This subject of this essay -- Edwina T. Alaska, a native of Pala’wan -- was given a special recognition at the Chamber of Mines of the Philippines’ Faces of Mining: Short Story Writing Competitions 2012. At age 47, “Nanay (Mother) Edwina” attended the Indigenous Learning System (ILS) program, a non-formal school for indigenous peoples of Palawan and was an English 101 student of the author, herself a member of the Pala’wan Panimusan ethnolinguistic group and currently works as Personnel Supervisor at the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Foundation, Inc.
Nanay Edwina is a Pala’wan native who married a Cuyunin, another indigenous people’s group found here in Palawan province. They live in Barangay Ocayan, Bataraza, Palawan. She registered as a learner or student in the Indigenous Learning System (ILS), a non-formal school program established in 2006 by Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation (RTNMC) and Coral Bay Nickel Corporation (CBNC) for members of indigenous cultural communities in the province.
After one year of study, she passed the Acceleration and Equivalency (A&E) Exam, a test given by the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System for students attending non-formal education programs. She was then awarded a college scholarship by RTNMC and CBNC for indigenous peoples.
Under this program, the two companies through RTN Foundation, Inc. shoulder all the school expenses of a scholar, which includes a monthly allowance of Two Thousand Pesos or less, depending on the number of college scholars that enroll per semester, since the entire fund allocation is divided among the scholars that pass the A&E exam and pursue college education.
One can see from the way she looks the years that separate her from the youthful faces of her classmates. She stands 4’11”, weighs 39 kilos, with burnt and wrinkled skin. Her classmates would sometimes tease her because, at 47 years old, she is still a first year college student, a rare sight here. But with her gentle expression, you will not even think twice to talk to her and approach her at any time.
Perhaps, aside from her age, it was truly sweet to call her Nanay. Sometimes I also ponder how it is like to be a college student, a mother to 5 children, and a wife all at the same time. Wow, it could be something really great but difficult. I thought at that time that she will not be able to graduate because studying is not easy, especially in college.
Nanay Edwina was diligent in the class. Perhaps because she is a mother, I felt her strong sense of responsibility.
When I stopped teaching as a part-time instructor at the Western Philippines University-Rio Tuba Extension Campus, I have not kept abreast of her student life. There were times that I see her but we never had the chance to even chat.
March 2012, I learned that Nanay Edwina would finish college. Time flies so fast! It seems not long ago when I witnessed her first day in school. I may not have attended her graduation, but my heart was filled with joy. When we finally met, I was in tears when I greeted her. I couldn’t understand, but I cry easily since I became a mother.
A few months passed, I learned that she has not found work. I looked for her and we had a brief talk. My heart was moved.
“You know, Ma’am, I feel truly grateful to the companies for their ILS program. I was able to finish college despite my age. I am both happy and sad because while I have graduated, my husband passed away. He was ill. Then my eldest child was jailed for an accusation that I know he was not guilty of. You may still remember Junel, Ma’am, he was also your student,” Nanay Edwina narrated in tears.
“Ah, yes, I still remember,” I replied. “So now, Ma’am, I am the only one that attends to our basakan. I am used to it, but it is hard as I am alone now. I also sell rice cakes especially during Sundays. Sale is good at Tabuan. Honestly, I use the income from that to augment the school expenses of our family. My daughter is also in college now. You know how life is with the basakan, it is just meager. At night, we prepare the cooking ingredients. I sleep for just a few hours. I need to wake up at dawn to cook the suman made of camote then deliver them to school and to my patrons. That is where I get the money to buy rice and pay our daily fare.
"The income is good, Ma’am, but it is just exhausting. It is dark in the fields, there is no electricity, so we only use gas lights. But I endured all those difficulties,” continued Nanay Edwina as she occasionally wipes her tears.
I don’t know what to call her now. When she was my student, I called her “Mrs. Alaska”. But that sounded too formal in this conversation. So, I decided to just call her Ate (sister). It sounded sweeter. To lift her burden, I asked her, “What did the ILS tell you now that you have finally graduated?”
“They asked me if I am willing to teach Community Livelihood or Entrepreneurship to indigenous people’s communities under the ILS program since I finished Bachelor of Science in Agricultural Business anyway,” she answered. “Do you like to do that?” I asked again. “Of course, Ma’am, I prefer that so I can serve my fellow indigenous peoples in the community!” she replied with a smile.
Today, Nanay Edwina serves the indigenous communities as an ILS teacher. She manages the newly-opened ILS center in the mountainous part of Barangay Culandanum in Bataraza. She also works as a clerk at ILS when she has no classes. She is raising her family on her own, which includes supporting her daughter who is now a third-year Business Administration student and her other children.
Nanay Edwina is the very first graduate or product of the ILS program that became its employee as well. In the history of RTNMC and RTNFI, she is also the first member of an indigenous people’s community who got employed at 51 years old.
Whenever I talk to Nanay Edwina and I mention about work and family, she would always cry. Indeed, you are a great Nanay that should be emulated by other women.
The "Faces of Mining short story writing writing competition" received 105 entries from employees, their family members, and the residents in host communities of Chamber of Mines' member firms. Amid negative perception against mining as a mere resource-extractive activity, this contest was launched in July to show the real-life, human interest stories of individuals who have personally experienced how mining touched their lives through the years.
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