Thursday, August 8, 2013

July 20th: Bayan-bayanan Aeta Immersion Update - Reading Sessions

Both "kulot" and "unat" school children eagerly awaited our return to Bayan-bayanan Elementary School for
a half-day of tree planting and reading sessions. We gave each of them a Boston hat (with the  letter "B"
also appropriately representing Bayan-bayanan), bags donated by BKP or Bagong Kultura Pilipino
of New York City, and childrens story books.  

As I mentioned in my previous blog, there were a number of planned activities that the IP Rondalla was supposed to do with the Aeta kids during our cultural immersion day in the 12th. However, the afternoon rainshowers and conflict with other performances forced us to reluctantly cancel. This included a reading session and tree planting activity. But a promise is a promise. So, after a long drive from Manila to Bataan (as I mentioned in an earlier post), we're back at the Halfway House to meet with the Aeta kids and teachers.

FYI, today is Saturday, so I don't expect many of the students or teachers to be around. As we entered the small chapel that currently doubles as a classroom due to the recent landslide at the school... surprise, surprise. Waiting patiently inside was a room full of bright eyed and smiling school children!

Wait, back up a bit...I was supposed to read to the kids a local "alamat"  or fable -- IN TAGALOG! This gave me flashbacks of my Channel 5 TV interview with Edu Manzano. HAYYYY!!!!! But the show must go on, so, I was frantically practiced reading on the way from Manila to Bataan.

But back up a bit more (sorry I'm making things a little confusing again)...As we were sorting through the different children's books on popular Philippine myths and "alamat" in the car to Bataan, my dad and I came to a shocking realization. Most of the story books were written with a systemic bias against dark-skinned, stubby-nosed or curly haired characters. Often they are depicted as villains, characters of lesser virtue, or placed in very subservient roles. Knowing the bright Aeta kids and the talented students at PPP, I found it sad that discrimination of minorities, or even the poor, people with disabilities, or folks that are simply "different" from the rest seem to run deep in Philippine culture. I believe in the equality of all human beings and races, so for me, seeing this perspective legitimized in children's books and (by extension) early childhood rearing and education is lamentable. I wondered whether this was the reason why the authors seemed quite blind or oblivious to this glaring social issue. Well, what do you think?

In any case, we ended up selecting a few books with "neutral" stories. I chose to read, "Ang Alamat ng Saging" (The Legend of the Banana) while my dad, being a fisheries and oceanography expert, chose to read, "Ang Alamat ng Talangka" (The Legend of the Crab). Reading in Tagalog was quite a challenge for me. Although I can say most of the words right (my dad said I got 95% of the readings right), there were still some words where a little change in intonation or accent gives a totally different meaning. Needless to say, they had lots of laughs in the car on my account...fourth time through's the charm.

I love listening to stories, which is one of the things I had in common with these Aeta kids. They were all very attentive and absorbed as I related to them the story of how "saging" came to be. After I finished reading, my dad drew pictures of the key topics in the story and asked questions to test the kid's comprehension. I was delighted to hear how accurately they recalled every character and events in the story. One thing is sure...they know their bananas well.

Next, it was my dad's turn to read to them. Seeing how aware they were of their natural environment, my dad mixed his story telling with chalkboard drawings of the animals and scenes in the story, interlaced with questioning to solicit input and active participation among the kids. And boy, it was a riot!  The legend of "talangka" involved two feuding field hands managing a "palaisdaan" or fish pond. When my dad asked if any of them know about fish ponds, all the kids raised their hands. Asked to name the types of fish or aquatic organisms that are typically grown in these ponds, the kids competed with each other and named a dozen or so fish and shellfish...much more than what's written in the book.

Now, I don't know about you but I've taken a number of Biology classes yet I don't know how to tell a male from a female crab (females have rounded underbellies) nor do I know how crabs walk (sideways), but they do. Wow, all I can say is, these  kids are wiz and experts, especially when it comes to a deep knowledge and understanding of their natural environment!  What's even surprising, when my dad asked them about the moral of the story and how it can be applied in their daily lives -- all of them got it right.

Tita Janet relating the story of Aling Nena to the school children. Note
my dad's drawing of a female crab on the chalkboard.
Tita Janeth's turn to tell a story came next. This time, she told about the tale of Aling Nena, who, like the Aeta kids, also started dirt poor and lived in a house no different from their Halfway Home. But with hard work, perseverance and dedication to get a good education, Aling Nena completed college as a Computer Engineer. Later,  she met and married a guy who had even worse beginnings but had the same tenacity and desire to complete a college education. Through blood, sweat and tears, he managed to finish a degree in Computer Science and now both of them are living and working in the United States. 
After  hearing more and more of the story, I could see that this was a story personal to her. Just as I had thought, Tita Janeth revealed that the heartfelt story of Aling Nena is actually her own life story. Coming from even worse situations, she wanted to inspire the young Aeta kids to stay in school, strive to finish a college education, and become the future role model for others in their community.

Well, Tita Janeth, based on the attentiveness and interest shown by the Aeta kids, I think your message came through loud and clear. Hopefully they'll also be able to make their dreams come true too.

Tita Naty ended the reading sessions by asking each and every kid what they aspire to be in the future. Some proudly declared they wanted to be a teacher. Others aspire to become a doctor, an engineer, a policeman and a nurse. After a quick merienda, we all lined up to go outside and plant some trees.

Sierra Jamir

1 comment:

  1. Heart warming story! I hope that the books from BKP-NY arrive soon and they make good use of them.

    Judi Babcock