Without access to education, Badjao children will be left further behind
“SOME of the children felt discriminated in regular schools, so they preferred studying here,” says Nolyn Asis, 23, a volunteer teacher in an informal school in the Badjao community of Surigao City.
The school, an empty house, stood in the middle of the community. Less than half of the structure remains today. As with the other houses around it, it was destroyed during Typhoon Odette (international name: Rai).
“When we came back here from the evacuation center, what we saw made us cry,” says Dahila Araman, 56, the leader of the community, which comprises 168 families living in 92 houses.
“Almost everything was gone—our belongings, our houses, our pump boats,” says Araman. “The waves carried them away.” She still cries whenever she remembers what happened.
Members of the community lived on the shallow part of the sea, near the port. After the typhoon, they gathered the pieces of wood and tarpaulins floating on the water and used them to build tents on the breakwater, along a busy road.
Help for learners
“The school was a big help to me,” says Rupaida Caudtowan, 12. “I went there every day to answer my modules.” Since the start of the pandemic, learners in nearby public schools have been studying through self-learning modules.
Since the typhoon, both the regular schools in the area and the informal school have not resumed their operations. “I want to have classes again,” says Rupaida. “I want to be able to learn many things.”
Araman says that two teachers from the Department of Education (DepEd) would come to the community to help the Badjao children. “They taught 30 to 50 children. They couldn’t fit in the school, so the terrace of my house served as an extension.”
Asis, belonging to the indigenous community herself, says that the classes were part of DepEd’s Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) Program and Alternative Learning System. She volunteered in the IPEd program in the latter part of 2019 and then intermittently in 2020. “The learners were comfortable with me because we speak the same language.”
Some of the learners were married. “In my community, it’s not uncommon for girls to marry or be married off after they graduate from elementary school,” says Asis. “The school here gave them an opportunity to continue their education.”
She adds that some religious organizations also conducted short-term educational programs in the school.
“We had tables and chairs here,” says Asis. “We had blackboards and charts on the wall. Various subjects were taught, just like in regular schools.” Araman’s house had no teaching materials, so it was used for singing lessons and tutorials only.
It’s not clear when the classes would resume. Without their old shelters and livelihood, the Badjao community cannot prioritize education. They rely on donations and rations for their daily needs.
Rupaida lives in a makeshift tent shared by two households. Her parents and six siblings live on one side, and she lives with her grandmother and her uncle’s family on the other side. “It’s so cramped in here,” she says. “We get wet again whenever there’s rain.”
The tents of the Badjao people stretch for about 200 meters along the road. Araman built hers on the spot where her old house had been, on the sea. “We can’t afford roofing materials,” she says.
“The prices of nipa leaves and metal sheets have greatly increased.”
She points at the stilts behind her tent. With pride and sadness, she says, “That’s where the children used to learn.”
*UNICEF is helping children continue their schooling after Typhoon Odette by sending tents, school supplies and teacher kits. Help children and families affected by Typhoon Odette by donating now at https://donate.unicef.ph/campaign/children-emergencies.
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