Eloy [4th from right], during the inauguration of the tribal housing in Nasilaban, Pong-pong, Talaingod.

TALAINGOD, Davao del Norte — The only word that I know how to write is my name and for me, this is all that matters.

I am not ashamed of the fact that I have never been formally educated. I have never learned the alphabet. I do not know the letters in my name, though I know how to write it. I do not know how to read. I do not even know my real age. You see, education and age are of no value to us, Manobos.

I live in a very simple village called sitio Pong-Pong. It is so remote that people from the poblacion have to endure a two-hour motorcycle ride to sitio Nasilaban, and another eight-hour trek just to reach our humble abode. Our isolated village has 42 households with about 400 residents. It is considered as one of the rebel-infested areas in the municipality. We do not have any government facility there. This is maybe because of its sheer distance or its small population or maybe both.

The first government project to ever reach the hinterland of Pong-Pong was the Kalahi-CIDSS (Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan-Comprehensive and Integrated Delivery of Social Services) project in 2003.

I was elected chair of our community sub-project management committee (CSPMC). As such, I was tasked to go to Tagum City to open a bank account where the funds would be downloaded. It was my first time to travel outside the municipality. It was also my first time to enter a bank. I remember feeling very cold inside the bank that I had to get out from time to time.

As I was told to open an account, I decided to put my thumbmark on the space provided for the signature. Unfortunately, the bank did not accept my thumbmark. I returned home discouraged. I thought to myself, how could our first tranche of funds be downloaded now?

We were already halfway through the community empowerment activity cycle. We had been through a lot of struggles, from using pictures to depict our poverty situation, identifying our priority project, endless meetings and translated conversations with Kalahi-CIDSS staff, and preparing for the community inter-barangay forum.

I could not lose hope. My volunteers relied on me. We needed the tribal housing sub-project for our families.

I had to learn how to write.

I was given a pad of paper and a pencil by my former community facilitator, Marvin Samson. He taught me how to write my name. He patiently showed me how to write each letter. I held on to that piece of paper where he wrote my name. It was my only reference.

Marvin told me to practice writing at home every night. It was very difficult. My hand shook each time I tried to write a single letter. My handwriting was sloppy. It took me two long weeks to learn how to write four letters.

Although I have practiced writing my name a lot since then, there were still times when we were faced with challenges.

I remember one time when the bank did not clear the check I signed. The stroke in the signature was different from the initial sample I gave them, the bank manager said. We had to pay a penalty fee of P2,000. I was so embarrassed.

I am, however, thankful for the effort extended by Marvin. He never gave up on me, encouraging me to keep on practicing, to keep on writing my name. He was not only a community facilitator; he became my friend and my teacher.

Today, I can perfectly sign any document required of me. With my simple knowledge, I am seen as a leader in my small community. I have represented Pong-Pong in ways more than one. I have served as the voice of my fellowmen, helping them lobby community projects like school buildings and health stations.

I am still the CSPMC chair of Pong-Pong. This time we are implementing the Kalahi-CIDSS PAMANA project. Our barangay will be completing a tribal hall soon. We are all hopeful that this new sub-project will serve its purpose.

I am forever grateful to the Kalahi-CIDSS project, not so much for the tribal housing and tribal hall sub-projects that we have received, but for the lifetime present that it gave me.

Kalahi-CIDSS has given me confidence. It has made me realize that the government is sincere in its efforts to help poor communities.

Yes, the only word that I proudly know how to write is my name. This may not be much for others. But for me, my name is my only treasure.

My name is Eloy. DSWD