CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY, Philippines — There is a place known as Zamboanguita, nestled at the tip of Malaybalay City, the economic center of the province of Bukidnon. This barangay, with its stretches of fertile farmlands and sporadic appearances of pine trees on both sides of the main road, is a home to indigenous groups, amicable and proud.
As the sun glinted off overhead one morning in late May, the people of Zamboanguita drew together under a makeshift blue tent by the Pulangi River to celebrate a local festival following a fluvial parade. There stood Ezequel, clad in white shirt and dark blue jeans, assisting the priests before the mass started. He covered, with a white cloth, the rectangular table, which was beside a statue of Mary.
He listened to the sermon of the Catholic priests attentively, recited the verses, made the sign of the cross, and joined other villagers in retrieving the chairs and tables when the mass ended.
A proud Higaonon, 21-year-old Jose Ezequel Salanay has a bright vision for his fellow Lumads, and he will pursue it.
“I want to prove that even though I am a Lumad,” he said, “I have the capacity to show myself to the bigger world.”
‘Just pray and trust yourself’
He knows well there will be challenges along his way, but he has the guts to overcome them.
Ezequel is now a junior education student at the San Isidro College of Malaybalay. More than 3 years ago, he finished high school at the Jesuit mission school, San Isidore High School in Zamboanguita, through the support of the First-Year Formation Program – Educational Assistance Program (EAP) of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro City.
For the pioneers of FFP-EAP, Ezequel is already a success story, a role model to other Higaonon youth.
“I have encountered financial problems and the lack of equipment in learning,” Ezequel said. “My family cannot support my finances, too.”
Ezequel’s father had passed away so he had to find ways to support his schooling.
But this young Lumad is optimistic he could make it. Doubting wouldn’t help: “I have asked support from the Jesuit fathers, and all in all I put my trust to God and to myself that I can overcome all of the challenges.”
The second of 4 children, poverty is not new to Ezequel.
“There are a lot of ways to pursue our dreams and hopes in life, and our poverty is not a hindrance. Just pray, think positive, be inspired, and trust yourself,” he related.
Ezequel plans to go back to San Isidore High School to teach more young Lumads after getting his college diploma and passing the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET).
“I want to educate and inspire my fellow Lumads,” he said.
Love will come
Sun-kissed, raven-black hair and deep brown eyes, Ressa has a similar story to Ezequel. Her profile begins: “I am Ressa Y. Mayonan, 21, an incoming Grade 11, 5th of 11 siblings, a daughter of Angelina, a housekeeper, and Romeo, a farmer.”
Ressa is independent. She lives away from her family – in the poverty-stricken village of Magawa, Impasug-ong in Bukidnon – to pursue her dreams.
“For me, my heroes are my parents because I saw in them what love is. They are understanding and caring, and I learned about God because of them. My parents gave me life,” she said.
Ressa plans to finish her schooling to set a good example to her younger siblings, and she only plans to marry when the “right time” comes.
“I’ll finish my education first. Love will come,” she declared. At her age, many of her contemporaries have children already.
It comes with no surprise that Ressa also wants to become a teacher, just like Ezequel. She loves lecturing in front of people, and she adores children.
“As a teacher, I could help other people. I could help build their dreams,” she said. Ressa would like to go back to where she came from and teach there.
She added: “When the time comes, I’d like to provide my family with a proper house because right now, some of my siblings live with our relatives in other places. I want us to be complete.”
Even though she is still at Grade 11 (senior high school), Ressa is now looking for a scholarship program that would support her college education.
“I need to pass my subjects first, especially Math,” she quipped.
“I want to pursue my dreams no matter how hard it is. I will persevere for my family and for myself. Education is something we can keep for the rest of our lives. No one can steal it from you,” Ressa says.
She may be 26 or older when she graduates from college, but education is worth fighting for, Ressa iterated.
Among the young Lumads, many have set aside their dreams of finishing school. Some opted to marry and raise a family, some decided to give up school to toil their lands, and some lost interest for other reasons.
But for those like Ezequel and Ressa, and countless other young Lumads across the Philippines, the path may not be easy and certain, but they will traverse it head on.
In Malaybalay, roughly 4 hours from where this story was written, there stands a quiet barangay — where a river gives life and the clouds ruffle against the cerulean skies, above fertile lands and fruit trees — it is called Zamboanguita and it belongs to dreamers. –Rappler.com
Rappler’s Lead Mover in Cagayan de Oro City, Stephen Pedroza is a journalism graduate from Xavier University – Ateneo de Cagayan and he attended a course on new media in journalism at Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana.
To sponsor a Lumad high school student through the Educational Assistance Program of Xavier University, you may contact Jerome Torres through firstname.lastname@example.org.