Are you able to read this post? No doubt, your immediate answer is, “Yes, of course!” What a gift literacy is! Though it impacts our lives daily, we take the skill as a given. Yet, in communities such as the Badjaos in the Philippines, this is not a skill taken for granted, nor a skill that historically has existed in the community. Without this skill, it severely limits one's life's choices. That’s why Badjao Bridge stresses its importance and is at work in advocating literacy along with the Good News.
“Education is very important because most of the children are not literate and mostly the parents can’t help them read and write,” says Paz Oroyan, our teacher in the Alternative Learning Program.
Since their parents are also illiterate, most of the children need learning assistance, coaching, or tutoring outside their homes if they are to be educated. They need to be literate if there is any hope for them to assimilate with peers outside of their tribe and for them to have any vocational choices in adulthood.
Sharing our vision to spread literacy, Paz came to work with Badjao Bridge last September, bringing positive energy and a creative bent in her lesson plans as an experienced teacher. A native of the Visayan community next door, she has been familiar with the lifestyle and needs of the Badjaos all her life. Yet, as she works with unschooled children, she finds this the most challenging teaching position she has held.
“These children’s needs are different,” she says, “so I adapt various teaching methods to their particular learning styles.” These are kids who don’t have a basic elementary education but who enjoy coming every afternoon to the Alternative Learning Program where they have a chance to grasp basic concepts in reading and writing. Paz’s desire to see the kids excel is rewarded with the kids’ enthusiasm and progress. One such middle-school aged boy, Brian, makes it a priority to come even with his active work schedule.
Brian senses responsibility to help provide for his family. So, like other boys in the community, he works in the evening preparing their boat for night sea fishing. Then, about midnight, he sails out with his dad in hopes of a good catch he can sell in town the next day. After fishing through the night, about 7:00 a.m. he finally falls into bed for five or six hours’ sleep. It’s then time at 1:00 p.m. to join other kids in the Alternative Learning Program for a couple of hours of focused literacy training. Learning to read is the highlight of Brian’s day. If he oversleeps and the group starts a session without him, this mild-mannered kid gets upset.
So, along with all her other challenging responsibilities, his teacher, Paz, makes sure someone stops by Brian’s stilt dwelling in the sea to wake him before they begin the afternoon’s learning exercises and activities.
Brian’s teacher says, “The children are eager to learn. They enjoy being within their own community and have great love for their unique culture. My hope, though, is that slowly, through education, the children will mingle with other children outside the Badjao community and will find acceptance, realizing that in commonality, they all are Filipino, and the communities will merge.”
Badjao Bridge provides four streams of education for the children of sea gypsies:
- Preschool for youngsters to prepare them to enter public elementary school
- Assistance for children to attend elementary and secondary public education by providing mandatory uniforms, school supplies, homework coaching, and lunch
- Alternative education for the unschooled older children so that they can master educational basics such as literacy while sustained by a chili-spiced, protein-fortified lunch
- A children’s Bible program and teenage discipleship training in partnership with the Badjao church on weekends
Occasionally, Badjao Bridge also provides a scholarship beyond high school for worthy students who dare to reach beyond what the community ever thought possible.