Archive | April 20th, 2018

First from the Mountains: A Graduation Story of a Girl from Tau’t Bato

Coming from a tribe who has been long isolated in the mountains, it was difficult for Juda Diklay, 25, from Tau’t Bato tribe, to keep pace with her classmates in the suburb.

It took Juda years to adapt and connect with other people whom she is not familiar with. Since she was the first of her tribe to attend a formal class, she has no knowledge on how things work in a school system. Further, her distance to her family also added to the difficulty in adjusting her life in the lowland.

Mahirap po yung nag-aaral ka sa baba na hindi mo kilala kung sino yung mga nakakasalamuha mo tapos malayo pa sa akin yung pamilya ko. Lagi ko na lang naiisip ang mga negative na bagay at sumuko na lang pero napapaisip rin ako kung anong mangyayari sa akin kapag susuko ako agad sa pag-aaral ko (It was really difficult to study in the lowland since I don’t even know the people I am encountering. Adding to that is the distance of my family to me. But when I thought of negative things, I begin wondering what will happen to me if I give up my studies),” Juda said.

She might have been through a lot of challenges, but her burning desire to learn and discover the world around her has helped her in finding a motivation to keep going. Thus, because of her determination and perseverance, she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, making a history as the first Tau’t Bato tribe member to graduate in college.



Living in the Mountains

A group of people from the Palaw’an tribe living in Singnapan Valley are called Tau’t Bato or Taa’wt Bato. Long before, they live inside the crater of an instinct volcano in Palawan, hence their name which literally means “stone people” or “dwellers of the rock”. Today, the Tau’t Bato tribe lives in their homes made of light and sturdy materials such as saplings. Although they do not live in the caves like before, they still find shelter inside it during rainy seasons when the valley is flooded. Other than serving as a shelter, the tribe also seeks protection from the cave as they go inside it when they hear unpleasant stories from the lowland.

“Napakadelikado po nung mga dinadaanan namin papunta sa mga kweba. Puro bato, at kaliwa’t kanang bangin ang dadaanan para makapunta doon at buwis-buhay talaga. May part pa doon na tatawid ng tulay na kailangan nakabalanse ka kung hindi malalaglag ka talaga (The trails going to the caves are very dangerous. We pass through rocks and cliffs to get there and it’s a really a life-threatening experience. There is a part of it where we need to go over a bridge that if we cannot balance ourselves, we will fall),Juda shared.

The tribe rarely goes down from the mountain as they survive through gathering wild fruits and vegetables, hunting, planting crops and rice. Their community can only be reached through an 8-hour hike from Brgy. Ransang, Rizal, Palawan. Because of their distance, most of them do not go to school or have access to different health services.

May mga pumupunta pong misyonaryo sa amin pero kapag napunta sila para kunin yung mga anak nila para pag-aralin sa baba, tinatanggihan nila dahil iniisip nila na mamatay yung anak nila since hindi nila kilala yung mga taga-doon o baka hindi na makabalik agad yung mga anak nila (When missionaries go to our community to help their children go to school in the lowland, parents always decline because they fear that their children will get killed by those people they do not know or their children might not come back home),” Juda said.

Only Juda’s family was convinced to go down the mountains to study. Juda and her younger brother Jonathan, was able to study in elementary after 5 years of being pursued by a Christian missionary group called, Youth with a Mission (YWAM). The group has been visiting their tribe even before Juda was born to share gospels and encourage the parents to send their children to school. YWAM also visits not only their tribes but also other tribes in Palawan and other parts of the country.

“Noong una, ayaw ko naman talagang sumama doon. Si Jonathan ang mas gustong mag-aral pero sabi ng magulang namin sumama na lang daw kami pareho kahit ako lang talaga yung gusto nilang isama (At first, I don’t really want to join them. It was Jonathan who wanted to study but our parents told us to come with them though it’s only me that they invited),” she said.

She was already 10 years old when she studied in Ransang Elementary School with her brother. Afraid and curious at the same time, Juda knows that it will be difficult for a girl from the mountains to begin a new life in the lowland.


New Life in the Lowland

Since Juda was the oldest in their class, it was hard for her to socialize with her classmates.

Ang gawain ko lang po kasi noon, school tapos uuwi na agad sa bahay tapos bahay tapos school lang ulit. Kaya akala ata nung mga kaklase ko ay masungit ako o suplada (What I did back then was go to school then go home after classes are over. That’s why some of my classmates thought that I am snobbish),” she said.

As she gains new friends, there are still others who bully her just because she came from the mountains.

