By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA �� There is no stopping them from reaching their dreams, not even martial law declared in the whole island of Mindanao, as the first batch of senior high school (SHS) students from the Community Technical College of Southeastern Mindanao Inc. (CTCSMI) graduated last April 2 for school year 2017-2018.
The graduates were ecstatic as they completed SHS, something that student Estrella Jamil, thought she would never achieve.
“There have been many questions in my mind after finishing junior high school. I asked why the government is making it difficult for us to finish our education. We could have finished college but they added two more years instead. Will I still be able to finish my education?” she said in Tagalog during her speech. She was awarded as the most outstanding student, top 1 and Gawad Iskolar ng Bayan of the CTCSMI SHS batch 2017-2018.
She acknowledged CTCSMI for giving the Lumad and the rest of the Filipino youth yearning for education a chance to reach for their dreams.
At least 30 SHS students finished Grade 12 for the past school year, 14 females and 16 males. University of the Philippines Chancellor Michael Tan, ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro and Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate also graced the event.
The CTCSMI is located in Maco, Compostela Valley. It was established by academicians and child rights advocates on Oct. 24, 2013. The Lumad boarding school is the only campus in Mindanao and has no other branch yet in the region.
Sophia Flor P. Garduce, CTCSM school administrator, in an email interview, said that their students came from all regions of Mindanao, “Some came from as far as Western Mindanao.”
The CTCSMI caters to students belonging to low-income families. “As a private school, the CTCSM also seeks to primarily serve children of indigenous people who are victims of neglect, discrimination and the dominant colonial culture, and thus endeavors to exhaust all its efforts to provide a complete and integrated education for them,” Garduce said.
At present, the school offers General Academic Strand for SHS under the K to 12 program. The school also applied for a permit to operate a college and is currently waiting for the release of the approval.
Despite the escalating human rights violations in Mindanao brought about by martial law, the school was able to finish another school year. But it was not easy, said Garduce, as they also faced challenges such as fears of students and volunteer teachers. Garduce said with the help of the Liga ng Iskolar ng Bayan and the Association of Community Educators, they organized students and volunteers teachers.
“We raise their awareness on the true character of the Duterte administration, the structure of Philippine society – the ruling elite and the oppressed and their right to education,” said Garduce.
The boarding school has limited resources; that is why they continue to develop their organic agriculture program so that their harvest will continue to grow and meet the needs of the students, as well as the staff.
Despite having sponsors from some individuals, corporations, religious groups, the non-government organizations, the local government and some government agencies they still strengthen their Save Our Schools campaign as some donors or sponsors are having second thoughts on continuing support to their schools.
It is this reason why Jamil is appreciative of those who continue and do not waver from supporting their school. “Nawa tayo ay patuloy na sumuporta sa Lumad schools, sa makatarungan at mapagpalayang edukasyon sa nakararami at hindi lamang sa iilan. (I hope we would continue supporting Lumad schools and a just and liberating education for the majority, and not only for a few.)”
She also thanked their teachers, the administration, parents and those who guided them throughout the school year.
In her speech, Jamil stressed how the progressive approach of the school has helped her develop by appreciating the importance of criticism and self-criticism, the collective work in their farming, their mobilization for social issues among others.
“I am happy of what I have achieved as well as my fellow graduates. Sa loob ng dalawang taon ay eto na at tatanggapin na natin ang simbolo bilang magsisipagtapos. Sa lahat ng mga kahirapan at katuwaan, krisis, kabiguan ay narating din natin, (After two years, here we are, ready to accept the symbol of our graduation. Despite all the hardships and joys, crisis and disappointments, we finally reached our dream.) she said.