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SARANGANI, Philippines – An elderly Tboli leader in a remote mountain village in Sarangani’s Kiamba town had planned to have a 12-year-old grade school pupil in the village school as his duwaya (other wife).
But a group of public school teachers, who learned what the leader was up to, immediately talked to the girl’s parents and asked them to send their daughter to work for a fellow teacher in the lowland.
“The work thing is just an alibi to dodge the old man’s plan to marry the girl,” explained 33-year old teacher Jacelyn Tuan Miguel, herself Tboli.
Once a young Tboli girl gets married, she stops going to school and spends the rest of her life uneducated and tied to housework, Miguel told Rappler on Saturday, May 27. “They are then unable to explore their potential and will never see what is good in the outside world,” she said.
Duwaya is a practice among indigenous tribes like the Tboli, where a man can have multiple wives and usually choose minors for this purpose.
There is an existing law which took effect in February 2022 prohibiting the practice of child marriage – Republic Act No. 11596. The law carries stiff penalties, but who would enforce such a law in remote hinterland communities, remarked Miguel. She pointed out that customary practices, like child marriage, are hard to break.
“Even just a good harvest by a guy can entice a young girl to marry him just to escape poverty at home,” Miguel said, as she disclosed that she and other teachers at a school in a predominantly Tboli village have been engaged in a battle to stop the customary practice for years now.
Early marriages deprive children of a potentially bright future, said Miguel as she cited instances where young Tboli girls, even without the usual parental arrangements, would readily opt to be married for economic reasons.
Value of education
Another teacher, Aileen Soldavillo-Nut, said they cannot talk openly in the community against child marriages because it would embarrass and anger some tribal elders and leaders.
It was like swimming against the current, she said.
Giving the children a good education will eventually make them realize that early marriage is a mistake, said Soldavillo-Nut who, along with Miguel, teaches at the Banate IP School with an all-Tboli population of over 60 pupils.
School head Vic Salinas clarified that it is a personal advocacy of the teachers, who have seen and experienced the problems, being indigenous people themselves.
Miguel, Soldavillo-Nut, and two other mentors endure the weekly trips to be able to teach the Tboli children on a mixed-learning scheme of elementary grade levels.
Residents in Badtasan rely mainly on abaca farming and growing root crops. The village is isolated from the rest of Mindanao, having no electricity and communications, and where residents rely on torches and solar-energy lamps at night.
Solar lamps illuminate the school, where the children gather at night for feeding and additional learning.
To reach the school from the national highway, the teachers have to endure a 25-kilometer, two-hour ride on a habal-habal and about an hour of hiking along treacherous and landslide-prone mountain trails. The teachers do this every week, leaving for school every Monday and staying there until Friday.
No turning back
The teachers have been in such routine for a few years until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted it. Classes resumed in 2022, after pandemic restrictions were lifted in schools.
None of the teachers are allowed to travel alone for safety and security reasons, Miguel said. At times, soldiers would pass by the village in pursuit of criminals.
Since they cannot leave school after their work is done, the teachers devote an extra hour in the evening to hone the children’s reading abilities and to feed them. Malnutrition is evident among children in the area.
Spending time in the village gives the mentors a chance to show the kids the importance of education in escaping poverty and living a better life in the future.
“We want to inspire and empower them, the girls especially, to be educated and to have ambitions in life,” Miguel said.
The situation of the children in the upland community is what drove the teachers to go through difficulties to educate the kids and increase their potential, said an emotional Soldavillo-Nut.
“We want the children to realize that they can dream to finish school and be like us, too,” she said. – Rappler.com