Refusing to let attacks on their community deter them, young Lumad students have taken it upon themselves to raise funds in a bid to continue their education during the pandemic.
Among these are former students of Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao, Inc. (CTCSM) in Maco, Davao de Oro, a Lumad school affiliated with the Save Our Schools (SOS) Network. CTCSM is one of the few colleges catering mainly to Lumad students, according to the SOS Network.
The Department of Education (DepEd) in Davao ordered the school shut down on May 22 due to “incomplete submission of documentary requirements and noted deficiencies in the implementation of the K to 12 Curriculum.” School officials had claimed that their requirements were incomplete because DepEd Davao allegedly told them that the deadline was moved.
In a letter to DepEd Davao, CTCSM Board of Trustees chairperson Sister Concepcion Gasang appealed for a reconsideration of the closure order “at the very least for the senior high school program” in a bid to “remain steadfast in our mandate to uphold education and holistic rights of disadvantaged children.”
Given that most of the Lumad students are not financially capable of enrolling in other schools, CTCSM did not collect tuition and operated mainly using donations. Students were also provided their basic needs such as board and lodging, toiletries, and school supplies as they studied there.
The closure has left 250 CTCSM students from Lumad and peasant communities with fewer opportunities for an education during the pandemic.
In July 2016, there were 216 Lumad schools in Mindanao. Only 38 schools remained as of September 2020, according to the SOS Network.
Seeing the string of attacks on Lumad schools as far back as 2019, Lumad students of CTCSM sought to publish a photo book that celebrated their stories
They partnered with University of Newcastle professor Sarah Wright, who found them because of her interest in their organic agricultural practices. She later issued them a grant and helped them in creating a photo book after knowing of their struggles.
Wright, along with teachers and staff of CTCSM, took the photos for the book, while students helped in writing its content.
Hoping to raise funds to continue their education, more than 30 Lumad students of CTCSM continued to work with their teachers to publish the photo book titled “Scent of Rain, Sun, and Soil” on September 9.
Their work features photos of the vast farms on campus, boasting of the rich plantations that the students cultivated. Through this scenery, they hoped to break the current of negativity following the sudden shutdown of their school, and debunk misconceptions about Lumad schools.
Lumad schools have long been the targets of a military vilification campaign which claimed they were being used as training centers for New People's Army (NPA) communist rebels, which they’ve repeatedly denied.
According to former CTCSM teacher China De Vera, the photo book is a result of countless interviews with the students, who shared what they experienced and learned during their stay in CTCSM.
“Ito ang aming counter-narrative doon sa sinasabi at pinapalabas tungkol sa mga eswelahan ng Lumad...Kahit ano, hindi mabubura [ng sinasabi nila] ang natutuong sistema sa mga Lumad school,” De Vera shared.
(This is our counter-narrative against what is being said and broadcast about Lumad schools. … In any case, [what is being said] cannot erase the learning system in Lumad schools.)
Following the shutdown of CTCSM, students have returned to their respective communities without plans to continue their education. Aside from being unable to shoulder the tuition fees of other schools, their communities do not have electricity – more so laptops and wi-fi enabled gadgets – necessary for distance learning.
“[The students] want to study. They want to go back to school. They want the school to have a permit. But since the state does not want us to operate, their future is bleak. They have no clear direction,” De Vera shared in a mix of Filipino.
Prior to the closure, De Vera shared how the CTCSM kept in mind the culture and practices of their Lumad students, weaving agriculture into their curriculum and training students to give back to their communities.
According to her, the classes tapped into the wealth of indigenous knowledge that could be used in sustaining the needs of the students’ respective groups. De Vera said the agricultural techniques taught to students “circumvented” those used in mainstream farming, so students can produce crops organically.
“Mahalaga talaga sa mga Lumad at ibang mag-aaral sa paaralan na mahalin ang lupa at ang pagsasaka dahil ito ang bumubuhay talaga sa atin,” she explained.
(It was really important for the Lumads and the other students at the school to love the land and farming because these give life to us.)
Although the school is no longer in operation, former students and teachers still frequent the campus to tend to its farms and its animals.
The funds generated from the book sales will be used to support the studies of former CTCSM students who hope to continue their education. Although this initiative will not help them recover fully, De Vera hopes that the sales of the photo book can provide aid to them to some extent.
With the funds, each student will be given a total of P7,500 to cover their expenses for one semester: P2,100 is allotted for internet load allowance, P3,500 for food allowance, P400 for school supplies, and P1,500 for an organic gardening kit. This money is transferred through GCash.
With this goal in mind, De Vera explained that 140 books must be sold to cover the fixed costs and finance the needs of one scholar. This typically requires covering costs for the student to enroll in at least two semesters.
In the hopes of garnering more funds to help students, former CTCSM staff have also launched an online fundraising initiative dubbed Project CARE (CTCSM Asserts Right to Education). It allows others to donate cash without buying the photo book, although those who donate more than P2,000 are offered a free copy as a gift.
The staff of CTCSM has sold 138 books, and has raised more than P123,000 from their online fundraising initiative as of October 9. This has allowed them to support 13 scholars in their pursuit of an education: 4 have enrolled in elementary, 4 in junior high school, and 5 in technical-vocational courses.
The Save Our Schools Network (SOS) recently launched Pung To Lumad as well, a small business that sells handicrafts made by Lumad students and fellow advocates. Some of the products being sold are earrings, bracelets, and necklaces made using local materials.
Additionally, SOS Network initiated a donation drive to gather in-kind and monetary donations for Lumad evacuees taking refuge in Davao City, Cebu and Metro Manila. The cash and relief goods gathered will go towards providing the evacuees with food and medicine during the pandemic. Those who wish to donate may refer to the details below: