ESSC facilitated a one-week learning visit in Bendum last April 2012 for 37 students from various Asian countries to provide an opportunity to engage with the Pulangiyen community and understand the political, socio-cultural, and economic context of natural resource management concerns and the community’s efforts at enhancing human development.
The field-based learning visit allowed the students – coming from 12 countries in Asia and with diverse educational backgrounds, work experiences, personal interests, and learning modes – to draw different learnings from the activities. The visit is part of the two-week lecture course on Practices of Conflict Management in Asia: Integrating human development with natural resource management.
Morning activities included walk-throughs to the community’s resources (forests, water and land), livelihood activities (such as culling and planting of bananas, round weeding of abaca and extraction of abaca fiber), and assisted natural regeneration (ANR) activities (brushing and staking of regenerating trees).
There were also input sessions, wherein ESSC staff and some members of the community shared different aspects of cultural resource management and human development in Bendum, such as the gaup (the community’s view of their ‘territory’), the community’s experience in undergoing the government process for the recognition and titling of their ancestral domain, culture-based education in the Apu Palamguwan Center for Cultural Education or APC, nalandangan (peace covenant) and conflict management, and ANR.
In the afternoons, after personal reflections and peer interaction, small group discussions were facilitated to share and process learnings, while another group interacted with the school teachers, livelihood committee members, and the youth. Evening gatherings were also venues for the students to collectively share what they were learning from their experiences.
One of the students appreciated the ongoing capacity building program for the youth, the sector she plans to work with in the future. Another student related a development assistance project he was previously involved in and discussions on resource ownership in Bendum, and understood the need to understand existing land tenure in any community prior to implementing development projects.
Another student noted the difference between the forest communities in Costa Rica and the Bendum community: the strong spiritual and cultural link to forest among the Pulangiyen and the economic or business orientation of forest management in Costa Rica.
A journalism student whose focus is food and agriculture said that being a farmer for two hours allowed him a glimpse of the perspective of the farmer who does all the hard work but gets little share from price increases.
While several of the students were preoccupied with ‘development’ and ‘sustainability,’ there were those who took on the challenge of unlearning some of the theoretical knowledge they gained in the classroom, temporarily ‘parking their knowledge’ and dropping an academic orientation to be able to openly engage without making judgments of the community’s socio-economic conditions and proposing ready-made solutions.
Those who grew up or worked in similar rural, upland areas observed similarities in the landscape and ways of living in their areas with Bendum.
Learning about the way the Pulangiyen relate to their environment reminded one Nepalese participant of her identity, as she also comes from an indigenous community. Likewise, the articulation of the teachers and the youth of the need to strengthen Pulangiyen identity among the children and the youth made a Filipino student reflect on her weak sense of identity.
The realization for others was the importance of integrating the mind and heart, of putting one’s heart into one’s work, of establishing and nurturing trust with partner communities, and shedding off the trappings of development to have a simple life and sincere relationships.
One student recognized the need for ‘cultural translation’ – not merely translation of words – to facilitate the communication between the UPeace students and community members in ways that they can understand what each one was saying and where one was coming from.
Some of the students who live most of their lives in the city appreciated the opportunity to have a human experience with the forests and water resources, and living – albeit briefly – another lifestyle different from the city life.
Listening to how the APC teachers regarded ‘security,’ one student reflected on her own sense of ‘security.’ She expects that a master’s degree will enhance her security, but she might then want to pursue a PhD. With higher education, she will have better chances for a high-paying job and will then be able to buy a house – but she might then want to buy a car and an endless list of what would make her feel ‘secure.’
For some students, the challenge was on their capacity to adjust to living conditions they were not used to, which they might find themselves in if they pursue work in peace building and rural development. One of the students who admitted to being ‘choosy about food and fussy about toilet conditions’ asked himself whether or not he has the commitment to pursue a career in peace building along his country’s border areas.
Notwithstanding the inconveniences, one student observed that sharing sleeping mats (five to six in a room), comfort rooms and food (with the youth and teachers) helped the group in getting to know one another.
The group was accompanied by Mr Nabil Ramirez, ALP Coordinator, and Professor Lourdes Veneracion of the Department of Political Science. Twenty-nine of the students are part of the Asia Leaders Programme (ALP), a joint masters degree programme between the University for Peace and Ateneo de Manila University. Six journalism and two philosophy graduate students also joined the learning visit.