Around 40 to 60 students sit in wooden chairs inside a classroom. Five little learners share a reading textbook. Two other kids share a broken pencil while the whole class shares a box of crayons.
This is but a common scenario in some madaris (Islamic schools) especially in most conflict-affected areas of Muslim Mindanao.
It was way back in the 1980s when some researchers asked the madrasa officials what their main problems were. They said they need an updated library, improved physical facilities, and most of all more qualified and competent faculty. Over the years, not much has changed, but small ripples of improvement slowly comes to the madrasah shores.
Madrasah (or its plural madaris) is from an Arabic word meaning school. It is from the root word dars, which connotes a learning process done through drill lessons.
The madrasah is a community-based and community-managed school where the primary training is centered on the Qur’anic reading, Islamic teachings and Arabic reading and writing.
Cited in a research of Abdulrahim-Tamano Pandapatan, the madrasah started as a small household concern, termed maktab, where a guru (teacher) taught a small group of children.
Shariff Kharimul Makhdum, the one who built the first mosque in the country in Bohe Indangan, Simunul, Tawi-Tawi, first introduced it in the Philippines in the 13th century.
It was in the 1920s when Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddique Al Qaderi, a Muslim intellectual, stimulated some of the activities of the Muslim Associates of the Philippines including the establishment of madaris in the provinces of southern Philippines. The madaris were mostly found in Mindanao where the majority of the Muslim communities are located.
The madrasah is considered as an institution of learning in most Muslim communities and a significant part and symbol of Islam.
Dual educational system
One of the issues facing the country’s formal education system is the duality of the educational system in Muslim Mindanao.
There is the mainstream public school system that follows the Department of Education (DepEd) national basic education curriculum with English as the medium of instruction, and the other, sectarian, privately-run Madaris that teach Islam as a religion and uses the Arabic language.
According to Department of Education Undersecretary for Muslim Affairs Dr. Manaros Boransing, this two-system structure in the Muslim Mindanao education creates a split identity in the educational realm and does not enrich the Filipino Muslim’s identity.
The DepEd Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) started the development and mainstreaming of Madrasah education, especially in the teaching of Arabic language and Islamic values, as authorized under RA 9054 or the Organic Act for the ARMM.
Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP)
The need to help raise the level of learning in the madaris in Mindanao led to the organization of the CEAP-NABEI Volunteer Program or simply referred today as the Madaris Volunteer Program (MVP).
MVP is a direct “peace dividend” of the Catholic Educational Association of the Philippines (CEAP) and the National Association of Bangsamoro Education, Inc. (NABEi). It is a ten-month service program where volunteers would be exposed to a cultural immersion as teachers for DepEd-mandated subjects such as English, Math, Science and other non-religious courses.
The pioneer project aims to assist in the improvement of madaris education and to create an environment of mutual respect and understanding between the Bangsamoro community and the teacher volunteers.
As quoted in the column of CEAP-National Advocacy Commission Chair Fr. Joel E. Tabora, S.J., Al Hajj Murad Ebrahim, Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front said, “Our jihad, our struggle is not yet finished. We are elevated to another jihad that is more difficult. The difficult path is now passed from freedom fighters to the educators. You educators are now on the frontline.”
Several applicants showed interest for the program but only 11 remaining brave souls pushed through. They were from the different parts of the Philippines and from various walks of life.
The first batch of MVP volunteers had a 10-day training and orientation in Davao City last June and they were taught about teaching strategies, classroom management, and interfaith and intercultural dialogues.
The volunteers now assist in the educational effort of the selected partner madaris: the Ibn Taimiyah Foundation Academy (ITFA) and Umeeyatul Al-Akhyar Integrated School both in Sultan Kudarat, the Dar Al Uloom Wal Hikmah in Tamontaka, Cotabato City, Datu Manguda Timan in Taviran, Datu Odin Sinsuat, Hadji Baganian Integrated School in Tambunan Talayan, Mohammad Bin Al-Dahirie in Guindulungan, Gani L. Abpi Colleges and the Markaz Al Huzaim both in Datu Piang, the Mahad Saada Al Arabie Integrated School in Nabawalag, Datu Salibo, and the Datu Ibrahim Pendatun Paglas III Foundation Inc. in Poblacion, Datu Paglas, Maguindanao.