May mga nagsasabi sa akin noon na bakit daw ba ako nag-aaral eh taga-bundok lang naman daw ako. Wala naman daw akong silbi (There were those people questioning me why I am studying in school even if I came from the mountains. They say that I am useless),” she shared.

Juda was disheartened. She told herself that after graduating in elementary, she will already go home. Enduring the pain, she continuously goes to class, pass her homework on time, and study for exams carrying a heavy heart caused by those people who discouraged her.

Little did she know that her hard work will pay off as she was announced as their class Valedictorian.

“Nagulat po talaga ako ‘nun. Kasi noong binubully na nila ako nawalan na talaga ako nang ganang mag-aral tapos bigalang nalaman ko ako pala ang highest sa amin (I was really shocked when I discovered that I got the highest place in class because when I was being bullied I already lost desire to continue studying),” she said.

This event motivated her to continue high school. She was sent by YWAM to Puerto Princesa to study.

Since it was her first time in the big city, it was still uneasy for her to find new friends. And as she was expecting, there are still those people who want to test her determination.

“Nung high school naman po ako, may kaklase ako na sinira yung project na gawa ko dahil nauna akong magpasa sa kanila dahil hindi pa sila tapos at nauna ako sa deadline. Umiyak lang ako noon pag-uwi tapos gumawa na lang ako ng panibago at nagpasa pagkatapos nilang gawin yung kanila (When I was in high school, one of my classmates tore down a project I made because they were not finished yet and I passed mine before deadline. I cried when I got home. I made again another project and passed it after everyone are done with theirs),” she narrated.

Only negative things come to her mind during that moment and she wanted to go back home so badly after experiencing all those pains. Every day after school, she packs her things telling herself that she is ready to go home. She said that she sometimes asks herself, “masama bang mangarap ang isang taga-bundok (is it bad for someone from the mountain to dream)?”

During the hard times, it was only her friends and the people of YWAM who keep on motivating her. She share her stories and heartaches to other scholars of the group whom she knows can understand her.

Ang lagi lang pong sinasabi nila sa akin ay ‘we are living by faith’ kaya lagi ko lang daw silang ipagdasal (They always tell me that ‘we are living by faith’ that’s why I should to pray for them),” she said. Juda was also strengthened by her faith to God.

As she was barely getting through with the difficulties she experienced, Juda was still able to finish high school. Once again, she thought of giving up but the people believing in her ignite her desire to continue with her dreams. And although Jonathan, her brother, went back home after they graduate in high school, Juda went on with her journey as a student.

Sa totoo lang po napaisip din ako noon kung itutuloy ko ba kasi pataas na nang pataas yung level at pahirap na rin nanga pahirap. Minsan natatakot ako nab aka ganun ulit ang mangyari sa akin (The truth is I think of whether continuing because the difficulty is getting high as I leap from one educational stage to another. Sometimes, I fear that those things might happen again),” she said.

Once again eager to experience and learn new things, Juda took up Bachelor of Elementary Education at the Western Philippines University in Puerto Princesa.

After years of staying away from home, Juda became confident of having new friends. This time, she discovered that in college, all of them are unique and no one will indicate their faults of being different.


Getting Support

When Juda was in college, YWAM continued supporting her needs financially but there are still those times when she thought of getting a job to at least acquire even a small amount of money to help her family in the mountains and buy other things she needs in school. This is because the allowance given to her, is still not enough for her needs as her year level moves up.

“Wala po akong mga libro nun. Nagpapaxerox lang ako kapag kailangan naming ng libro at pag may project, hihintayin kong matapos mga kaklase ko para ako naman ang makagamit ng libro (I don’t have any books that time. I usually photocopy pages from the books of my classmates and when we have projects, I wait for my classmate to finish theirs so I can borrow their books).” Juda said.

It was then when Juda became one of the grantees of the Expanded Students’ Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. Juda was given P30, 000.00 for the first semester to cover for her tuition fees and other school fees such as textbooks, board and lodging, etc.

“Nagulat po ako noong nakuha ko yung pera kasi first time ko pong makahawak ng ganoon kalaki. (I was shocked when I was given the grant since it was my first time having such large amount of money),” she exclaimed with joy.  With her grant, she was able to buy all those books that she needs.

Pagkatapos ko pong bilhin yung mga kailangan ko, yung ibang natira po sa pera ko ay ipinadala ko sa amin at sa isa kong kapatid na nag-aaral, (After spending the money on the things I need, I gave what’s left to my family and some for my brother who is also studying),” she said.

It was not only Juda who has been supported by the program. Her family became a Pantawid beneficiary in 2010 and because of it, Noah, one of her younger brothers was able to go to school through the cash grants they receive. He is now studying in Grade 3 at Ransang Elementary School.

