By Sister Michelle S. Salalila, OP
December 21, 2017, Angeles City, Pampanga, Philippines – “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you’” (Lk 1:26-27).
This is the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary during the annunciation, words of affirmation of Mary’s role in the salvific work of God.
In the school community at Dominican School of Angeles City, angels were also sent by God on December 13 to bring the Good News, bittersweet truth to open the minds of students and faculty, and challenge them in their everyday life.
The children from the Lumad indigenous people had been invited to share their experiences with our students to make them aware that outside the four corners of their school are social unrest, injustices, and deprivation of education because of militarization. Our students need to learn that life is more than the social media, Wi-Fi connections, gadgets, the need to belong, and peer pressure.
Sister Zenaida Nacpil, OP, Chapter Prioress of Our Lady of Remedies Mission Chapter, based in the Philippines, made this point well. “There is a bigger school of life,” she said. “Education does not depend only on books and we learn not only in school."
During the open forum, Jenky, one of the Lumad children, shared her amazement at seeing the huge buildings of the Dominican School of Angeles City. She felt the privileges of the students, who are provided with every facility they need for their education: a safe space, stable rooms, laboratories, armchairs, and every other necessity. Jenky added that, as soon as her group arrived at the school, she felt free and safe.
Jenky also said that our students should be grateful for the presence and dedication of their teachers. At Jenky’s school, their teachers are killed. The military are afraid that if the children learn how to read, write, and count, they will have the confidence and fortitude to fight back for their rights. Because of the militarism, most of the Lumad children study every day, wherever they can, yet are still lacking in education.
The Lumad children also spoke about the importance of the land. Because life came from the land, they said, we need to treasure and protect it. Many of the Lumad children born on the mountains are deprived of their rights to education, a decent and peaceful life, and the leisure to enjoy their childhood.
The Lumad children also said they do their best to preserve their culture, languages, and dances – and respect for the culture itself.
Lita, one of the Lumad teachers, spoke of the hard life of the children. They wake up early and till the field before going to school. At the end of the school day, they return to the fields to continue their work. A collective people, they share their harvest with the whole community.
Lita also said that the Lumad children desire to finish their education not for money or security, but to give back to their community. Most of them are education students, planning to go back to their communities and teach their tribes how to read, write, and count.
Jenky especially mentioned the use of technology in the low land. She said that, in the mountain, technology is never part of their lives, yet they each have a simple and happy life.
After the talks, the Dominican School students shared what they had learned. “This is eye opening to us,” a 10th-grade student said. “Living a life far from what your life is, after this, we should be more appreciative of what our parents and school [are] giving us.”
A ninth-grade student said, “Bullying is a big problem in our school. But listening to your stories, we have to reflect now how to take care of our classmates and appreciate their beauty and giftedness. I am inspired by your stories how the military bully you, yet you still stand for your rights.”
An eighth-grade student said she now appreciates the value of education. “Some of us, whenever we feel studies are so hard to finish, we automatically think to quit, to stop,” she said. “Yet, listening to your stories, we now have that sense of value for education, that what we are encountering is nothing compared to your experiences.”
The day was a time of inspiration and challenge. The Dominican School students received a message that they will either take seriously or let pass and forget. But we teachers and administrators, as their guides, will never get tired of challenging them and exposing them to national situations in the Philippines. We want them to be involved and have hearts for these national situations. We hope that through our guidance, like Mary in the story of the annunciation, they may be afraid of what they heard but later on will accept the truth and stand for it.
Lumad children and students of the Dominican School of Angeles City pose during their day together.