have forgotten lately. In recent years, many parents are viewing education as less important and have not been supportive of their children’s studies. The story re-told paved the way for a sense of renewal of commitment to the education of their children.
For many of the children and the youth in the workshops, it was a realization that the school is indeed theirs and not a product of a “foreign” group introducing and forcing education upon them. It is a story that some of them have never heard before and for which they now appreciate the initiatives of their parents and relatives.
Their Education Story is About Culture
What makes the school in Bendum so different? What do the APC graduates actually say when they are asked down in the valley in their high school about what their elementary school is like? They often hear about MLE or multilingual education, but what does that mean? How do they articulate MLE based on their experiences in school, whether as a student, a teacher, or a parent? These were just some of the questions that were clarified during the workshop.
Culture-based education (CBE) is an education model that emerged within the Bendum community, as they strove to find ways to sustain their culture even as they wanted their children to be able to engage with greater society. MLE, on the other hand, is an external concept that nevertheless describes, although not fully, what APC is trying to do.
One of the main points emphasized in the workshop was that although external groups may label APC as a MLE program, APC is more than just MLE.
MLE highlights the importance of using the mother tongue in education because it serves as the primary bridge for children to grasp concepts, develop cognitive skills, and learn other languages.
CBE, though, maintains that using the mother tongue is important not just because it helps children learn, but because this is where the people’s wisdom, values, and meanings can be found. The people’s language will lead us to their collective wisdom about how to live, and children should be learning this and not just knowledge that comes from outside.
It was further stressed that CBE is not just about learning one’s culture, which is the popular understanding among students and teachers of APC. Studying one’s culture is an end in itself, but one’s culture is also a pathway to understanding other things, including mainstream knowledge like Mathematics and Science.
Furthermore, CBE is an approach that is founded on the people’s way of life, and its end goal is to help students learn how to live sustainably within their community’s domain. The environment, thus, has a primary place in this kind of education given that the people’s existence depend so much on their relations with the environment.
Not so “Free” Education
Most of the students look at the school and the education they are getting as free. Unlike the schools down the valley, whether public or private, there is very minimal fees to be paid and school projects have no costs to the students and parents.
The workshop clarified their idea of “free education.” There are costs for the paper used in school exercises. Most of the teaching materials need to be purchased. The maintenance of the classrooms requires money.
Participants were made to understand that although they pay a very small monthly share in the school, it is the donors and sponsors, and funding agencies in the past, who provide financial support for the school to operate. Finding money to support basic education is tough, though, because the government is mandated to give free education through the public schools.
The teachers are paid with meager allowances and this, apart from the small monthly fee of the parents, is the community’s share in the school expenses.
It was during the workshops that the community realized the enormous sacrifice of the community teachers. Their choice to stay and teach in APC, despite good education and experience that can land them better paying jobs in the city center, is a significant form of “payment” that students and the community should appreciate and be thankful for. Without the community teachers, the school cannot continue to run as it cannot afford to hire teachers from outside the community who demand higher compensation.
Challenges for the Future
The workshops were also opportunities to review the other basic needs of the community aside from education. Health and water concerns were top discussion points. The participants admitted the poor health situation in the community, especially the high malnutrition rate amongst the children. Though they are fortunate in comparison to other nearby barangays because there are no major diseases in the community, water management continues to be a challenge. Everybody agreed that the committees assigned to work on water, health, and livelihood and the tribal council need to initiate the responses to the community concerns.
Peace continues to be a challenge but they know that the need to engage in dialogue with others and not be silent about the realities happening in their surrounding is necessary for peace. Pedro stressed that response and action must come from the community and not imposed by external forces. If people do not have a hold of where they are and what they want, then other people can easily influence them.
Learning about ecological services and the reality of depleting natural resources in Mindanao allowed the participants to also view environmental stewardship as a challenge.
Bendum enjoys rich natural resources and the abundance of water and so they initially could not understand the idea of depleting resources, especially water. However, upon understanding the connection between upland and lowland communities in relation to ecological services, they were able to grasp the challenge. They now realize that environmental stewardship is important for Bendum and for greater society and that this has to be balanced with meeting people’s basic needs and the need for a sustainable livelihood.
Learning Sustainable Life is about the life of the community in Bendum. There is a series of successes as their dreams and aspirations for education and cultural sustainability are being met. But there are also challenges that they need to respond to as learning to live sustainably is an ongoing and evolving process for the community.