MANILA - Travel for about two hours from Manila, and you’ll reach Brgy. Camias in the municipality of Porac, Pampanga. Hike for another hour or two from the plains of Camias, and you’ll reach the mountains, where the community’s indigenous Aetas live.
You’ll meet an Aeta student community that learns through “Project Kaantabe”.
“Kaantabe” is a Kapampangan word which translates to “kaagapay” in Filipino, and could mean a companion, a friend, or someone who’s simply right beside you.
This is the Aeta community’s mode of distance learning, which was created by teachers in Camias High School, with a student population of 267, and with only 10 teachers.
Febie Ramirez, one of the school’s teachers, said Project Kaantabe was created out of the spirit of volunteerism, wherein they tapped the Aeta community’s graduates or college students who are capable to teach their younger neighbors.
Teachers walk or use motorcycles to climb the mountains and deliver modules to IP students, which are the only learning materials available.
Online classes were never an option because there is no internet access in the mountains and students do not have their own gadgets.
Aside from these operational problems, Ramirez said a more serious problem is that some parents are “no read, no write”.
“Sa Camias High School, 10 lang po kaming teacher. So paano po namin maa-accommodate lahat, kung sa isang pamilya, tatlo po iyong estudyante ng nanay, wherein hindi siya marunong magbasa or magsulat, paano niya aalalayan lahat iyong mga anak niya?” Ramirez told ABS-CBN News.
“So talaga pong hiningi namin iyong tulong ng mga nakapag-aral na bata, iyong mga nakapag-kolehiyo na tulungan iyong kanilang mga kabarrio. Kumbaga, tulong na rin nila sa community, tulong nila sa school.”
Ramirez said distance learning is successful in the community because of volunteers who tirelessly taught Aeta students. From time to time, teachers would also conduct one-on-one discussions with their students, and assess learning through their progress in their modules.
“Iyong mga batang kulang na lang sumuko dahil hindi naiintindihan… Dahil po tumulong iyong mga taong nakakaintindi naman at nakapag-aral, talagang okay naman po. Pagdating po ng graduation, we're very much grateful po, wala naman po kaming mga bumagsak,” she shared.
“COVID-free sila, wala pa silang case. So pino-protektahan din nila iyon. Kaya po super ingat sa kanila. Iyong close contact, as much as possible, iniiwasan din po namin kaunti. Pero pag talagang nag-insist po sila na, 'Ma'am, tulungan niyo po kami, hindi po namin maintindihan,' they are very much open naman po.”
IP student Resilyn Ticsay said she was able to learn as if there were face-to-face classes because of Project Kaantabe.
“Pag may hindi po ako alam sa module, hindi ko po masasagutan. Pero dahil nandyan po iyong 'Kaantabe', nagtatanong po ako sa kanila, may masu-suggest po sila, may maitutulong po sila sa'kin, may masasagot po ako… Natuto po ako sa face to face, natuto rin po ako sa modular,” she said.
“Minsan po, para po silang teacher. Siyempre po, 'di ba po minsan pag nabo-boring na, ginagawa na po nilang parang friend [iyong paraan ng pagtuturo]. Kaya po hindi po kami nabo-boring, kaya po natututo kami.”
Ticsay said she and her fellow students dream of finishing their studies, and they do not let the pandemic become a hindrance to this goal.
"Huwag po tayong sumuko, laban lang po. Iyong mga dumarating po na pagsubok, daraan lang po iyan, hindi po iyan mags-stay," she said.
A UNIQUE CULTURE
Project Kaantabe – an entirely volunteer-based program – has inspired more volunteers, like Hands to Heaven PH, a group of communities from Metro Manila that reaches out to far-flung areas to deliver aid amid the pandemic.
Fr. Hans Magdurulang, a member of the group and also the Parochial Vicar of San Felipe Neri Parish in Mandaluyong, shared they have helped renovate and build classrooms in Camias, construct irrigation in the area, and donate school supplies for distance learning.
Magdurulang hopes that beyond the material things, the Aetas would also realize how fortunate they are because they don’t have to compare their lives with the lives of those in the plains.
The volunteer priest added the IP community helped them realize the true essence of giving.
“Sina Ma'am Febie, pwede namang hanggang doon lang. Iyong mga teachers, saludong-saludo ho talaga ako sa kanila... Iyong mga tao na alam mong hindi naman kayang suklian, tapatan iyong binibigay mo sa kanila pero kaya nilang palitan ang hindi tama sa'yo. Kaya nilang itama ang mali sa'yo," he said.
"Kasi pag nakahalubilo mo na sila, iyong maging volunteer ka sa bundok, it's not just about giving, it is also about acceptance. Iyong tanggapin mo hindi lang kung anong meron ka, tanggapin mo kung anong kaya nila, kung anong meron sila at kung sino sila."
Ramirez said this is the uniqueness and the charm of the IP community – when they grow, they must grow together; what one has, everyone should have; when there are struggles, one is never alone.
Thus, the existence of Project Kaantabe: the value of companionship and friendship that is already instilled in the culture of the Aetas.
“Sa pagkain na lang po. Halimbawa, iyong estudyante mo is 20. Ang pagkain ni teacher, isang Fudgee Bar (cupcake) lang. Binigay mo doon sa isa. Hindi po niya iyong kakainin, na hindi mo mabibigyan iyong 19," she said.
"So lahat po talaga sila, kakain doon sa isang Fudgee Bar (cupcake). Ganoon din po sila sa edukasyon. They're very much concerned po doon sa kanilang mga kaklase, sa kanilang kapwa. Kung siya papasa, dapat si ganito rin papasa. Tutulungan natin."
Ramirez also recommends the program to other communities, especially those in far-flung and low-COVID risk areas.
Every October, the country celebrates the National Indigenous Peoples Month, by virtue of Presidential Proclamation No. 1906.
The Indigenous Peoples Education Office (IPsEO), under the Department of Education (DepEd) is also marking the first decade of the Indigenous Peoples Education (IPEd) Program.