The jungles and uplands of the Philippines are home to over 100 indigenous people groups. Although some of these native tribes now show basic signs of modern living (proper clothing, cemented homes, and peaceful coexistence among rival tribes), most live with the barest necessities – relying on firewood for cooking and root crops for food. They also have limited to no access at all to stable work and proper education, as Pauline’s parents have experienced firsthand.
Pauline Capoca, 8 years old, belongs to the Agta tribe. The Agtas live on the mountains of Iriga in the Bicol province of the Philippines. They are known for their wavy hair, short stature and dark-brown complexion. Filipino children learn about the Agtas in school because they are considered to be one of the original and earliest settlers in the islands. But what Philippine school textbooks do not mention is the fact that modern Agtas are looked down upon and not given equal treatment in society.
“Our ancestors used to own this land,” said Felipe, Pauline’s father. “Now, some rich family owns it and we are considered squatters. We don’t have equal opportunity, so we just rely on our old ways; we feed from the root crops and vegetables that we plant. We just have to work hard every day so we can have something to eat on that day.”
Felipe, 31, only reached the second year of high school, while his wife, Myla, 32, only studied up to Grade 4. Both admit that they had to stop schooling because their parents couldn’t afford it and that they would rather work in the farm than read books.
So far, only two Agtas in Iriga have reached and finished college through a scholarship grant from the local government. They studied agriculture, but sadly they are now having a hard time looking for work.
“The Agta children here don’t really value their education and don’t mind not finishing college and getting a career, except for those that have joined our program, Compassion’s child sponsorship program (CDSP),” revealed Chona Sotaso, a missionary to the Agtas and child development worker for the Perpetual Help Alliance Church, a church partner of Compassion in Iriga. “Our beneficiaries are eager to learn and are hopeful to graduate from college someday.”
Pauline is one of the 28 Agta beneficiaries registered in PH0416 Nagkausad Child Development Center. She is now in Grade 3 and can read and write very well. Last year, she was First Honor in her class, besting all her non-Agta classmates. “I am so proud of my daughter,” said Myla. “I can’t read at all and now Pauline is much better than me. I am so thankful for the help that Compassion is giving – the school supplies, the uniforms and even the food that the children eat at the center. All of those things motivate the children to study. My dream for Pauline is that someday she can finish college and get a good life.” The parents of other Agta beneficiaries share the same hope.
Levi Donggan, 49, said, “My big dream is for my daughter to get a good education and someday get a job in the city. Maybe, I have hope, Gloria will be my only child to reach college.”
Levi has 10 children and five grandchildren. He works hard in the farm every day, wakes up at 5:00 am, goes to the mountains to farm, watches over other people’s cattle, and comes home before dark. Eight-year-old Gloria, a beneficiary, is the sixth child. She hopes to be a teacher someday. Her mother is away, working as house-help in the city. Maria Lumabe, 57, said, “My only dream and hope is that my twins will finish their studies. Our life is very hard. I don’t want them to remain in hardship.” Maria’s husband is sick and can no longer stand up to work. He receives free medicines from the local government, but the elderly couple finds it difficult to hike down the mountain regularly to get the medicines. And sometimes there are no supplies. Today, only Maria is working. She works by cleaning the neighbors’ lawns and harvesting in the farm. She also relies on the little money that she gets from her older children who are now working, but also suffering in poverty. Maria’s twins are Andrew and Andrea Lumabe. “We are looking forward to the day when this (tribal) community will see that a number of their children graduate from college, and maybe even with honors,” said Chona with a big, proud grin. “The heart of our church beats for the tribes. Even before Compassion came, we had been ministering to the Agtas here in Iriga, and other indigenous people groups farther away. We desire to help the kids in our outreaches to indigenous communities, and it was this desire that moved our pastor to partner with Compassion in 2012, and now the partnership is a big help.” According to the church leaders of the Alliance Church, Compassion has opened the doors wider for them to serve the Agta people. “The Agtas are a proud group and would not readily mingle with outsiders,” Chona continued. “Yes, we have been reaching out to them in the past, but now with Compassion, we feel that the Agta tribe has fully embraced us and the gospel that we teach.”