An ALS graduate with her children
Girlie Salvador, 37, is all smiles with her children as she awaits the ALS Graduation

April 5, 2016 marked a milestone in Batak education in Sitio Kalakwasan. Aside from the Batak children in kindergarten and elementary who graduated from Heaven’s Eyes Tribal Missions Academy, 37 Batak men and women, most of whom are parents and elders, also graduated from the Department of Education’s (DepEd) Alternative Learning System (ALS). It is the first ALS graduation in Sitio Kalakwasan, which was conducted by Heaven’s Eyes Tribal Missions Academy, with principal sponsorship from Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Inc.’s (PSFI) Integrated Support to Indigenous Peoples (ISIP) programme.

It was an exciting day for the Batak tribe in Sitio Kalakwasan, one of the original indigenous hunter-gatherer tribes of the Philippines. There was heightened energy in the community; children were playing – some were jumping on and off chairs, some were running around pushing bicycle tires, and some were dancing to the booming music playing and practicing their choreographed numbers, while the adults decorated the stage with colourful flowers and garlands.

“Masaya ako (I’m happy),” Maritess Villanueva, 29, ALS first place merit awardee, expressed her gratitude for ALS. “Kasi tapos na pag-aaral namin (Because our studies are completed).”

Many Filipinos do not have the opportunity to attend and complete formal basic education due to different reasons such as the immediate need to work to survive, cost of schooling, and inaccessibility of schools. Indigenous peoples (IPs), such as the Batak, are often at a greater disadvantage when it comes to receiving education because of aforementioned reasons. Consequently, many Batak men and women do not know how to read, write, and do basic math.

Since every Filipino has the right to basic education, DepEd has established the ALS programme to provide all Filipinos, especially those who are underprivileged like the Batak, the opportunity to complete basic education in a way that fits their and their communities’ needs.

Girlie Salvador, 37, a widowed basket weaver and a single mother of five, is one of the 37 beneficiaries of the ALS programme in Sitio Kalakwasan. With her young daughter beside her, she said, “Kaya ako sumali sa ALS kasi hindi ako marunong magkwenta (I joined ALS because I don’t know how to count money)… Dati, ‘di talaga ako marunong mag-budget ng pera. Ngayon, unti-unti na rin akong nakakapagtabi ng konti. At nahahati-hati ko sila, may pang-ulam na, may pang-bigas, at sa iba pang pangangailangan namin (Before, I didn’t really know how to budget our money. Now, I save a bit, and I’m able to allocate money for food and other things we need).”

Through the joint efforts of Heaven’s Eyes Tribal Missions Academy’s teaching manpower and facilitation, and PSFI’s sponsorship support of educational materials, supplies, modules, infrastructure, and merit-based incentives and rewards to ALS students (e.g. groceries, rice, and homeware), the ALS Basic Literacy Programme has been a beneficial success for the Batak community.

Second place merit awardee, Mary Jane Saavedra, 36, is not only grateful towards ALS and its teachers from Heaven’s Eyes Tribal Missions Academy, but also towards Shell’s altruism, particularly pertaining to its Access to Energy (A2E) project that provides electricity through renewable energy sources in Sitio Kalakwasan.

“Pagdating sa gabi, nakakapag-aral kami at ang mga anak namin dahil may ilaw at kuryente na (At night, we and our children can study because there is light and electricity now),” she said, referring to the A2E project. “Nakakagawa rin kami ng mga basket [na aming binebenta] sa gabi (Now, we can also make baskets [which we sell] during nighttime).”

“Isang magandang halimbawa ang proyektong ito na kaya rin natin maging maunlad sa sama-samang pagtutulungan na ginagawa ng Shell at DepEd, kasama rin ang Heaven’s Eyes at pamayanan ng Batak sa Sitio Kalakwasan (This is a shining example that we can achieve development through collaboration from Shell, DepEd, Heaven’s Eyes and Sitio Kalakwasan),” said Benny Veran, PSFI Programme Manager. “Malaking tulong ito sa sustainable development ng ating IPs dito sa Palawan (This is a big help to our IPs’ sustainable development in Palawan).”

For the Batak, life was a lot harder then, as they did not know how to read, write, and count, which heavily disadvantaged their livelihood. “Kung sa bulag, ‘di ka makakita, kinakapa mo ang lahat (It’s like you’re blindly manoeuvring in the dark),” Maritess said about life before her ALS education.

Now, life for the Batak in Sitio Kalakwasan has improved. “Yung ‘di ko naiintindihan noon, naiintindihan ko na ngayon (What I don’t understand before, I already understand now),” smiled former Batak Chieftain Teodorico Villanueva Sr., 64.

By Elvin Madamba

Article published on PSFI news magazine October 2016 issue