“There was a part when the children went down from the stage and gave us their medals, as they were singing. I could not help but cry, I think all of us parents did.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA — March 17 was one of the happiest days for Eufemia Cullamat as her 17-year-old daughter, Jevelyn has finally finished her studies. Cullamat cried tears of joy as she saw her daughter march with 13 other students of the Alternative Learning Center for Agricultural and Livelihood Development (Alcadev).
But the graduation and moving up ceremonies were not held at their campus in Han-ayan, Diatagon village, Lianga. For the first time, it was held at an evacuation site, at the Provincial Sports Complex in Tandag City, where Cullamat and her family evacuated along with more than 2,000 Lumad who fled after paramilitary men killed Alcadev Executive Director Emerito Samarca, and Lumad leaders Dionel Campos and Datu Juvello Sinzo on Sept. 1, 2015.
Cullamat, a council member of the Lumad group Malahutayong Pakigbisog Alang sa Sumusunod (Mapasu) said she could not help but cry, because even with their difficult condition, the Lumad students were able to continue their studies. At the evacuation site, the students and teachers still strived to continue their education, holding classes in the makeshift classrooms.
On March 18, the Tribal Filipino Program of Surigao del Sur (Trifpss) also held their graduation rites at the evacuation site in Tandag City. The Save Our Schools Network in Caraga region hailed the consecutive ceremonies as the Lumad’s triumph amid adversity.
“We claim victory as our struggle for the next Lumad generations once again bears fruit…We salute our students in their triumph and we see in each of them the future leaders and productive members of our Lumad communities,” said the SOS Network in a statement.
Continuing education at the evacuation center
“They really wanted to continue the school, not only the children, but also the teachers, because they knew how important education is,” said Cullamat in a telephone interview with Bulatlat.
Classes were held inside tents, and, Cullamat said, parents pitched in and helped construct chairs from bamboo, so children no longer have to sit on the floor.
The lack of a proper school facility exposed the children to alternating hot and wet weather. But these had not caused the children to lose hope and be saddened by their condition, she said. What made them more persistent is the constant support of many groups and other people, even personalities. Among them were couple Aiza Seguerra and Liza Diño who witnessed the graduation and moving up rites in Tandag City.
Support came also through the group called Friends of the Lumad. Cullamat said donations poured in, such as books and other school supplies especially after they went here in Manila during the Manilakbayan 2015 campaign. Cullamat said the donations were enough for them to finish this school year and they never had a shortage in supplies during classes.
The students’ clothes for graduation also came from the supporters, said Cullamat.
Tears of joy
What moved Cullamat to tears was when the students went to their parents while singing the graduation song which they composed. Cullamat said the song was about their difficulties and gratefulness to teachers and parents.
“There was a part when the children went down from the stage and gave us their medals as they were singing. I could not help but cry, I think all of us (parents) did,” she said.
Cullamat said since the time of their ancestors, they have been dependent on Mother Nature, for food and livelihood. At the evacuation center, they have no land to till, and their food supply and livelihood have been dwindling. Living in the evacuation center for the past six months has been a suffering, she said.
There have been food shortages at the evacuation site, unlike in their community, where their cooperative farming sustains an abundant food supply.
They also lack potable water, which is only delivered to them by the Red Cross every day. There is no source of water in the evacuation center, so water for everyday use is also a problem. Cullamat said they had requested the Tandag Water District to give water supply for the evacuees, but the manager refused, claiming supply for other consumers will be affected.
Amid their hardship, Cullamat and other parents were all jubilant. “It is only education that we can give to our children that no one could take away from them. That is why we are very happy,” she said.
What they have to deal with now is how Jevelyn and her classmates can continue to study up to college, especially now that the K to 12 program added two years in high school. Alcadev’s program did not follow the K to 12 program.
“There is no other solution now but to pull out the military in our land so we can continue to live and support our children’s education,” she said.
She also called on the government to pull out military troops in Mindanao, dismantle and disarm paramilitary groups and resume peace talks with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines so they, the innocent people caught in the cross fire, do not have to suffer.