By FR. RAYMOND AMBRAY
The fourth graduation ceremony of Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (ALCADEV) held on March 15, 2011 had a special character as it was attended by Jozef Naudts, the first secretary of the Belgian Embassy in Manila, together with Anne Bloemen. Ambassador H.E Christian Meerschman who also intended to attend the graduation had to cancel at the last moment.
Naudts and Bloemen arrived in the afternoon of March 14 and were welcomed by the MAPASU Council, ALCADEV’s board chairperson Sr. Helen S. Makiling , Rev Raymund Ambray, Executive Director Marife Magbanua, the municipal mayor of Lianga Roy Hegino Sarmen and Liby Te, the barangay captain of Diatagon. After a short rest at the Kansilad beach resort, the visitors proceeded to the ALCADEV school, an one hour ride in the mountains west of Lianga. Leaders and members of MAPASU were greatly honored with this visit. To enable the visitors to attend the graduation day the MAPASU members worked hard, voluntarily, to repair the road portions that were badly damaged by heavy rains and floods earlier. An alternative bridge was erected one kilometer from the school site while deep bumpy portions were patched in order for the vehicles to pass. Excited and proud, the women and men leaders stationed themselves at Brgy Diatagon to meet the visitors and accompany the car, with a caravan of motorcycles all the way to ALCADEV School.
People in the villages leading to the school greeted and welcomed the visitors. In Simowao and Emerald communities a group of men, women, youth and children gathered at the intersection of the road holding the streamer with a welcome sign for Ambassador H.E Mr. Christian Meerschman. Mr. Naudts and Ms Anne Bloemen alighted from their vehicles and expressed their gratitude to the villagers. In the evening of March 14, 2011 MASAPU leaders, ALCADEV staff and the visitors who had arrived during the day attended a solidarity dinner. Before the dinner a ritual was held to request for the blessing of the local spirits.
On the 15th of March, 20 ALCADEV learners, of which 14 female and 6 male, were honored after having been confirmed graduates for the school year 2010-2011. This batch broke a record of sorts with all 17 graduates who took the Accreditation and Equivalence (A&E) test organized by the Department of Education – Bureau of Alternative Learning System passed it, which is quite an achievement for an alternative learning school. ??Sr. Helen S. Makiling, ALCADEV’s Chairperson of the board said that the achievement of the Lumad communities in the food security project after three years, resembled the achievement of the students in school. If families are more food secured, their siblings exhibited better performance in school and channeled better agricultural learnings to communities.
Naudts, assisted by the chairperson of the board, awarded gold medals to all A & E passers and to selected special awardees in behalf of the Belgian Embassy. The recognition ceremony was emotion-filled. Parents were teary eyed when their sons and daughters received their diplomas and certificates and pinned their medals on them. As the principal guest speaker during the graduation ceremony first secretary Naudts stressed, in his speech, that he witnessed how Lumad communities and ALCADEV have worked together to achieve food security. He said food security is a right of every citizen and every country should address this issue, as the European countries are giving it emphasis. He recognized the fact that majority of graduates are women. For him, this is an indication of women empowerment through ALCADEV’s alternative education. He encouraged the graduates to work on community agricultural development in the midst of many options. Being impressed of their entire visit he extended his appreciation for the efforts made by ALCADEV and New World in food security work.
Hans Schaap, New World’s coordinator in the Philippines, who accompanied Mr. Naudts and Ms. Bloemen, in his speech, also praised the achievements of the graduates and accredited ALCADEV for making this possible. He stresses that even as the graduates have the opportunity to look for a better future elsewhere, they should never forget the sacrifices of their parents, siblings, MAPASU leaders and ALCADEV teachers for making their learning and graduation possible, and that community development should be their first choice. Naudts maximized his stay in ALCADEV by going around the school demonstration farm and paid a visit to the abaca stripper workshop which was newly installed in the Han-ayan community. Supported by the Belgian Government for Development Cooperation and New World, ALCADEV implemented this food security project since 2008 wherein the IP communities, including the families of the students, are the direct beneficiaries.
The graduation rites were also attended by Louis Marie Gard and Estelle Gaboret, Mindanao volunteers of Enfants du Mekong (EDM) and different religious, government and non government organizations. Though there are still challenges to confront and areas to improve on, the 4th graduation rites of ALCADEV is significant for the school and the Lumad communities. Foremost is the performance of the graduates in the A&E test. Another significant achievement is the visible increase of farms and production using the scientific sustainable agriculture technology. These are concrete manifestations on how students and IP communities complement each other in advancing agricultural development in their ancestral lands. Graduates from batch of 2010-2011 expressed their determination in engaging in community development work after their graduation.