Thursday, October 27, 2011

A folk school for Aetas

Lubos Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta ng Sambales (LAKAS.PH) — Nimfa Doroteo-Camua, Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication PBAZ: A folk school for Aetas

For a long time, our parents and ancestors have been dreaming of having a school for us,” Lita Jugatan and Noel Domulot recall.

In the wide open spaces of Zambales where more than 80,000 Aetas live and work the land, most children stay away from formal school because of discrimination against indigenous people.

“It breaks our heart when people tease or make fun of us,” they add. Suffering from oppressive treatment in the hands of lowlanders, the Aetas have resolved to fight for their rights in their own way. Thus, an indigenous education program was established in partnership with Education for Life Foundation (ELF) and Lubos ng Alyansa ng mga Katutubong Ayta ng Sambales (LAKAS).

Started almost five years ago, the Paaralang Bayan ng Ayta sa Zambales (PBAZ) was organized by Aetas who graduated from the Life History Workshop and General Leadership Course facilitated by ELF.

“Some of the first graduates dreamt of putting up an Aeta Survival Folk School,” ELF Director Edicio dela Torre recounts. In 2003, these graduates gathered to take a decisive step and organized the PBAZ.

“Looking back, it is like a continuing conversation that has deepened the partnership of ELF and the Aetas,” dela Torre remarks as he notes that conversation, after all, is the basic mode of learning.

For a long time, education was an unresolved issue for the Aetas. While they recognized its value, a majority refused to give it an opportunity to work for their development. And the reason is understandable.

“When we were still living on Mount Pinatubo, we did not want our children to be educated in schools. Educated people are bad. Educated people exploit others,” Aetas often said.

Theirs may be harsh words. But years of exploitation and injustice in the hands of supposedly educated people have formed their mindset on the ill, instead of good, effects of education.

Citing two particular cases, Aetas clearly remember how the first Aeta government scholar studied, became a doctor of medicine but immediately left his people for a more promising job abroad. The second Aeta scholar graduated from college but collaborated with a lowland lawyer who tried to cheat the Aetas out of their land.

Tribal leaders and parents fear that their children might lose their Aeta identity under the influence of media and lowland schools. The Aetas have seen the lack of effort to teach Aeta history and culture as well as the human rights of indigenous people.

With this in mind, PBAZ and ELF have strengthened their partnership that would take their efforts to the next level of awareness. At present, an alternative learning system is being developed.

Aetas who have undertaken extensive leadership courses and who have become tutors are writing distance learning modules on Aeta history, culture and indigenous people’s rights. They hope that these modules will be part of the curriculum of PBAZ, which includes life skills learning module, conflict management, gender sensitivity, theater arts, newswriting, etc.

A crucial part of the teaching methodology is field trip and sharing with other folk schools. There are Instructional Managers for youth and adults who want to continue their studies and graduate from high school.

Obviously, the kind of education under PBAZ goes beyond literacy education. It seeks to hone the total person’s capabilities as a productive member of the Aeta community.

“Our goal is simple—to be able to lift our quality of life and to have a peaceful and progressive community,” Jugatan and Domolot say.

“I want to become a teacher so that I can help my community,” Instructional Manager for youth Desiree Carbonel says.

For the Aetas, realizing their dream of having their own school is gradually taking shape. And it speaks of their integrity as an indigenous people.

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