Education is one of the most basic and vital needs of an individual.

Through education, people acquire knowledge and information needed to navigate the world. It unleashes the potential and capacity of the human mind. The role of education in the society is essential as it is a requisite for transformation, empowerment, and development.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to education because of poverty, disharmony, difficult geographic location, and lack of infrastructure.

Infrastructure is a fundamental element in the delivery of quality education. It is imperative for children to be in conducive and safe learning spaces. While learning can also be done in various spaces such as homes, tents, shade of trees, temporary shelters, and so on – proper education should still take place in classrooms that have been designed for comfort and security.

ROAD LESS TRAVELLED. This is one of the many obstacles one has to go through when going to Sitio Tigbaw.

Several remote areas in the Philippines experience this predicament including the Caraga Region. Sitio Tigbaw, Barangay Zillovia located in the municipality of Talacogon, Agusan del Sur is one of the communities that face this problem. It is the farthest community in the municipality, making schooling inaccessible for the people. To get there, one has to endure the rough road while riding a “skylab” or motorcycle, crossing a swift and wide river, and walking a narrow and rugged trail for a day or two due to lack of access roads.

To address this issue, the Department of Social Welfare and Development through the Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan – Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services (Kalahi-CIDSS) launched the “Classroom Construction for Lumads” (CCL) Project, a strategy initiated by the government to respond to the needs of Indigenous Communities and provide accessible quality education to indigenous people and to build peaceful and socially cohesive communities, in partnership with the Department of Education and the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples.

This opportunity came just in time for the small community of Sitio Tigbaw.

Call for education

Sitio Tigbaw is one of the 14 puroks within Barangay Zillovia, Talacogon, Agusan del Sur. The sitio, situated within the boundary of Agusan del Sur and Bukidnon, is home to the Talaandig tribe.

The elders of the community have long aspired to provide a bright future for their children. And with education, they believe this could help them attain their aspiration. However, this ambition seems difficult to achieve due to their geographic location – where there is limited access to basic social services such as health centers and schools.

“Sa una pa gyud, wala gyud mi natagaan og edukasyon. Wala mi natagaan og eskwelahan. Sa una, nakaskwela ko tungod sa mga missionary (Even before, we were not provided with proper education. We were not provided with a school. I was only able to go to school because of the missionaries),” Datu Philip Lalinan shared.

Datu Phillip, a community volunteer who would later on be elected as Barangay Sub – Project Management Committee (BSPMC) Chairman, was granted the chance to go to school through the help of missionaries. This made him yearn for his fellow Lumads to be given with the equal opportunity of experiencing academic and social development as well.

Elsa Balansag, another community volunteer also shares the same sentiments with Datu Lalinan. She was the first of their tribe to finish college with a degree in Education. Both are convinced that education can foster the community’s growth and enhance their wellbeing. They dream to increase the community’s literacy level; yet they also acknowledge the fact that education is the community’s topmost problem.

The nearest school is 72-kilometers away from their place and it would cost parents an amount of Php 2,500.00 per day for their children’s transportation. They find it difficult to cope with this expense as their only source of livelihood is farming. Other than this, parents fear the security of their children travelling to and from their homes as some areas were unsafe.

In 2016, Elsa heard of the Kalahi-CIDSS and its goals and objectives through the Barangay Local Government Unit (BLGU). Fully-aware of her community’s lack of school infrastructure, she wrote a letter on behalf of the IP community addressed to the Kalahi-CIDSS, requesting for the program to help them in building their own school.

After submitting their letter, Datu Lalinan diligently made frequent visits to the Kalahi-CIDSS Municipal Office and made constant follow-ups about their request and project proposal with a hopeful heart.

Little did they know, all their efforts would finally pay off in the following year.

BSPMC Sitio Tigbaw: The early stages

Once Sitio Tigbaw was able to create their volunteer group, the Kalahi-CIDSS team conducted a series of community trainings to further capacitate and guide the BSPMC Sitio Tigbaw of the processes and methods to be utilized and applied during the project implementation of the CCL.

Regular assemblies and meetings took place to discuss implementation updates and concerns. Also, this became a venue for the community volunteer group to hone both their leadership and decision – making skills. Through the CCD approach, this became the premise of progress and community involvement for the people of Sitio Tigbaw.

The BSPMC always ensured that there was a 100% attendance of community volunteers during activities. They constantly encouraged everyone to engage in the whole implementation process for it helps them develop a sense of accountability and ownership over the sub-project. Through the Community – Driven Development approach of the Kalahi – CIDSS, the BSPMC perceived their significant roles in the improvement of their community. Furthermore, the community volunteers have realized the importance of working together to reach a common goal.

KAPIT-BISIG. Community volunteers of Sitio Tigbaw gather to work for a common goal of providing quality education to their children and the future generation.

Even during the early stages of the CCL project, the support and commitment of the BSPMC was admirable; Municipal Mayor Jesryl Masendo can even attest to this. He personally saw the efforts of the volunteers and their immense dedication to complete the project. They invested a lot of their time, effort, and even money to expedite the process and to meet the targeted timeline.

So gwapo kayo siya lantawon nga kung magtinabangay diay bisan sa kagamay sa pundo, mahuman gyud ang maong proyekto (It is great to see that through teamwork, regardless of the budget, the project would be fulfilled),” he said.

Without doubt, nothing and no one could stop the community volunteers from building their dream school.

Of struggles and persistence

When the construction was about to begin, a grave matter came into the picture. There were two other tribes in the vicinity who severely opposed the implementation of the CCL project. Because of this, the implementation was suspended.

Tribe leaders assumed and speculated that the classroom to be built in the community was exclusive only to the Talaandig tribe. They strongly objected the construction claiming that it would do no good and would only aggravate the division among the tribal communities. Certainly, it was an issue which the BSPMC could not brush off. Some members of the community got agitated, fearing that the project will not push through anymore.