Karina Jana Nerva, an MVP volunteer, shared that volunteering would be her way to help the larger Filipino eradicate the prejudice against Muslim Filipinos.
“The issue of peace in Bangsamoro is layers and layers and layers of overlapping, complicated dynamics, contexts and perspectives,” she added.
“There really is no other more effective way to make a positive contribution but to take a chance into giving kids proper education and useful knowledge that will inspire them to make a change,” Nerva said.
Meanwhile, Janille Mariz Garduque, another MVP volunteer said she committed to the program because she desires to serve the poorest of the poor communities.
“I wanted to be where there is a greater need, where there is greater growth, where there is a deeper meaning and life,” Garduque said.
The MVP volunteers did not only contribute to the greater jihad of the Muslims through teaching, but they have also learned as much as they taught.
Garduque said she only knew of her hometown Cagayan de Oro, the city life and private schools. She had a fixed context all her life, until she went out of her comfort zone to teach.
“I get to immerse deeply into Islam and Maguindanaon culture. I get to learn a new language. I get to see and meet different places and different people,” the volunteer said.
Garduque also expressed that she is deeply changed by the goodness of the Bangsamoro people, as she was well received and taken care of.
“The best thing from the experience is that I am able to carry the beautiful smiles of my students in my heart. I have seen at Ibn Taimiyah Foundation Academy the most smiling students, or I call smileys, in Mindanao,” she said.
“Joining MVP is indeed an irreplaceable and worthwhile experience of a lifetime,” she ended.
Hear their stories
Raymond De Peralta, an MVP Volunteer in Datu Piang, Maguindanao shared on social media, at first, he thought they were lucky to be able to go to the Bangsamoro areas, meet the Muslim brothers and sisters and hear their own stories.
“As time went by, we were able to see their hardships. Sometimes we ask, why is it like we have forgotten them? They are also our fellow Filipinos, but why do they don’t get as much attention?” he said in Filipino.
The volunteer said some people would really bother what is their next OOTD (outfit of the day), while some of his students hurriedly go home after class just to wash their only uniform.
He also shared one of his students said “Sir, hindi ako makakapasok next week kasi kailangan kong tulungan si Tatay sa bukid” (I will not be able to go to class next week because I will help my father in the farm).
“I hope we could help through narrating their stories so that the people would know and understand what they are going through,” De Peralta said in Filipino.
“It is not yet too late to help them. We could start by removing the biases engraved in our minds, so we could start to care for them,” he said.
Other face of poverty
MVP Project Coordinator and Officer Harris Tanjili said that the volunteers ideally must only assist existing teachers in the madrasah but majority of them became full time teachers. Some of them even have advisory classes.
“They learned to love the community and the kids. Some of the volunteers extend their classes or give tutorial sessions at night,” he said.
Moreover, MVP Formator Sheila Mae Jaso said the volunteers have seen the other face of poverty, the educational poverty.
“There are times when there is no chalk to use during lecture. Other heartaches of the volunteers include the dilapidated buildings of the madrasa, the flooding in the classrooms during rainy days, and the lack of educational materials and references,” Jaso added.
According to Tanjili, in order to find a way to address these deficiencies, the volunteers strive hard to write letters in order to find donors.
Due to the persistent efforts of the volunteers and the generosity of different donors, there is now a mini library in Mohammad Bin Al Dahirie Islamic Academy in Guindulungan, Maguindanao and a sports program at Hadji Ali Baganian Memorial School, Inc. in Tambunan, Talayan, Maguindanao.
Moreover, there has been outreach programs done at Iqra Academy of Mindanao in Cotabato City, trainings of teachers in Datu Piang and donation drives for school equipment.
To further foster a well-rounded education, Physical Education (PE) subjects were added and PE equipment were also provided.
These improvements and initiatives eventually led to the significant improvement on class attendance and in the academic performance of the students.
As the MVP formator pointed out, the volunteers are continually participating in the dialogue of action, life experience, and faith through strengthening the quality of education in Bangsamoro areas.
“MVP is just a baby project so there is still a lot to improve, but if this develops into something more, I think it is an effective way in bridging peace in Mindanao,” Jaso said.
For more information about the volunteer program, visit www.teachmadaris.org