‘Pride of Badjaos’
ZAMBOANGA CITY–The odds are stacked against Raymond Amil when he started to pursue his dream of becoming a licensed teacher.
His father, Johnson, is a fisherman who barely earns enough to feed the family. His mother, Minda, stays at home. Both are illiterate.
When Raymond took the licensure exams for aspiring teachers, the city was under siege by the followers of Moro leader Nur Misuari.
And Raymond belongs to the Badjao tribe, a seafaring people who suffer some of the worst forms of discrimination among Philippine tribal groups.
So when, in January, he learned that he passed the licensure exams for teachers, his joy was boundless.
“I cried,” he said. Relatives, and even neighbors, were celebrating the feat as if a Badjao had been elected President of the Philippines.
“This is a great privilege,” Raymond, 23, said.
Raymond’s family is originally from Sibaud Laud, a community in Siasi town, Sulu province. They moved to this city 20 years ago.
To rise above the discrimination that Badjaos have been subjected to through the decades is an achievement for Raymond, who is now considered as “the pride of the Badjaos.”
Alkhodari Jakaria, who knew Raymond as a volunteer teacher at Mariki Elementary School here, where Jakaria is principal, said Raymond spent his free time helping other Badjaos cope with school work as he awaited the results of his application for teaching jobs in different schools.
After graduation from Zamboanga National High School, Raymond continued to pursue his dream, finding a scholarship grant to enroll in a Bachelor of Science on General Education course at Western Mindanao State University.
Raymond filled the vacuum that illiteracy left in his family, teaching his parents how to read and write. “My mother can now write her first name. My father knows how to write his [first] name, surname and middle name,” he said.
His father, Johnson, said the concept of education was alien to many Badjaos, particularly his family. Life for the tribe, he said, was at sea. “We were not into education,” he said. “We were taught how to fish when we were young,” he added.
The scene at Raymond’s graduation is common among many Filipino families that succeed in sending their children to school. But it is extraordinary for a Badjao family. Minda, Raymond’s mother, said she kept shedding tears of joy. “When I walked up the stage, I couldn’t stop crying in happiness,” Minda said.
That graduation rites are special occasions takes on a deeper meaning for Badjaos simply because they have to work harder to acquire an education, a goal too often taken for granted by countless of youths.
Raymond had to multitask. While going to school, he also helped his father fish.
“I was always sleepy during class because we returned home from fishing at dawn,” he said.
School meals for Raymond were peanuts, toasted or fried, that his mother had prepared. He sold some to classmates to earn money for school needs.
As an elementary school pupil, Raymond was a familiar face at the public market where his father sold his catch of the day. Raymond’s task was to sell plastic bags.
Since he could not buy school supplies, Raymond made the rounds of photocopying shops and offices, pleading to be given pieces of paper that would have just been thrown away. “I made notebooks from the paper I collected,” he said.
After graduating high school, Raymond went around begging for something more precious—a college scholarship. He found one for indigenous peoples, took the test for it and passed.
After finishing college in April last year, Raymond volunteered to teach at Mariki Elementary School “to gain experience.”
In preparation for the licensure exams, Raymond, who could not afford review centers, reviewed on his own.
Then the siege came in September last year. Misuari’s followers launched a terror attack on the city, triggering a long-drawn offensive from government forces that left hundreds of houses, including that of Raymond’s family, razed to the ground.
The carnage destroyed not only Raymond’s house, but his school notes as well. As in all stories about overcoming tragedies, Raymond took the courage to proceed with taking the licensure exams on Sept. 26, the height of the siege.
In January, the results came out. He passed.
“For us, living in tents is nothing,” Raymond said. “What’s important is that we are alive. We Badjaos live by need not by want,” he said.
“What we fish, we sell, and we buy only what we need. Education is not a priority for most of us because it entails expenses,” he added.
“I know most Badjao parents are now aware and informed that public education is free. Now you see more Badjao children going to school,” he continued.
“I must serve as a role model,” Raymond said in an interview inside the family’s tent at the Don Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex, which is home to thousands of evacuees.
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