With the assistance of the Kalahi – CIDSS team and the BLGU of Barangay Zillovia, the BSMPC, led by Datu Lalinan, immediately took an action. The community volunteers conversed among themselves to resolve the problem. They went to the respective territories of these tribes and explained that the school was open for every tribe in the community and not solely for the Talaandig tribe. The resolution process took some time but in the end, the BSPMC was able to dispel the speculations of the other tribes. Thus, construction resumed.

During the project implementation, the intense devotion and dedication of the community volunteers were undeniable. Their efforts doubled and everybody walked that extra mile just to get their tasks done. Every BSMPC member fervently did his or her roles to accomplish their responsibilities.

Mayor Masendo commended the BSPMC Sitio Tigbaw for their passion for volunteerism and ambition to provide quality education for their people. With no hesitation, he assisted and worked closely with the BSPMC, BLGU, and the Kalahi-CIDSS team.

Matag karon ug unya kanang muduol sila sa amo, kulang og gasoline, pagkaon, tanan. Syempre og magpakaon pod ka didtong dapita, dili pod ingon ana lang nga sila lang pakan-on nimo (Every now and then, when they ask assistance from us – such as gasoline, food, among others. Of course, when we provide food in that area, we do not cater them solely),” Mayor Masendo explained.

Moreover, even if the municipal office of the Kalahi – CIDSS was several kilometers away from Sitio Tigbaw, the BSPMC would travel from time to time to facilitate and process pertinent documents. They would find ways to work on implementation concerns and address it right away.

With the BSMPC’s utmost determination to finish the CCL project, their children will now be able to go to a proper school by the next academic year.

Strive for sustainability

In preparation for its future operations, the Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee of Sitio Tigbaw created a General Parent – Teacher Association (GPTA) who will function as the Operations and Maintenance (O&M) group.

The group will be entrusted to monitor and supervise the maintenance of the school. To ensure that more generations will be accommodated by the school, they assured that any damages will be fixed and structural repairs will be done as quickly as possible. The GPTA will require a quarterly “Pahina” or general cleaning so that the school and its surroundings will be kept clean and orderly and to ascertain the establishment’s longevity.

An annual strategic planning session will be initiated by the BSPMC to secure the projects’ maintenance and sustainability. The committee will continue managing general assemblies to see to it that everyone in the community is involved in the school’s future expansion – as they aim to establish an intermediate school in Sitio Tigbaw.

Home at last

From 2016 up to the present year, the Kalahi – CIDSS team including Municipal Mayor Jesryl Masendo has noticed significant and notable changes and improvement among the people of Sitio Tigbaw. Mayor Masendo complimented the community volunteers for their remarkable performance as volunteers and their strong commitment to finish what they have started. He saw their perseverance and hardwork to make education and learning accessible for their children and the future generations.

To make it official, the newly-built school of Sitio Tigbaw has already been endorsed by the Department of Education (DepEd) – Agusan del Sur Division to the regional office and has already been registered under the agency, securing them with an official school ID number. In the next school year, DepEd will assign licensed teachers in their community to guarantee that proper and quality education will be rendered to the children.

SINDUNGAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL. Through the passion and determination of the community volunteers of Sitio Tigbaw, they are now a step closer towards having quality education.

Having a school in their community, Sitio Tigbaw can now have a place they can call home. Datu Lalinan said that they can finally settle down and claim the area as their ancestral domain. The matter on ancestral domain is one of the most critical issues encountered by IP communities in the Philippines. At present, they are already processing the papers claiming for ancestral domain with the help of the LGU and BLGU.

Bahala naulahi mi pero musunod mi kumbaga kung naglakaw pa, muapas rami. Unsa man ang kalambuan sa lain nga tribu, makasunod ra gyud mi. (We may be a little left behind but we will follow. We may be a bit late on development compared to other tribes but we can eventually follow),” Datu Lalinan concluded.

Towards growth and expansion

DREAMERS. The children are filled with excitement to welcome the next school year and experience the comfort of a classroom.

By February this year, the Kalahi – CIDSS Program will officially turnover the Sindungan Elementary School, a one unit two classroom elementary building, to the community of Sitio Tigbaw. Over 60 students, ages 4 – 17 years old, are already very eager and enthusiastic in using and experiencing the newly – built classroom which they have waited for a long time.

Besides this, the community volunteers also plan to build a barangay health center through the help of the LGU as health is their second major concern. The LGU, through the leadership of Municipal Mayor Jesryl Masendo, committed to extending assistance to help the community grasp other basic social services.

The education of the indigenous communities has for a long time taken a back seat. The opportunity brought by the Kalahi – CIDSS through the CCL Project brought a huge breakthrough for the community. Now, the community of Sitio Tigbaw can experience proper learning and become more empowered with their rights. The new classrooms will be used to broaden the children’s academic learning while highlighting the perpetuation of the community’s cultural heritage. Indeed, another community has been provided with new possibilities and hope for further developments in the future.

With the volunteers of Barangay Sub-Project Management Committee of Sitio Tigbaw, Zillovia’s ardent support, unselfish service, and collective efforts, they are now one step closer to achieving a complete and integrated system of education.

“Dili gyud namo masukod ang among pagpasalamat ug among kalipay. Diri mi nabag-o, bisan sa gamay nga panahon. Diri namo nakita nga naglambo ang among matag usa ka indibidwal (We cannot measure our gratefulness and our happiness. Through this, we changed in a short period of time. Through this, we saw the development of every individual in our community.),” Datu Lalinan concluded.###(CLEA MARIEL C. MALUNHAO/Social Marketing Unit/DSWD Field Office Caraga)