The Mangyan tribes of Mindoro are among a few indigenous communities in the Philippines which have managed to keep their population stable and hold on to their traditional ways of living for hundreds of years. They survive by toiling their farms and selling various crops — from coconuts to vegetables — to lowlanders, whom they refer to as the “Tagalogs.”
However, some of them who have not had the chance to get a formal education are oftentimes defraud of the value of their produce by merchants who encroach on their indigenous lands. Known for being gentle and peace-loving, they would rather not engage in confrontations with traders who purchase their handmade rattan baskets for a pack of salt or “lease” a parcel of their land in exchange for a transistor radio.
Fortunately, more and more young Mangyans are stepping up and realizing the importance of education. They know that if they go to school, they will learn more about what lies beyond the confines of their community, and will be better able to defend their rights as indigenous peoples.
However, achieving the kind of education at par with most school children in the lowlands is a tough challenge for those living in the remotest communities in upland barangays where the Mangyans live. Most of them do not have schools, and the very few that have do not have access to electricity. It is nearly impossible for educators in these schools to teach modern science and technology to children who have very limited — if not zero — experience in these concepts.
Such is the case of Waring Elementary School in Bulalacao, Oriental Mindoro, where about a hundred Mangyan pupils are tutored by seven teachers headed by Warlito Agustin, the school’s principal.
Agustin, a native of Bulalacao town, was born to a poor family in a small fishing community. Despite his father’s insistence that he stopped schooling to help earn a living for their family, he carried on, surviving college as a working student.
After earning a degree in education, one of his toughest assignments as a newbie teacher was in Waring. Without paved roads, the community is not accessible by motorized vehicles. The only way to go there and back is to hike a bushy — and sometimes muddy — trail for at least three hours.
It has been Agustin’s lifelong dream to become a teacher and he loves his job so much that not even the toughest assignment could make him back down. Instead he took it as a personal mission to help the Mangyan youth to widen their knowledge about the modern world and change how they view their future as an indigenous people. He believes that while it is important that the natives keep their traditions, they must also be able to move forward with the rest of the world.
However, without electricity in the community, Agustin’s dream of bringing progress to this part of the world remains dim. For the most part of the school year, he and his fellow teachers are left without a choice but to teach computer and IT concepts, ironically, the old and theoretical way.
This changed in 2016, when the school received a donation of a 1-kilowatt solar photovoltaic equipment from One Meralco Foundation.
Waring Elementary School was among the 50 remote public schools benefited by the foundation’s school electrification program, a six-year old advocacy which provides an alternative source of electricity to schools located outside of the electric grid, whether within or outside of the Meralco franchise area.
Since 2012, the program has already enabled technology-aided learning through solar power in 170 schools nationwide, the farthest of which is a school in the island municipality of Sitangkai, Tawi-Tawi. It is the farthest island in southwestern Philippines and is, in fact, closer to Malaysia than to mainland Mindanao.
Apart from the solar equipment, every school energized by the foundation also received a multimedia package consisting of a laptop computer, 45-inch LED TV, and a printer-scanner-photocopier machine donated through monthly contributions by Meralco employees.
With electricity now available in their school, coupled with the continued dedication of Agustin and their teachers, Waring Elementary School pupils are finally able to experience technology and learn in the same way most children across the world do.