According to her, “napakalaki ng pagbabago sa amin sa Tau’t Bato noong dumating ang programa. Nakapag-aral ang mga bata kasi kailangan at nakakapagpacheck-up na sila (there are many changes in our community when the program arrived. Children are able to go to school and take regular check-ups because it is needed).”

Juda’s father also became the only Barangay Health Worker (BHW) in Tau’t Bato to monitor compliance of their community in terms of the health conditionality since he was the only one who knows how to read and write. On the other hand, Jonathan was able to get a job in the program as a Social Welfare Assistance (SWA) of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) catering to the Indigenous Peoples.


Creating History

Siguro kung nagpadala ako sa mga negative na naiisip ko noon, hindi ako nakapagtapos at may asawa na ako at anak, (If I did not overcome my negative thoughts, I won’t be able to graduate and I already have my own family now),” Juda said.

On April 11, 2018, Juda was finally able to get her degree.

When asked what she will do after, Juda said, “babalik na po ako sa amin at magtuturo ako doon. Ipapakita ko sa kanila kung gaano kahalaga ang edukasyon, (I will come back home and teach there. I will help them realize the importance of education)”.

Juda vows to use what she has learned to improve not only her family’s life but also the lives of other people in her community. She does not want people to belittle them just because they live in the mountains and do not know how to read and write.

“Iniisip ko pong magturo ng ALS doon sa amin para lahat ng mga tao doon ay makapag-aral, (I am thinking of teaching ALS in our community so that our people can study),” she said.

Being the first from her tribe to graduate in college, Juda is now an inspiration to the people of Tau’t Bato in recognizing the full worth of education in overcoming the hardships in life brought about by poverty. ###

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A Broken Heart Beats an Unshattered Dream

Nagkawatak-watak ang aming pamilya at naging mas mahirap pa,” this keeps on in the mind of a 17-year old student from Sitio Kabangkalan, Pinagturilan in the municipality of Sta. Cruz, Occidental Mindoro.

Kristine Joy Bongar cannot forget how their complete family was destroyed by her father’s vices and physical abuse to her mother. According to her, “dinaig pa nito ang hirap ng kumakalam naming sikmura sa tuwing wala kaming maisaing at kulang ang baon para sa pagkain at pamasahe.”

Seeing her father mistreats her mother repeatedly will always be one of her biggest pains. But after their parents got separated, she cannot help but wonder how she and her nine siblings will survive with their mother not having a stable source of income.

From then on, Kristine swore to continue with her dream and strive harder to finish her studies so she can help her mother provide for the family.

On April 3, 2018, Kristine graduated in Grade 12 at Pinagturilan National High School with Highest Honors. She is now one step forward to reach her dreams.

Cutting the Hardship

All throughout her childhood, Kristine has experienced life’s difficulty being raised from a big family. When she reached high school, she managed her P30.00 allowance for her P20.00 fare and the remaining for her lunch, and other school expenses. There were times when she had to walk 6 kilometers back and forth from their house to school when her mother cannot provide an allowance.

Minsan hindi na lang din ako nakain kapag walang pera tapos sa library na lang ako pumupunta para magbasa na lang,” she shared.

At a young age, she knows that her parents’ income from furniture-making is not sufficient to support the needs of their family. When they do not have anything to eat, her mother will often tell her to go to their neighbor and ask for rice. From day-to-day, Kristine can feel the cynical attitude of their neighbors, even their relatives, towards their family whenever they borrow money or ask for food to them.

Life is already hard for Kristine and her family but she never thought it could get any harder when their parents separated.

Mula simula, damang-dama namin yung pagmamalupit ng tatay namin. Palagi silang nag-aaway na kahit sa simpleng bagay lamang, pilit na pinalalaki ni Papang yung gulo,” Kristine shared.

Whenever her father comes home drunk, Kristine said that their parents will start arguing. Her father often utters curse words to their mother and inflicts physical harm to her. Their mother always tells them to get out of the house each time they start fighting so that they will not be involved in their fight.

“Bilang anak, masakit makita na yung mga magulang nag-aaway at walang pinipiling lugar, may mga tao man o wala, sa harap namin o hindi. Umabot pa minsan na hinabol nya si Mamang ng gulok buti na lang nakalayo agad si Mamang. Ngayong wala na si Papang sa bahay, mas panatag na kaming mag-iina,” she added.

When their father left their home, Kristine’s mother became the breadwinner of the family. “Ginagawa ni Mamang ang lahat para matustusan yung pangangailangan namin. Makikipaglabada, magtatanim sa bukid, at minsan nagliliha ng kahoy sa furniture shop,” Kristine said.

