Young people take part in a Balay Laudato Si’ work experience and reflection programme, learning about indigenous tree species in the Pulangiyēn ancestral domain in Bendum, Philippines, guided by the knowledge and experience of young Pulangiyēn indigenous foresters.
When young people in the community of Bendum are asked, what are they grateful for, they always tell you about the fresh air, water from the spring and the forest that surrounds them. These are expected answers and people from the lowlands usually respond on how wonderful it all is and how cosy the community appears.
But, like any other communities, the different layers of social and environmental reality call for cooperation and seek responses that are rooted locally. The context in rural communities is increasingly determined by shifts in financial arrangements with traders and is increasingly individualistic and less based on interdependent relationships of people. So, the context may be dominated by financial transactions and sometimes politics more than culture.
To deepen the understanding of these contemporary challenges, the Balay Laudato Si’ work experience and reflection programme was designed for indigenous young people, including a few from migrant families. This is an accompaniment programme with young people experiencing Laudato Si’and cultural inspiration. While they start to learn daily patterns of learning and work, they also learn to express themselves in the process by finding a way towards a common understanding of a shared vision.
Laudato Si’profoundly expresses that “All of us can cooperate as instruments of God for the care of creation, each according to his or her own culture, experience, involvements and talents.” (LS 14) The programme provides us the following experiences and points for reflection to move forward.
The first experience is living in a gaup (ancestral domain). Every day, they witness the sunrise, work beneath the sun and watch the beautiful landscape on a peaceful night’s sleep under the moon as Mars and Venus pass over above them. Little of this is ever grasped or considered as a moment of gratitude. The world knows how blessed it will be to live in a place where you feel not simply belonging, but are a part of the bigger picture of life. Indigenous Peoples who still live in their own land are very familiar with this experience and this will remain a good story for them until the seventh generation.
In partnership with Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL), a distance learning programme, young people are learning to communicate across the world and how to participate in global networking and dialogue. Communication is fundamental in every culture and for the Pulangiyēn community in Bendum, learning to speak and write in English allows them keep sharing their stories for collaboration with government officials and the private sector, and participate in an open discussion for the life of the land.
The second experience is how supporting young people in reflecting on culture makes for cultural change. The context of the dalēpaan (long-house for temporary stays) and the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center, a community school, provides an interesting story of the different challenges of encouraging them to keep up their studies and sustaining their interest in learning. A holistic approach to support is critical, and it is based on the daily guided life experience. When they start to share with confidence their opinions, feelings, worries or what makes them happy, it is important to guide them to form a clearer understanding of that which speaks for the common good.
The story of failure and how it can come out as a good story that others can learn from is an important life experience. In mainstream schools, failure is bad or used as judgement for poor quality of performance. We have to acknowledge that life is not designed by default to be perfect. There is always a constant flow of trial and error until the right fit is found. Maybe some will find it very easy but for others it is difficult, while some just want to skip it and proceed on another course. Like in mission work, we may have an idea on how to proceed but it doesn’t mean we know the answer to every circumstance. There is a construction and deconstruction of approaches based on reality time after time.
“Local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren. These values are deeply rooted in Indigenous Peoples.” (LS 179)
Supporting young people is a long-term process, because it is not only about teaching them necessary life skills. It is also a way of preparing them to be responsible for the future so they can be a generation that has a sense of commitment to continue to pass on the cultural values, responsibility, and the readiness to take on leadership for service. It requires wisdom from the community so they can see it with clarity. This is a great challenge for all of us in being called for the mission.
The third experience is providing young people with a common vision of the dignity of work. Learning new skills can be easy for a young person who is interested and able to perform in a work environment. Better skills also mean better income for the family, but how can the experience go beyond money? It is the dignity of work in forming ourselves and contributing to good relations with others. Work as a service is a form of giving of one’s talent and skills and indeed it is the other best version of self. It is part of culture to remember people who lived in the past and did great things in different fields. We do remember them, maybe not how they looked exactly, but what their actual contribution to society was and the real stories of their work and vision that led them to keep pushing their skills and knowledge to the limit.
The deeper meaning of the individual’s contribution is also in providing service for the public good. Leadership of service requires a genuine intention and constant searching for a balanced decision for all.
The fourth experience is how the text of Laudato Si’ becomes part of young people’s lives and can be used as a basis for open dialogue and advocacy to call for action with the community. Laudato Si’ at the beginning sounds strange for the young and does not mean anything for them. When they start developing their life experience and hear themselves talking about their aspirations, fears, hopes and the bigger reality, they realize what it takes to care for our common home. It is a question of where they are in the community and where the community is for them.
Laudato Si’ became an instrument for discussion, a guide for deepening reflection and an instrument for dialogue since it speaks of culture, shared responsibilities, and commitment to sustainability of our common home. The present younger generation is worthy to be called to take on the challenge and its action will be supported through and through.
The fifth experience is how they weave their experiences together and believe in dreams. Understanding the value of dreams in culture not simply for the individual but how they can be a guide for how to move forward, generating solidarity and cooperation in a common vision – that is something new.
If young people now are asked what they are grateful for, they may begin to speak about the simple life and the daily experience of peace that comes from within, as they begin to reflect on their lives and the action they want to take.
Arnel Santander worked with the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), a Jesuit research and training organization in the Philippines that accompanies indigenous youth in the Upper Pulangi area in northern Mindanao, Philippines. This story originally appeared in the publication Laudato si’ Reader-An Alliance of Care for Our Common Home.