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Culture and ecology at APC, Philippines

16 December 2011

Pulangiyen students at APC. Photo Credit: Pedro Walpole

Pedro Walpole, SJ

Cultural and personal identity are central in forming children’s environmental attitudes during elementary and high school for the Pulangiyen community, an upland indigenous community in northern Mindanao in the Philippines.

The Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC) is a school that emerged from the desires of the Pulangiyen people on the Pulangi River in Mindanao.  Children from over 10 villages come to school using their mother tongue as the basis for all learning.  The children study all the usual learning competencies required in school and are grounded in their conceptual world that is full of meaning.  They learn the national language Filipino and English as subjects, acquiring new language skills that they overlay on their strong conceptual framework Pinulangiyen.

Clearing the bracken. Photo Credit: Pedro Walpole

Children are provided not only a learning support at home, but to their very culture.  Land use practices, mountains, and rivers of the area are an environment of learning and identity.  Experiencing the meaning and value of this through a learning program that incorporates the cultural values has immensely strengthened the communities’ children and youth who engage with those down the valley and in the cities with a level of equity not experienced before.

Class themes and topics draw on the stories of the culture.  Children visit the different forest types and different land uses in the community to learn about the diversity of lives and relationships, the water, soil, and climate.  Activities often include gathering various natural resources for local craft and learning the weaves and patterns of the different families.

In particular, they are aware of how to keep their water sources clean and recharges.  They learn about the indigenous vegetation of the area, and after a history of corporate timber extraction, are assisting the natural regeneration of the forest through planting out and guarding seedlings.  Our trees take 60 years or more to grow, so planting trees is like considering how the community will still be engaging in the area when they themselves are senior residents.

Focus is now on rehabilitating a dried-up stream, planting its banks, and keeping the farm animals out of the critical areas.  This increases the ecological services for all while further securing their local environment.  Though the world talks about these things, there is still too much political and transactional costs for any benefit to arrive back for the community.  Sustaining the attitude of community and children is important in sustaining their identity and their sense of leadership in the broader society.  Many children grow up and leave the area, but their identity as Pulangiyen and their times in the forest never leave them.

The school is not just a school, but a way of life.  Everybody’s daily life is affected by what happens at the school.  What children are learning, families are also taking on board and practicing.  If this is the case, the environment should be benefiting.

Pulangiyen youth. Photo Credit: Pedro Walpole

The present aims of the engagement are to: consolidate the land in indigenous hands, negotiate a broader and better recognized peace zone, protect the forest line with improved income from agro-forestry, revise the cultural education program, improve options for youth, and build better governance relations and cultural sustainability in the process.  This is a tough list and we never seem to have enough time, but the biggest hope in actualizing this are the local youth.

You are welcome to join us in this and see what we care for in APC’s website.

Pedro Walpole SJ is Executive Director of Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center and can be reached through his email pedro(at)apc.essc.org.ph.

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