MACO, Compostela Valley  -THE heat was scorching, even those who do not fear the sun will scramble for cover. There was barely any breeze, and the little breeze there was blocked by a school building on the right.

There was but tarpaulin stretched on bamboo poles as cover for the students, parents, teachers, and guests attending the Second Graduation and Moving Up Rites last April 10, 2017 at the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao Inc. (CTCSMI) at barangay Lapu-lapu in Maco, Compostela Valley.

The night before, school administrator Sophia Perez-Garduce and the parents started coming in.

A couple whose son was moving up to senior high did not make it to the 9 p.m. curfew where the school locks its gates and so opted to just sleep in the open. The school only realized that upon the reopening of the gates in the morning.

Among the guests who were squinting through the heat were Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) Secretary Judy Taguiwalo, ACT Party List Representatives Antonio Tinio and France Castro, and former Gabriela Party-list Representative Luz Ilagan.

The guest list shows the school’s origins and desire to provide the highest possible education to the often marginalized lumads.

Also with them were Maco Mayor Alvera Veronica Rimando, DSWD Regional Director Mercedita Jabagat, singer/composer Maan Chua who rendered two songs for the children, Davao artist Kublai Millan, who committed to help perk up the campus for the students, and barangay captain Edgardo Barriga Sr.

Ilagan only has high praises for the students and the school itself for being able to hold its second graduation and moving up ceremonies.

“This time we see that despite all odds, despite the difficulties they encountered, makapa-graduate na sila (they will graduate). So it is a model, pwede naman (they can) mag-succeed. And it’s a reminder to government: this is where you failed to provide services,” she said.

Ilagan said that it is government responsibility to provide education, but since time immemorial, the Indigenous People’s population has been the least served especially in terms of education. Initiatives by the communities themselves and some partners among the militant groups have been accused as communist fronts and administrators, faculty, and students are always threatened.

“During the last years of my term in Congress I joined all dialogues, yung campaign natin sa (our campaign in) Save Our Schools, we would go to Deped (Department of Education), we would go saan-saan, maghangyo, pabayaan na ninyo ang mga lumad, nag-initiative na nga eh, pinabayaan natin in terms of services, ngayon nag-effort sila, sisirain pa natin, hindi yun tama (anywhere, plead to people to leave the lumads alone, they are already initiating, but we left them in terms of services. Now they are making an effort and we are ruining it. It’s not right),” she said of these threats against lumad schools.

But with this moving up and graduation ceremonies by the most comprehensive ever lumad school in Mindanao, Ilagan said, “It is a reminder to government especially that here we have a sector, indigenous people, who have long been clamoring for services coming from government, especially education — very crucial, and for the longest time they have not received these services. Here is an activity that shows despite all the difficulties naka-succeed, they are still able to push through.”

Taguiwalo, meanwhile, said there are social welfare programs that stand to benefit the lumads, especially with the marching order of President Rodrigo Duterte to the DSWD to ensure that the lumads are served especially those who at the time Duterte took over as President were living in dire conditions at the Haran House in Davao City because of militarization in their communities.

“Meron kaming Kalahi-Cidss na ang community ang naga suggest kung anong project ang kailangang-kailangan (We have Kalahi-Cidss which suggests what projects have to be done),” Taguiwalo said.

Kapit-Bisig Laban sa Kahirapan–Comprehensive Integrated Delivery of Social Service (Kalahi-Cidss) is a community-driven development project under which communities and Local Government Units (LGUs) are trained to choose, design and implement sub-projects that address their most pressing need.

But specific for the school and the community, she said, they can assist in looking into the potable water problem there, a situation that was raised by the barangay captain during the program.

“Meron namang scholarships ang mga bata through 4Ps (Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program), meron tayong modified conditional cash transfer para sa mga katutubo (The children have scholarship from 4Ps and we have modified cash transfer for the indigents),” she added.

CTCSMI or better known as the Lumad School in Mindanao is made up of around 70 percent lumad student population coming from ten tribes from all over Mindanao. It opened last June 2015 with only 37 elementary, 77 high school, and 184 college students. Now they have 223 in preschool to grade 10, 42 in senior high, and 182 in college.

Sitting on a 2.5 hectare campus, the school has one facility that is very important to lumad schools — a dormitory.

Students are provided not just with board and lodging, the college students also have bus services.

CTCSMI itself does not have college classes and faculty, rather, it is in a partnership with the Liceo de Davao Tagum College, where the college students taking up education courses are actually attending classes, brought there from the CTCSMI campus every school day on their buses.

Only 179 are studying there as three opted to take up engineering courses, thus, CTCSMI is sending them to St. Mary’s Academy of Tagum.

In one of the classrooms is an exhibit of the children’s art works, which include hand-made toy trucks painted with familiar words like, “Not for hire”, “No Smoking”, and “Flammable” (sic), pieces of their realities manifested in their works.

Several containers decorated with epoxy carvings are for sale, to raise funds for the school as initiative by the industrial arts teacher, Perez-Garduce said.

Donations and scholarships dominate the operations of this school as it is an initiative by those who have long struggled to provide education for IPs but are oftentimes thwarted by accusations of being communists.

Even within campus, it is a small community effort. Students have responsibilities beyond just attending their classes and passing their subjects. Wake-up time starts at dawn where the students have to fix their sleeping quarters, clean the facilities, and cook, depending on their assignments.

The school maintains an organic farm, the produce of which are either sold or prepared as food for the scholars. These are also tended to by the scholars and the school faculty. All these work, however, is much less than from where the children came from, some of whom were once child laborers in banana plantations and mining, and many of whom can only help their parents tend their plots of land but not go to school. The school has donors but is also tasked to raise their own funds to provide for the children.

What was quaint in the program was that the students tasked to deliver their speeches, both elementary and high school, only had words of thanks, no other.

There were no declarations of lofty dreams nor stories of how they were brought up by their parents, not even worn-out quotations from heroes or statesmen, just, thank you, a lot of thank yous. That by itself speaks a lot about what this school is all about and who it serves, and how the students feel as they step up closer to their dreams. (by Stella A. Estremera, Sun Star Davao Editor)