During weekends, they help their mother make charcoal to sell or give to their neighbors in exchange for food.

New Chance, Better Life

Despite all the hardships they experienced, Kristine and her family did not lose hope.

When their family became a member of Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program, Kristine witnessed the changes the program has made in their life.

“Hindi na po akong kailangang utusan na mangutang ng bigas dahil natutustusan na ng cash grant na ibinibigay ang pangkain namin,” she shared.

Kristine became one of the three monitored child grantees of the program. With her compliance to the education condition of having at least 85 percent monthly attendance in school, she receives P500 per month. The family also receives another P500 for her compliance to the deworming condition of the program as well as her mother’s attendance to the monthly Family Development Sessions (FDS). The cash grant they received has helped them pay for their school projects and her school supplies.

Further, their family also learned how to strengthen their relationship and grow as a family through FDS and YDS.

“Dahil sa FDS, mas dito po namin natutunan yung mga karapatan ng kababaihan at mga bata na hindi dapat saktan ng kung sino man,” she said.

The FDS is a component of the Pantawid Pamilya program that teaches parent-grantees on various topics relating to family development including children’s rights, disaster preparedness, and budget management. Attendance to the monthly FDS is a co-responsibility of all beneficiaries with the program.

The program has reminded Kristine’s family that education is their way to get out of poverty.

Sa mga tulong na ibinibigay po sa amin ng programa, mas nagpupursigi po talaga kaming mag-aral nang mabuti dahil parang sinasabi nito na handa yung gobyerno na tulungan kami para suportahan kami para sa aming kinabukasan,” she attested.

True to this, Kristine and her siblings studied hard and found ways for them to continue until they graduate. In fact, her two older sisters were able to graduate in college as working students. Now that they are earning, they were able to help their mother send their siblings, including Kristine, to school.

Moving On, Moving Forward

“Laban lang para sa kinabukasan. Kung kaya nila, kaya ko rin,” Kristine exclaimed.

Kristine knows that life must go on even with all the difficulties that come their way.

All those things that happened to her family have made her stronger and inspired her to pursue her dreams of graduating and finding a good work after. She wanted to achieve not only her dreams but also the dreams of their family to get out of poverty.

Alam ko po mahirap ang buhay lalo na pagdating ko sa college, pero lahat po gagawin ko para makapagtapos rin ako ng pag-aaral,” she said.

Determined to continue her studies, Kristine plans to take Bachelor of Science in Education at the Oriental Mindoro State College.

Kristine might have a broken family, but she vows to make sure that her dreams will never shatter.   ###

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One Dream Down: A Girl’s Journey to Success

Looking back to her list of 50 things she wants to achieve in life, Angela said that she had already crossed out many of them.

One of those is to graduate in college.

Despite the many hardships and challenges she experienced being from a family belonging to the marginalized sector, she had never thought that she will be able to get over through the winding road of her journey.

Her determination to take her family out from poverty became her motivation to keep on moving forward.

At an early age, Angela Mae Tacan, 19 years old from Taytay, Palawan, knows how complicated her life is. She was raised by her biological mother and stepfather, not knowing about her father. She lives with them and their 4 children and considers them as her true family.

Her stepfather was able to finance their needs through his small income from gardening.

Angela, as the eldest, felt a need to help her parents in supporting their family.

When she was in high school, Angela needs to rent a boarding house since the only school providing secondary education in their municipality is far away from their house. And to pay for her fee, she brings the vegetables harvested by her father to their land lady as an exchange for her rent. She also works with her land lady as their labandera and helps her in running their store. Having a talent in crafts and arts, Angela also helps her classmates with their projects and her teachers in designing their classrooms for which she is paid. Since she needs to budget her P50.00 allowance per week, she walks to their house from her boarding house with a 7 kilometer distance.

Ang pinaka hindi ko malilimutan nung high school ay nung sinabi ng adviser ko sa stepfather ko na magaling daw ako at napakasipag, sabi ng stepfather ko, kapag nakikita nya na ang anak nyang nagsisikap, magsisikap din sya. Doon ko naramdaman na kahit di ako tunay na anak, kaya nya akong ipagmalaki,” Angela narrated as she sheds her tears.

Angela was awarded as their class’ First Honorable Mention and her stepfather walked up to the stage with her to give her the medal during their graduation. But at that moment, Angela knew that her complicated life is not yet over. It was just the beginning of her leap to a yet most difficult part of her student life—getting into college.


Reaching the Dream

Angela is eager to study college even though she knows the struggle of their parents in sending them to school having experienced it in high school.

