Far from home: life in the Dalēpaan

On the last day of his visit in the upland community of Bendum in the Philippines, Fr Pierre Belanger SJ sat at the veranda of Balay Laudato Si’, overlooking the afternoon sky above Ronquillo and Mt. Tago to the west. Classes in APC had just been dismissed for the day, and the excited chatter of students could be heard from a distance. By the doorway of the Culture and Ecology Center, a few steps from where he sat, a watercolor painting of
Joseph accompanying Mary to a safe place to give birth to Jesus hung on the wall to welcome everyone who entered. The painting is called “Dalēpaan,” which, roughly translated, means “safe rest”.

Incidentally, it was also one of the most important words he learned in the Pinulangiyēn language. The visitor from the Jesuit General Curia later got a deeper understanding of the word through the perspective of indigenous
youth who described the dalēpaan as the best experience they’ve had as students of APC.

At first glance, the concept of the dalēpaan may seem very simple. One might call it a dorm, for the convenience of explaining the term, as it is a place where students from faraway villages stay during the school year. But the students were quick to explain that it is much more than that.

“We learn a lot in our classrooms, but when we go home to the dalēpaan, we continue learning. We learn how to make friends, we learn about humility and self-control. It’s where I found myself, where I discovered my abilities and what I can do for others,” said Maria Mae Ampohon. She explained that it is an important part of their culture-based education.

Maria Mae said she used to cry every night when she was new to the dalēpaan because she missed her mother. But now, at the end of every school year, she and her friends would cry because they want to stay a bit more. “We already learned to love one another as sisters and brothers,” she said.

For Cristy Gumahin, staying in the dalēpaan helped here mature. She said she used to be a “spoiled child,” and was the cause of several conflicts with the other girls at first. It took time, she said, but through the help of her Ates – their house parents – she learned to change for the better.

“I was selfish, but after years of staying in the dalēpaan, I realized I was wrong. Now I help my Ates care for my companions so they will not
be like who I was before,” she said. Students call their teachers Ate (sister) and Kuya (brother), to build their relationship on trust and accompaniment.

Marjohn Linggay shared he was grateful to have the Ates and Kuyas to live with them. “Even if my parents are far away, I have the Ates and Kuyas in the dalēpaan who are like family to us. They understand how we feel because they are also far from their homes,” he said.

He first lived there when he was only a Grade 4 student who was always homesick. Now in Grade 10, he is one of the leaders who welcome the younger students and accompany them to the dalēpaan life.

Like Marjohn, Gino Suldahan, Grade 11, is also a leader honed in the dalēpaan. During study time, assisted natural regeneration on
Saturdays, morning prayers, house chores, and talent nights, he is one of the voices most commonly heard, engaging and encouraging the younger and newer members of the family to participate. However, he admitted he found it hard living with the other children years before.

“I found it very difficult to live with other students. We came from different tribes with different languages; we have different personalities and values. It was difficult to understand one another. But eventually we learned to settle our differences and tackle conflicts peacefully,” he said. Peaceful
resolution of conflict and keeping a respectful and harmonious relationship within the community are what the Pulangiyēn tribe is known for. It is also something that is shared to students and visitors, no matter where they came from.

As they sat in a circle, the students opened up about their dreams and struggles to Fr Belanger. Despite struggling with finding the right English words to express themselves and laughing at some mistakes along the
way, and even if the Jesuit priest was already leaving the next day and will soon be on a different side of the world, in that short afternoon, they were able to experience together what dalēpaan essentially is.

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