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Feature: Empowering Badjaos through literacy

Carefully holding a pencil in her hand, Fe draws a straight line and a curve forming the letter "r" to complete the word "mother." Beside her are fellow learners - parents and children seated closely together so that each has a portion in the small table to write.

Salty air fills the room as sounds of waves gently kissing the shore below the community center completed the learning atmosphere every Wednesday in Brgy. Canlanipa, Surigao City.

Fe is just one of the 34 Badjao learners who benefited from the Alternative Learning System implemented by the Department of Education which was fully supported by the local government of Surigao City.

In her testimony, Fe said promising changes occurred in their way of life after they learned how to read and write and optimized their counting ability. She said that because of the Basic Literacy Mobile Program, some of the Badjaos stopped their usual practice of waiting for somebody to drop a coin in the sea along pier area or begging for money in the streets. She added that some of them already engaged in selling ukay-ukay items or pearls to tourists or to local people. She also said that more frequent than before, husbands, sons or brothers who caught fishes or other marine products now directly sell their catch to market vendors.

Fe is amazed how the knowledge of reading, writing and counting numbers made a difference in their lives as she have observed in her fellow Badjaos who now ventured into new ways of living which they would not do before acquiring the skills. But this change is just one of the many targets the Department of Education in Surigao City is trying to achieve.

DepEd Schools Division Supt. Susan Cuizon disclosed that the unique success of the literacy program lies in the support of the city government. She said DepEd has provided the manpower and the technicalities but would not have achieved as much as they have now without the financial assistance from the local government spearheaded by Mayor Alfonso Casurra.

Supt. Cuizon said that for the Badjao community, the local government of Surigao City provided school supplies and other learning materials for the learners and for the center. She added that the local government also construct and repair the bridges in going to the community for easy access and transport of goods and others. She also said that the city government also provided the P1,500 every month honorarium for the Badjao translator which is a big help to the ALS mobile teacher.

Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Rico Salvador Sering said that with the strong partnership between DepEd and the City Government, the literacy rate of the people in Surigao City is now 80-90%. Vice Mayor Sering is hopeful that as the good implementation of the program continues, illiteracy will finally be eradicated in his area.

Just as what Hermiette Lerog, ALS Mobile Teacher whose heart soared high as one of her learners told him "sir, ako na po ang nagsulat ng pangalan ng ibinoto ko nung eleksyon," more people can improve the way they view life and in the end make a difference in their lives. And this could only happen if literacy programs will be continuously implemented with the same intensity as the DepEd and local government of Surigao City are doing now. So that in the not so distant future, more people like Fe can enjoy the promise of life. (Jose Jemuel Dael, PIA-Caraga)

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