Jenny and her dreams for ‘Kulot’By Fat Reyes
MANILA, Philippines – Jenny Sanchez dreams of becoming a teacher in her hometown in Sitio Mabilog, Anupul, Bamban, Tarlac.
“I want to be a teacher so I can educate the Aeta children here in Mabilog,” said Jenny, a 13 year-old first year high school student of Dapdap High School, a public high school in Dapdap resettlement area in Bamban, Tarlac.
Jenny was the only Aeta student who was able to graduate from elementary in her tribe in March 2012. She studied in Malasa Elementary School – a public elementary school in the same town.
But for Jenny and the other Aeta children of Mabilog, going to school meant traversing dangerous mountainous paths, striving even without proper nutrition, and coping with the lack of water, electricity and other basic necessities.
Jenny shared that she would wake up at 6 a.m. everyday to help in cleaning their house and washing the dishes before getting ready for school. She and her friends would then start climbing the mountains at around 7 a.m.
“We would walk for two hours. At a bridge there’s a shortcut to Langka. We will stop there for a while to take a bath in stream water before going to school,” Jenny said describing her two-hour daily route to Malasa Elementary School.
Jenny’s “shortcut”, however, proved to be no easy feat for anyone, let alone children, as the six kilometer path involved muddy, slippery roads, dangerous cliffs, and earthen road. But Jenny did not mind these obstacles for she only concentrated on the need for her to get to school on time.
“We go to school even during heavy rain and if we are late the teachers would understand…,” Jenny said.
Grace Maristela, a teacher from Malasa Elementary school who handled Jenny when she was in grade four, said that one of the challenges faced by teachers was how to keep their students alert, especially when they go to school without food.
“They lack the basic necessities and they come to school tired from long walk, very often hungry and disheveled, and it’s a big challenge to keep them on their toes,” Maristela said.
She added that sometimes the students would ask them if they could only take a “half day” in school because they had no food for lunch.
Jenny’s Sitio Mabilog community
Jenny and her family are part of the more than 200 Aetas living in Sitio, Mabilog who are everyday victims of the harsh life in the mountains. They fondly call themselves as “kulot,” -referring to their curly hair and dark complexion, and distinguishes themselves from the “unat,” or what they describe as people from the cities.
Jenny is the second of four children of Jimmy and Yolly Sanchez. Their eldest son, Jimmy, stopped schooling and helps the family earn income. Their third daughter, Jennylyn, is in grade 1 and their fourth daughter, Jenny Anne is a one-year old child.
Members of the community said that they had meager and unstable sources of income so they could not provide for the children’s basic needs and had a hard time keeping them in school.
“A child stops schooling because the parents have no means to provide for his or her needs or sometimes a child is given tasks like looking after siblings of tending the farm,” Maristela said.
Tony Mercado, one of Jenny’s uncles, said that since most of Aeta parents were not able to go to school, they make a living by making and selling charcoal, cleaning farms and planting banana shoots and other vegetables.
Mercado said that it was difficult for them to earn especially during the rainy seasons because they could not tend to the farms and plantations.
Jimmy, for his part, said that he tried his best to provide for his family even though he could not find a stable job, going to what he called the “forestry” and finding out if there’s work cut out for them.
“Every Monday I’m working on a tree patch but this is just a temporary job because they would soon cut jobs and I would be put out of work again,” Jimmy said
He said that if there was no work at the forestry, he would go down the mountains and try his luck selling sacks of banana shoots and sacks of charcoal that they planted and harvested.
But both Tony and Jimmy lamented how they were always ready victims of unfair trading and negotiations. They said buyers of their harvests from downtown negotiate for a certain price but when they get to Dapdap (city proper), they would find out their negotiated prices would be cut in half.
“In Dapdap trading is not good. Sometimes the price of one sack of banana shoots goes down to P100,” Jimmy said.
“For example, after you closed the deal you would walk miles and climb several mountains to deliver the produce only to find out that they will pay less than the agreed amount,” Tony added.
He said that most of the time, buyers would press that the cost of 10 kilos of banana shoots would only be equivalent to the cost of five kilos of the harvest.
“There’s nothing you can do but to accept it. You need to buy rice for the family,” Tony said.
Jimmy noted that money gained from the transactions was not even enough to buy gas for their motors but that they had no choice but to accept the money and make the most of it.
To go from Dapdap to Mabilog, one had to travel two hours through muddy, pot-holed, and earthen roads so instead of keeping their harvest and bringing them back to the mountains, the Aetas are forced to sell at knocked down prices so they could return home with some money.
Yolly, for her part, noted that even though it was hard for them to get money everyday, she wanted her children to finish school no matter what.
“We want our children to finish school because we do not want them to be like us who did not reach school,” Yolly said.
She shared how, when they did not have rice for food, they would make do with vegetables and fruits. She said that when they did not have enough water from the well, they would use rain water and boil it to be used for drinking.
Since the more than 40 houses of the community had no electricity, Jenny said that they would use kerosene lamps, or if there was no money to buy kerosene, they would make fire out of the woods so that they could do household chores or study.
She said she also used only one skirt for school that she washed every two days.
Determination to succeed
Even though her everyday life proved to be a daunting task for a child, Jenny does not complain and is determined to help her family
“You’ll inherit nothing from your parents, and it’s best to get a good education,” Jenny said.
“Education is a way out of poverty,” Jenny said.
Maristela particularly noted how Jenny transformed from a very quiet, hardworking and shy child to a student who harnessed her capabilities in singing and dancing and joined various extracurricular activities.
“Though shy, I saw her potential in singing, dancing and now she can fairly read even in English,” she said.
She said that Jenny was one of their groups of students who won second place in a Sci-Awit competition in Bamban, Tarlac. The competition brought together various students from schools in Tarlac and challenged them in composing lyrics and songs about Science.
“The people in the plains were so impressed because they did not expect that the ‘Kulots’ could have such talents and can perform skills of normal schoolchildren of the plains,” Maristela added.
Lucia Guya, a 50-year-old day-care worker who is more commonly known as Madame Lucy in their community, also noted how Jenny made it a point not miss her classes.
“She showed diligence in studying. Her teachers told me that she’s one of those persistent students competing at Sci Awit. She excels at the competition,” Guya, who is also a long-time friend of Jenny’s parents, said.
Hope for a better future
Despite the challenges, Jenny, her family, and her friends in Sitio Mabilog remained optimistic and just kept on smiling, hoping that someday they would be able to help themselves from poverty.
“We’re happy in spite of our predicament,” Jimmy said while laughing.
Tony, for his part, said that he hoped people would pay more attention to the indigenous or “katutubo,” and help them make their lives better.
“Please help us and our community. Help our children to get to school and our fellow tribesmen to get decent livelihood,” Tony said.
Jenny also made a wish for her fellow “kulot” or Aeta, saying that she hoped that the roads leading to their village would be developed so that they could get “blessings” from the city.
She also hoped that more schools would be built for her fellow kulots.
“I hope that they could go to school and reach high school, just like me,” she said.
In her and her school’s winning song (original lyrics sang to the tune of the song Together Again), Jenny also let her heart out with her message:
There are times when I get confused I’m afraid
With what is happening around us daily
What’s happening around us daily
Dream about a better world
What we want is a beautiful earth
I know we can achieve it together
Every place I go, any race I see
I know we belong in this humanity
Science Clubbing shows we can’t live alone
We need each other’s force to move all along
Originally posted at 07:40 pm | August 26, 2012