Reading and Writing in 6 weeks!

The Manobo people are still enthused by our program. The challenge of learning to read and write in English was met head-on and their achievements are astounding. One questions how or why this opportunity has been denied these people for so long.

SAM_2725The PNP-ITP under the leadership of Melinda Rosal (coordinating officer) and EFL curriculum design of Nelia Umereneza has surpassed all expectations. Our class of enthusiastic students range in age from 10 to 40 years of age, all working together seamlessly. In the traditional school environment we stream children in years of age. The concept of teaching people by age group/year level may be ideal for theoretical educators, there appears be a weakness in the traditional education system or tis this a unique situation. In this class we find the young are helping the old and vice versa, age neither hinders nor limits them, there appears to be an innate desire to have all participants succeed in this tightly knitted, Manobo community.

Was the will to learn “whiteman’s way” pre-planned or were these these people on the verge of seeking help and we just happened to be in the right place, at the right time?

The common thread between the trainer and the student is Tagalog (the Filipino language). Although some variations exist between the local Filipino and Manobo dialect, it fails to inhibit the learning process. The English and Tagalog languages share the same Alphabet with the only variation being an extra two characters in Tagalog. This makes learning English by Tagalog native speakers much easier than other languages in the Asian region. The letters in the alphabet are also sounded almost identically in both languages.

SAM_2741In six short weeks most students can share ideas and information with each other and the teachers in English. We accept their depth of learning has a long way to go but we see amazing interest and respect beyond initial expectations. As each class is convened, attendance numbers increase, week by week, indicating our program is working.

Nelia insists the EFL learning process must be methodical, structured and taken very serious, however humour, fun and games are essential for the learning processes – we see her theory working in this program. The method of teaching used here, she developed while working in Thailand where cultural and language gaps make teaching/learning English both difficult and challenging verging on impossible. In her doctoral research traditional teaching methods are scrutinised and questioned, maybe her research and experience provides a solution – overcoming a few traditional barriers in teaching EFL.

SAM_2748When the students take a break from their lessons they are rewarded with a generous serving of rice and some tasty “viand” (viand is a compliment to rice – a sauce, vegetables, meats and other condiments) making the rice dish a sumptuous treat.

SAM_2735From the images we see their sense of belonging, the uniforms we provided are worn with pride – completing the link between the Manobo and the program.

In an area where there is little competition for natural resources, one would assume food for hunter/gatherers would be plentiful. Rightly so! But over the past 10-15 years the effects of climate change and global warming has changed the quantity and quality of the natural food plants to a state where there is hardly enough for them to eat, very few resources remain for them to “live off the land” in a traditional manner. The Manobo people eat one meal a day.

These “man-made”, permanent changes are reducing the resilience and health of the young and old Manobo alike. It is with this in mind, we must teach them ways of the modern world, to build permanent dwellings, develop better sanitation and ┬áto cultivate their land and make better use of the remaining resources – utilising some of modern societies’ best inventions and ideas….we are providing a helping hand (“teaching them to fish a different way”) so they might make minor yet significant changes to improve their lifestyle, health and future prospects.

Mountain trackThe power of “nature” prevents Nelia and I from participating in current learning sessions directly, the road (mountain track) between Isulan and Kulaman is deemed impassable until rains stop and repairs and reconstruction are possible. Several landslides and the use of larger, heavier transport have taken their toll on this delicate, precarious track. We hope to be participating again in October or November – God willing!

Some adventurous motorbike taxis are still getting through with great skill and high level of personal risk (traversing the 20 kilometers takes around 4 hours – in each direction), these adventurous men manage to bring our photos and reports to you, we in return send the next set of lessons back to keep the project moving forward. We appreciate the work of our volunteers and the PNP for coordinating for us in our absence. These circumstances are making the project even more challenging and interesting.

Even in the best of circumstance, Philippine communications are slow, we all expect our special project to have the highest priority and be of the greatest importance – we understand we must share everyones valuable time and efforts at our disposal and be patient.

ContainerNelia and I have been busy back in Gensan coordinating the second package (a 40′ container) of resources to fill the voids we encounter on daily basis. Peter Kirk of South Pacific School Aid, Inc is preparing much needed classroom furniture, computers, more reference materials, uniforms plus general learning aids (books, folders, consumables) making the potential for continued success for our project a reality. In a western country like Australia these resources are normally landfill, here in a developing country they are a God send. In even the best private school in the Philippines a computer for each student in a class is but a dream.

We are hoping that as this program develops through the various phases, we can attract extended and expanded aid through donations, and international participation. As seen in the images our school building is a fifteen foot square concrete pad, supporting a simple structure covered with palm leaves. We hope to attract funding to build a permanent solid structure to accommodate a class, the library and our wonderful computers. Yes! we will have solar powered computers and the Internet via Satellite in the mountains. We would like to make this project a learning experience for children in Australia who can contribute and learn from this experience. Using the Internet we would like to make our project a transparent (using Google+) classroom. With only 1.5 hours time difference classes from Kulaman and public and private schools in Australia can share knowledge with each other. We hope our blog provides the beginning of this process.

We will ensure the experience between our “classroom in the mountains” and your classroom will be rewarding. Both groups have a lot to learn. Do we really appreciate the advantages we have in western societies. Through this exchange of learning experiences and ideas and your participation we will encourage our students (the Manobo people) to strive harder to achieve great things for a prosperous future helping and sharing across nations.

You will note we have included a language translator to the site making comments and questions easily exchanged as the Manobo people improve their English speaking and reading skills. A portion of each lesson will be set aside for this communication and when our computers arrive we will be using the online translator to assist them in learning English.

Back on the track – we have asked our motorbike rider to take some photos enroute between Isulan and Kulaman, you can then appreciate the difficulties we face making the project possible. On our trip back to Gensan in July, we encountered one “pot-hole” so deep the step on our Toyota 4WD was damaged (bent slightly) when it hit the ground.

Kulaman is situated on the west coast of Mindanao, in a beautiful jungle setting about 50 kilometers inland at 500 meters above sea level. The people of Kulaman area are both friendly and tenacious growing crops of rice, coffee, palm oil and rubber plantations in a remote and poorly resourced area. Crops grow well here, producing high quality product. Unfortunately, infrastructure we take for granted in Australia is almost non existent (like street pavement and drainage), but with all the difficulties they continue to thrive despite the odds. During the wet season (between July and November) they experience 1.2-1.5 meters of rain. These beautiful mountains are as fierce and arrogant as they are pristine and beautiful.

It is a most pleasurable experience at all levels to participate in this program and to mingle with wonderful people on a personal yet professional level. It seems the opportunity was somehow reserved for us. When we see the process in motion we forget the difficulties and be excited.