Volunteer teacher in Lumad college inspired by students

VOLUNTEERING as teacher for a Lumad school is a way of life for this young Mindanaoan, and no amount of threats and intimidation can dissuade him from pursuing his life’s purpose.

Arjay D. Perez, one of several volunteer teachers from Community Technical College in Southeastern Mindanao in Maco, Compostela Valley, also happens to be a grandson of Davao’s multi-awarded peace advocate, Brother Carlito “Karl” M. Gaspar, CSsR, a prolific writer, respected socio-anthropologist, theologian, interfaith scholar, missionary, and artist.

After finishing college from the University of Southeastern Philippines with a Bachelor of Technical Teachers’ Education major in Technology Livelihood Education, and passing the board exams, he went directly to the Community Technical College of Southern Mindanao (CTCSM), a school that was primarily intended to serve the children of Indigenous peoples, Moro and indigent children. This school according to Arjay, offers free education.

“Good thing is beside giving free education to the children, we teach the children the real situation of society and why until now the high percentage of Lumad children who are not in school still persists, and why they are not experiencing government services like having their own schools, health centers, water, light,” Arjay explains.

He added that CTCSM mentor’s efforts to continually learn and anchor themselves to the culture of the Indigenous Peoples is their way of educating themselves as they felt they need also to learn about their situation and their way of living, their livelihood.

Perez said he has been teaching for almost four years already and he said they are grateful to all those individuals who are helping the school so they can provide free education to the poor children.

“In our school we do not only teach academic subjects, but we also teach first aid, and farming, which is an important facet of their existence,” he said.

He added that as teachers, they were the ones who learn first-hand as it’s there that they saw the collective living of a community.

CTCSM is a dorm-school where the students, their teachers and Administrative staff live together, work and do each of their shared efforts to live, eat, plant, and wake up early, and part of that learning is being educated about the culture of the Lumads.

Perez saw the importance to continue teaching despite the attacks against Lumad schools including CTCSM because he believes he needed to learn more about their culture, their history and their life.

For the past few months earlier on, Perez and several other teachers were in Manila for four months as they joined the Lumad children under the Save Our Schools Network that he said “stand for the rights of the IPs for Education, the right to their ancestral lands and right to self-determination.”

He believes education is important for the Lumads as it is rooted in their culture and it could help them protect their ancestral lands. Land is important for them, Perez added, “because it is their life and their hope and if it is lost, they also will lose their culture and their life.”

Perez likewise recognized that there have been thousands among the Lumads who are currently displaced because of the “different kinds of attacks against them especially the militarization of their ancestral lands, and the entry of big mining corporations, different kinds of plantations,” and he felt that as educators they needed to stand to protect the rights of the children.

That is why even if the schools and the teachers are being red-tagged by the military as “communists” or “rebels” and that the schools are allegedly teaching “communism”, Perez said many among the teachers’ volunteers still opted to teach.

The Lumads' presence in Manila, Perez said was to let the National Government know about the real situation of the Lumad schools and the different forms of attack against their schools, the IPs, the Moro and other tribes. He was disappointed though that the Department of Education seemed unresponsive to their situation, as they would have wanted DepEd to issue a statement condemning the air strikes being experienced by the aggrieved people, the killing of the IP children and the community teachers.

Perez said they have challenged the DepEd to grant the “permit-to-operate” because these are legitimate schools and has been in existence for years. Further, he said they urged the agency for the scrapping of Department Order 221 even as another Department Order number 57 has been in place disallowing the military to hold camp in schools, to enter in schools or sleep in the campus.

He continued to share that few days before they started their “kampuhan” in the Metro, there had been massive evacuations happening especially in the Caraga Region. “We are seeing this as a violation of the IPs’ Human Rights and the Right to self-determination as they continued to experience harassment and intimidation from the hands of the military. Their situation is worsening as more and more violations had been perpetrated against the Lumads.”

Hence, Perez said they are calling on President Rodrigo Duterte to open a window to listen to the complaints of the Lumads and not to listen to people who are out to destroy the Lumads. Likewise, they are also calling on Secretary Briones to also hear the Lumads who, for 13 days that they have stayed at the DepEd Kampuhan, were completely ignored and not even an undersecretary or assistant to the secretary had bothered to listen to them.

Moreover, Perez was resolute that they are not stopping this struggle, as this are contained in national and international laws, that government is mandated to serve the people and help them attain their rights to education, right to ancestral lands, and the right to self-determination.


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