Indigenous children from Palawan talk about the issues that affect their communities
In the Philippines, Indigenous People (IP) comprise around 16% of the national population. Despite laws and policies that recognize, promote and protect the rights of IPs, they remain one of the most disadvantaged sectors of society today.
To promote and increase awareness about the rights of indigenous children, Tebtebba, with support from UNICEF and local non-government organizations and indigenous peoples’ organizations, conducted children’s workshops across the Philippines.
At the workshop held in Puerto Princesa, Palawan, children from Batak, Palaw’an and Tagbanwa indigenous communities came together to learn more about children’s and IP rights, and share their thoughts on the issues and challenges that their communities face.
For many of them, the most important issues are education, bullying and the exploitation of their ancestral domains. Here’s what some of them had to say.
One of her teachers in elementary school inspired Avhegail Cainday, an 18-year-old Tagbanwa, to become a teacher herself. “She was hardworking and I learned a lot from her. I want to be like her,” she said. Avhegail’s favorite subjects are Math, English and Science. “I want to teach all of them. I want to share my knowledge with other children,” she said.
As a future educator, Avhegail is concerned about the lack of schools in her community. “Many Tagbanwa children neglect their studies and get into vices. In addition to providing education, better parenting skills are also needed,” she said.
Avhegail joined the children’s rights workshop because she wanted to learn more about IP rights. “I learned that we have a right to protect our culture. We must fight to protect our identity,” she said.
Jepam Siyang, 16, wants to be a teacher. “I want to share my knowledge with children,” he said. As a member of the Palaw’an indigenous group, Jepam wants all children in his community to be able to attend and finish school. “This is the most important issue that needs to be addressed in my community. Education is a way out of poverty,” he said.
After attending the IP children’s rights workshop, 10-year-old Jeffrey Fernandez now wants other children to also know their rights. “I learned many things from the workshop. I want to share what I learned with other young people in my community when I go home,” he said. “I like the fact that, wherever we go, our rights as Tagbanwa people can never be taken away from us.”
Like many IP children, Jeffrey was bullied in school. “I was teased wherever I went. But I said to myself, ‘Why should I mind what they say? This is how my body looks like’,” he said.
Jeffrey also wants to encourage children to stay in school. “There are some who are unable to attend school like me, but I persisted and continued my education,” he said. “Out-of-school youth need help and support so they can go back to school, finish their education and find jobs.”
As a Tagbanwa and Palaw’an, 12-year-old Melanie Saiyo believes that the rights of IP children like herself should be respected. She wants to help promote and protect these rights by becoming a teacher when she grows up.
Melanie is also concerned about how the ancestral domain of IP groups are being exploited and destroyed by mining and logging companies. “What I like most about my hometown of Barangay Taburi are the beautiful views, the clean air and the quiet environment. I hope it stays that way,” she said.
Sunny Targod, 16, was pleased to learn about the Anti-Bullying Act during the children’s rights workshop. “As a Tagbanwa, I was always bullied in elementary school because I looked different,” he said. “They said a lot of hurtful things to me.”
Sunny likes listening to news broadcasts on the radio. “I want to study Mass Communication in college and work as a radio announcer. I want to tell other children to don’t mind what bullies say. I want to tell them to just work hard to achieve their dreams,” he said.
Jessalyn Abrina, 16, is a Grade 10 student. She sees the lack of education as the biggest challenge that children in her community face. Jessalyn wants to be a teacher to help her fellow Tagbanwa children. “I really want to teach children and encourage them to study hard,” she said.
When he’s not tending to his family’s banana farm, 21-year-old Randy Maylac, a Palaw’an, volunteers as a para-teacher in his community of Barangay Aribungos. “I make house-to-house visits on weekends to teach Palaw’an children and help them study,” he said.
Randy thinks that the culture of indigenous people must be respected. “It’s important to preserve our culture,” he said.
“Many children in my community don’t get to attend and finish school,” said 15-year-old Beverly Butig, a member of the Tagbanwa indigenous group. “I felt so happy when I finished elementary school. I’m now in high school and I enjoy attending my classes.”
Beverly thinks that IP children, especially in the remote areas, need more support. “The government should build schools and provide more resources in IP communities to encourage children to study,” she said.
Neco Zabala, a 14-year-old Tagbanwa, likes playing basketball and enjoys attending technology and livelihood education classes in school. “I love to cook. I want to be a chef,” he said. “I’m learning how to cook better by observing and helping my mother and aunt while they’re preparing our food.” One of the traditional Tagbanwa dishes that Neco likes is grilled turtle. “We catch them by the river in our town. I like eating the eggs inside,” he said.
“It’s important to value our rights as indigenous people,” Neco said. He also thinks that poverty in his community is an important issue. “Many children can’t attend school because of poverty. I want to encourage others to go to school and finish their education,” he said.
Jomar Cirilo, 21, is a Batak studying in college to become a teacher. “I want to go back to my hometown to teach young Batak children,” Jomar said. “I had to stop school when I was in Grade 4 because the school I attended was too far from my home in the mountains.”
Jomar was eventually able to continue his education at a school set up by missionaries in their community. “But it wasn’t accredited by the Department of Education. This means that, even if I completed high school, I still wouldn’t be able to attend college,” he said. Jomar decided to enroll in an Alternative Learning System program and passed the completion exam.
In addition to the need for accredited schools in IP communities, Jomar also thinks it’s important to have a special curriculum that respects their culture. “Many children in my community miss school because they help their parents during harvest season,” he said. “I think schools for IP children should follow the calendar of their communities, and include classes on our language and culture,” he said.
Joseph Siyang, 18, is a member of the Palaw’an indigenous group and lives in Aribungos, Palawan. “It’s important to preserve and respect the culture of indigenous people,” he said. “I want to do my part in protecting our culture. This is why I want to be a teacher.”
Because of her family’s financial situation, Rica Gabo, 18, had to stop attending school. “My parents could only send one child at a time to college. My older brother is the one studying now,” she said.
“I want to return to school. At first I wanted to major in Education, but after meeting social workers in my community I now want to study social work. I want to help my fellow Tagbanwa children,” Rica said.
Attending the children’s rights workshop inspired Rica to ensure that she gets a college degree. “Even if others think of indigenous children as different, we still have our rights, like our right to education,” she said. “We shouldn’t be discouraged by what others say or think of us. If you have a dream, pursue it and work hard for it.”
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF and its work in the Philippines, visit www.unicef.ph.