Volunteering in Bendum: Integrated inclusive education in the uplands

Volunteering in Bendum: Integrated inclusive education in the uplands

Lucía with young friends in Bendum. Photo credit: L Cervilla
Lucía with young friends in Bendum. Photo credit: L Cervilla

Paula Sendín interviewing Lucía Cervilla

Lucía Cervilla is a young visitor from Spain who spent four weeks as a volunteer last summer in Bendum, Bukidnon in northern Mindanao, Philippines. During her visit, Lucía took part and contributed to some of the elementary and high school activities at the Apu Palamguwan Cultural Education Center (APC)  that operates an upland school for the indigenous Pulangiyen community and other youth in the area. The main campus is in Bendum that offers Kinder to Grade 7 classes, while four other extension schools offering Kinder to Grade 3 classes are located in other mountain villages.

Lucía spent her time in Bendum supporting capacity development by assisting in the documentation of the youth activities as they regenerate the surrounding forest areas and contributing to several training programs for the indigenous youth that focused on environmental sustainability and protection.

In an interview with Paula Sendín from Ecojesuit upon her return to Brussels, Belgium where Lucía lives and works, she shares her thoughts and reflections of her brief engagement with the students, teachers, and staff at the APC school.

What contribution can a volunteer coming from the “North” share with a culture-based school in northern Mindanao?

I think it depends on the volunteer’s previous experience and background. It is advisable that the local partner offers work that closely matches and can be adapted to the volunteer’s profile while the volunteer should have the flexibility to adapt to local conditions. In my case, my previous experiences of international cooperation work helped a lot in the adjustments I needed to make while in Bendum.

I am not very much in favour of the “North-South” division, but I understand the question. Perhaps we can contribute theoretical knowledge and academic inputs and specific expertise, bearing in mind that in many places, young people cannot attend university or have limited access to technical resources.

What are the experiences or activities that help to understand the North-South inter-dependence?

Due to my previous experiences in international volunteering, I have experienced this “inter-dependence” but in an isolated community such as Bendum, inter-dependence is lived daily. Technical knowledge provided by professionals and practitioners connect with local knowledge and enhance local environmental management.

How can you describe the learning method of the APC school?

APC offers an education for the Pulangiyen community based on indigenous culture and draws from the relations with the land and resources in their ancestral domain (gaup, pronounced ga-oop). It is an education focused on sustainable development and the protection of nature, two crucial concerns for the survival of the community. Their culture and nature have always been in complete harmony, and this is something they want to sustain through the education of their children in a framework that promotes cultural integrity, equity, peace, and sustainability.

Girls living in remote rural areas, ethnic minorities, indigenous peoples are often excluded from education. How can the education in APC be described as an integral education?

The APC school’s approach responds to the local educational needs of indigenous youth and integrates with the community activities and concerns. There are many children enrolled in the APC school who come from neighboring villages where the nearest school can take a day and a half of walking through challenging terrain, crossing rivers, and walking through forest areas.

As a response, APC has the dalepaan (pronounced da-lu-pa-an) which is physically a dormitory building where other teachers and staff also stay and serve as older brothers and sisters who supervise and care for the children. In the dalepaan, children learn life skills such as food preparation, food distribution and management, household management, working with production from the land, group skills, vegetable gardening, learning relationships and respect for elder brothers and sisters, how to present their concerns, regular study sessions, formative sessions, and others. The dalepaan is a social and cultural institution that teaches them how to relate with the outside; another classroom that offers a whole learning.

Most families live off from the land and agricultural production, so those parents who cannot pay the minimal tuition fees by cash are asked to contribute monthly whatever farm produce they cultivate such as bananas or sweet potatoes that contribute to the food that is consumed.

We are in the European Year for Development, what would you say is the essential factor for development in Bendum?

The special attraction of Bendum is its over-all the promotion of local growth that is in harmony with nature and the environment. This strengthens the education provided to the youth that is based on local culture and which ensures an inclusive education system.


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