I am Maura Deloso Lipanda, a Pulangiyēn community teacher of the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC) in Sitio Bendum, Northern Mindanao, Philippines, a Jesuit-supported Indigenous school. I am a Pulangiyēn Indigenous Community member and live along the Pulangi River headwaters in the Eastern Valley of Bukidnon, Mindanao. Our community possesses rich knowledge of the landscape and a deep understanding of our relationship with the land, forest, water, and all life that our gaup or ancestral domain sustains.
As Indigenous People, our culture is central to our way of life. And, being a collaborator of the Jesuit Social Apostolate in the Philippines, my dream is for the Pulangiyēn youth to complete their studies. Hence, they become respectful and understanding and serve their community as the next generation of leaders.
In my long journey in APC, I encountered many challenges, especially with the unstable peace and order situation in the nearby villages. It wasn’t very pleasant for me and the entire community, as this disrupted the learning environment and even our livelihood. At some point, the military did not allow us to work on our farms, and this caused hunger in our community.
The children’s studies were also affected as many of them transferred to other schools and even dropped out due to feelings of fear and anxiety. However, we remain hopeful that the Philippine government will become aware of and address our situation in the marginal uplands.
Despite these challenges, we are confident as our community leaders closely guide us amid such difficulties. Eventually, we continue praying to the Almighty there will be peace in our lands.
We at APC continue to serve the communities of Upper Pulangi as we dream that the Pulangiyēn children can find hope in their studies. Our school recently did an activity in which we walked for almost three to four hours to other villages in Upper Pulangi. We held a caravan activity to share our programs about the school and a program called Forest, Farm and Leadership in the Margins. This is how we keep our commitment as Indigenous People to ensure that our children can finish their studies, share their stories broadly, and serve their community.
This journey in APC is challenging as some of the children’s families tend to misunderstand our good intentions and do not want to send their kids to school, yet we continue engaging and encouraging them. To help the families better understand, we shared about the cultural practices, traditions, and knowledge integrated into the school’s curriculum, and how it is important for us as Indigenous People to uphold our culture and traditions. I continue to pray for these families so they can understand and appreciate the value of culture-based education for their children.
I enjoy teaching the students about our culture as I share with them what my grandparents have taught me about the way of life of our people. The students also enjoy listening to my stories and my experiences of how I encounter God in my daily life: being with my family, seeing the faces of the children filled with hope and wonder, and the deep sense of solidarity in our community.
I continue to pray for peace in our community, for our children to continue and complete their studies, for the continued support that the community elders have for us APC teachers, for continued strength for us APC management as we continue serving our communities, and for the Philippine government’s support for our children who want to pursue higher education towards broader social inclusion.
May God bless us all.
This story was first published in SJES.