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The IP of Ocampo and Brigada Eskwela

The drizzle with dark clouds that hovered over us on the way to barangay Guinaban in Ocampo, Camarines Sur, last Tuesday gave me an uneasy feeling that if it develops into a downpour, Brigada Eskwela, which the TBM hastily organized for 200 IP children, would be quite a mess. Nobody would want to give away gifts on a rainy day in the field, especially for young, playful IP kids who are used to running around in the open. The IP children of Ocampo, with their mothers, are the regular receivers of TBM’s Pagheras and AKI (Child) programs.

Drops of rain began to pour on the window shield, but traversing forward and slowly, as we reached the corner of the paved road leading to Salvacion, then to Guinaban, the weather suddenly improved. Much to our delight, we saw a few small, well-painted buildings inside the Ginaban Elementary School where the Pagheras of donated school supplies and goodies would take place. The IP leader, Rechel Medrano, chatted on the TBM GC that she had already coordinated with the school principal, the teachers, and the barangay, as well as the IP chieftain, to hold the distribution of school and personal supplies inside the classrooms on the opening of classes that day August 29. The principal, Mrs. Judy dela Cruz, immediately mobilized her classroom teachers teaching kindergarten, grades one and two, to prepare for the Brigada Eskwela. She was overwhelmed when she learned that apart from the Brigada Eskwela, was an opportunity for the children’s parents to learn about alternative livelihood through the CHEd-Mariners-CBSUA-TBM Social Enterprises Development (SED) project. SED staff were on hand - Carl, Lea and Jane - to assist.

Nanay Rechel is TBM’s IP contact leader in Ocampo since 2019. I have known Rechel as a 30-year-old enterprising housewife who only reached the second year of high school but was eager to learn new things. She is known in the neighborhood as always quick to respond to the needs of other “Nanay.” She helped TBM organize the first AKI program in Ocampo, where IP children joined the virtual painting workshop called Kurit Aki in “Saving the Earth, Saving Lives” with 100 other children all over Camarines Sur with the support of the National Commission on Culture and Arts (NCCA) during the Pandemic in 2021 as a form of psycho-social therapy for families in distress. Armed with paint brushes, acrylic paint, and lots of sharing about life, she said the Kurit Aki sessions helped her family cope with the stresses of the Pandemic by being connected with other similarly situated families during the critical times of isolation.

In a text message, she shared that the LGU appointed her as the new IP representative at the barangay level. I thought that was awesome, being recognized by no less than the barangay officials themselves. She confided that TBM helped her gain confidence in herself.

Last week, she appealed to the TBM GC members for much-needed school supplies of pencils, notebooks, pad paper, crayola coloring, and additional needs for the poor IP kids. Her appeal was both in Tagalog and Bicol.

Like many appeals for help posted on the GC, Rechel’s request immediately gained support. Dr. Cely Binoya, TBM Board member and currently president of the Center for Disaster Preparedness, led the fund drive. A DRRM expert and Mariners research consultant, Doc Cely, knew how an emergency situation calls for fast response, especially for those in dire need who do not have a life system support for their basic needs. The impact is more significant. Several exchanges followed, and the Brigada Eskwela, a pagheras of school needs, was launched and realized, all in a week, with the bulk of donations from the Rotary Club of Pasay City Southeast, the HOPE in the World through Ms. Ofelia Arguero, and volunteers from TBM Board of Trustees, the Mariners Canaman and CBSUA.

A reunion at Guinaban

The Brigada Eskwela was a reunion between Rechel and me. I was doubly happy to meet her and the other Nanays once more, now more confident to assert and articulate for the primary school needs of their children and getting support. Their barangay, Guinaban, is one of the poor 25 barangays in Ocampo, a third-class municipality close to Mount Isarog’s slopes, where most Agtas are into upland farming. Their tribe is among the 18 tribal communities in Camarines Sur, located around Mount Isarog, the last tropical rain forest in Bicol known for its rich flora and fauna. Their ancestral domain across Bicol is a window of breathtaking tourist spots. Ocampo, whose fresh cool air earns the title “Little Baguio of Bicol,” holds great potential.

When we met, I asked, “kumusta na,” and they smiled, “nagtitius” as if suffering is something to laugh about. Judge Rima Ortega of the Iriga Family Court explains that because of abject poverty, most IPs suffer from discrimination, landlessness, lack of essential services and, surprise! only a fraction of them are registered and have birth certificates!

Their rights, according to RA 8371 or IPRA Law, promoting harmonization and resilience remain a significant challenge to this day.


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