Mahalaga po kasi sa akin ang makapagtapos ng pag-aaral kasi alam kong ito yung tutulong sa akin para maiahon ko ang pamilya ko sa hirap,” she said.

She passed the entrance exam in West Philippines University – Puerto Princesa and took up Bachelor of Science in Education (BSED) with a major in Biological Science. She received half scholarship grant being an honor student yet, her mother needs to borrow money to pay for her tuition fee since their father’s income is still not enough to pay for it. Knowing this, she tried other scholarship exams but was not accepted.

Before their classes start, Angela needed to find a boarding house where she can stay. When she found one, she cannot pay the rent so she asked the landlady if she could stay for the night and told her that she will pay tomorrow once she received the money from her mother.

Ang higaan ko lang noon ay karton at wala man lang akong kumot at unan,” she described.

When she started studying, she budgeted her P200.00 allowance for projects, books, and food. She works as a dishwasher in a karinderia. Most of the time, she buys one pack of soy sauce and cooking oil to pair with rice as her meal for the whole week. “Minsan kapag di ko na kaya na ganun, asin at tubig naman. Medyo madami po kasi kaming binibili sa school kaya kung ano matira yun ang para sa pagkain,” she said. It is more important for her to feed her hungry mind than her hungry stomach.

“Hindi na po ako humihingi kay nanay kapag kulang kasi alam kong baka maubusan naman yung mga kapatid ko,” she added. Angela has to endure all of these because of her willingness to get her degree.


A Beautiful Surprise

While being lost in thought thinking of how she will get through another week with her remaining allowance, she was texted by the University to go to the student affairs office.

Akala ko may nagawa akong masama, yun pala ang sabi ni Ma’am, nakasama pala ako sa ESGP-PA na scholarship ng Pantawid at di ko na pala kailangan magbayad,” she narrated.

She cannot contain her happiness when she heard the news and she immediately call her mother to prepare the necessary documents needed for it.

Kaya pala hinindian ako ng mga taong iyon kasi masyado syang maliit para sa akin kaya thankful ako nung dumating sa aking ito dahil kumbaga ako yung kinatok ng program,” Angela called.

With the Expanded Students’ Grants-in-Aid Program for Poverty Alleviation (ESGP-PA) of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program in partnership of the Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Department of Budget and Management (DBM), Philippine Association of State Universities and Colleges (PASUC), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Angela is entitled to a P30,000.00 grant per semester or P60,000.00 grant per year which covers her tuition fees and other school fees, academic and other extracurricular expenses, textbooks, board and lodging, etc.

The scholarship was not only able to help her financially but it also opened other opportunities which honed her skills and let her rediscover herself.

Thankful po talaga ako sa program lalo na po’t ito ang naging way para makita ko ang biological father ko for the first time ng personal,” she said.

For 16 years, the only thing she knows about her father is that he was already dead. But when her Aunt told her that her father was looking for her, she somewhat felt incomplete.

Hinahanap ko siya sa FB pagkatapos ko pilitin si mama na ibigay ang pangalan nya. Gumawa ako agad ng FB kahit wala talaga akong account doon. Tapos ang nakita ko, nakatira sa Cavite pero ang alam ko taga Taytay siya kaya medyo hesitant pa ako noon. Minessage ko siya at tinanong kung kilala nya yung mama ko, tapos sabi niya oo daw at ibigay ko daw ang number ko sa kaniya dahil tatawagan niya ako,” she narrated.

She was then sent by their University as a representative to the ESGP-PA Regional Assembly conducted in Metro Manila on 2015. Before going back to Palawan, Angela and her biological father was able to see each other personally in the airport terminal. “Blessing in disguise talaga ang program para makita ko ang tatay ko,” she added.

Angela said that she will forever be thankful to the program for giving her glimmer of hope and for strengthening her will to keep on going despite her life’s hardship.


New Beginning, New Dreams

Reminiscing her life before being an ESGP-PA grantee, Angela cannot imagine how she was able to succeed dealing with her struggles. Looking back, she said it was those lessons that she did not learn from the books that she would always remember.

“Ang kahirapan hindi hadlang para maging successful ka sa buhay kasi kung determined ka, gagawa ka talaga ng paraan,” she said.

Still determined to help her family, Angela plans to teach while waiting for the board exam then she will apply to the Department of Education for work. The fire to learn is still alive in Angela as she plans to continue her masters degree.

“Hindi mo kasalanan maging mahirap; kasalanan mong mamatay kang mahirap hanggang sa huli,” she added.


As she receives her diploma on graduation day, Angela carries her biggest smile signaling a new beginning, new journey, and new dreams to make.###

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