IN A remote village in Mati City, Davao Oriental, an emerging tourist spot, Darrporrt, is not just known for its diverse ridge to reef wonders, but it also serves as a sanctuary for indigenous children who have little to no access to essential educational services and learning materials.

Seventh-grader Shane Orellanida, 12, has been listening intently to one of the facilitators of the three-day "Digital Literacy Training" last December 7, 2021, at the Happy Forest Kids (HFK) Center, Sitio Catmonan, Barangay Macambol, Mati City, Davao Oriental.

“Kahibalo ko mag on and off sa computer sir pero dili pa gyud ko kahibalo sa pag gamit sa computer, sir. Wala man miy computer sa balay, among silingan nuon naa, magtan-aw-tan-aw rako pag naay mogamit,” the honor student shared.

(I only know how to turn on and off a computer, but I don’t know how to use it for other purposes. We do not have a computer at home. I just observe my neighbors whenever they use their computer.)

Like Shane, children in this upland and coastal remote community are generally computer illiterate.

Digital Literacy among IP youth

HFK Center for years has become a hub for different private individuals and organizations for their outreach programs and activities.

From December 7 to 9, 2021, the Department of Communications and Technology (DICT)-Davao Oriental and Davao Oriental State University (Dorsu)-Information Technology program collaborated to promote digital literacy among the children in the community.

“This is aimed to teach the elementary, junior and senior high school students of Sitio Catmonan on the use of computers, proper usage of Internet services as well as involve topics on the advantages of being able to understand how to use technology,” Dorsu President Dr. Roy G. Ponce said.

He said this training will equip the children with computer skills that are necessary in the modern world.

Ponce added that these children are relatively behind compared to kids living in the city proper. Internet connection is also a challenge in the area.

HFK-Catmonan coordinator and owner of Darrporrt Daruel Porlares, for his part, said they are grateful to their partners for helping the children access essential tools for learning.

To date, HFK-Catmonan Center has five computer units with internet connection donated by Avon Independent Multipurpose Managers Cooperative.

“This is their home after school whenever they want to use computers and access the internet, of course, for educational purposes only. We want them to be responsible users of these technologies,” he said.

HFK Center-Catmonan has around 120 children beneficiaries, mostly elementary and senior high school students.

How Happy Forest Kids started

HFK-Catmonan was established in October 2019 following the organizational model of Happy Fish Kids Center in Taganilao, Tamisan, Mati City, Davao Oriental, which was founded by Ponce some 15 years ago.

HFK Cente-Taganilao has produced around 20 professionals who were then beneficiaries of the group’s programs.

“Right from the very start, when we open our tourism attraction (Darrporrt), it is already part of the plan, to help the community where we operate,” the former seminarian shared adding that most of the people residing the area are part of the Mandaya tribe, the dominant tribe in Davao Oriental.

He also envisioned his property to be a strategic location where tourists, aside from enjoying the wonders of nature, will also appreciate and contribute to their initiatives to help the community.

Ponce also said that HFK-Catmonan was formed to promote sustainable tourism, environmental care, and education, especially to the younger generation.

“HFK becomes a volunteer hub where people can support after-school care programs for our children. It is a follow-through from their formal schooling. Here, we just provide an area and community for rich-learning activities. The most important thing is that in all the activities and services here we can send the message to these innocent and promising children that education is important,” he said.

Porlares emphasized that when individuals or groups approached him to do charity works for HFK Center-Catmonan, he would always encourage them to donate goods and visit the area to personally deliver a message to young kids, highlighting the importance of education.

“When these children are also exposed to individuals who are successful in their field, we are sure that it will make an impact on them, that they will realize that they can also be like them in the future,” he said, adding there are more opportunities through education.

“Most importantly, children will understand that they have a future ahead of them, they’ll expand their horizons. It is more on changing the mindset of the low-incoming communities,” Porlares added.

Challenges, Moving forward

When asked about the challenges in implementing various programs in the community, Porlares shared that some parents are resistant to allowing their children to benefit from various programs.

“Some parents are not okay with the idea that we are helping their children. Instead of spending their time here learning, they would want their children to do chores and work. Some discourage their own children to finish school, just help to provide for the family at a very young age,” he said.

Ponce added that it is true to almost all communities, especially when parents themselves have no deeper understanding of the potential of their children and are still stuck in the poverty mentality.

“We are hopeful parents will eventually realize that these programs are nothing but for the good of their children,” he said.

Ponce said they encountered the same problem in HFK Center-Taganilao years back.

“After we helped those kids earn a degree in college, all parents there became supportive because they already saw how education can help uplift their current situation,” he said.

During the early days of the pandemic, when tourism activities were still prohibited, Darrporrt was extremely affected but it didn’t stop them from supporting HFK Center-Catmonan.

In January 2021, HFK launched its virtual reading program as part of the new normal activities for kids after almost a year of lockdown.

“We will always be here for the kids, that’s our commitment and we hope more people and organizations will join our cause. They can actually replicate HFK to their own communities and give services unique to their locals,” Porlares shared.

One of HFK Center Catmonan beneficiaries Ginalyn Abella Belocura, 12, who dreams to become a teacher someday, wants to help her neighbors be educated.

“Puhon sir kung makaluy-an. Maong dako namong pasalamat sa HKF, ilaha sir Daruel, sir Roy kay gitabangan mi nila sa among ubang panginahanglan diri sama sa mga computers ug internet,” she said.

Access to basic and essential services like education and technology are common problems in remote communities like in Catmonan. Initiatives like HFK are something we can replicate in other communities to build a better future for the next generation.

For donations, outreach programs, and other related concerns, contact Daruel at 09557439371/0916538370 or like their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hfkcatmonan.