Despite still being classified by the Department of Education as a ‘Last Mile School’ given its far-flung location and lack of electricity and running water, Colot S. Aligado Indigenous People High School has experienced a renewed sense of hope as the community celebrated its first moving-up ceremony for Grade 10 students last July 1, 2022.
The first-ever standard classroom buildings were built by HOPE in partnership with Vita Coco last 2019 and have since seen enrollment rates shoot up despite the pandemic. From just 22 Grade 7 learners, Colot has grown to 217 enrolled students and counting.
Nicey Grace D. Joaquin, a Grade 10 finisher, shared that despite the difficulties, she continued to pursue her education because she believed that it was the key to her future–and that of her community. Nicey belongs to the Blaan tribe, an indigenous community of Southern Mindanao that makes up 100% of Colot’s students. “I study because I want to show the world that I am proud of my tribe… My favorite subject is English because I want to prove to others that my tribe can do great things.”
Nicey was the only one among 36 pupils who graduated with honors. During the moving-up event, one teacher shared with the HOPE team that Nicey has been asking her about her chances of becoming a flight attendant. “You can do anything you put your mind to,” she replied. Nicey’s education has bolstered her ambition, and it is this exact pride that teachers want to foster within the four walls of the classroom.
Nicey is pictured here to the right of Principal Balunto along with other graduating Grade 10 students
Rosita Balunto, the school’s principal, shared how the classrooms have removed the inferiority factor of previously not having a space for learning. She also emphasized how the community has found a renewed sense of integrity because they believe that through these classrooms, they have a chance to elevate their education and compete globally. “When you say katutubo or ‘indigenous people’ (IP), there’s this notion that these people live in areas that are not well maintained. But now we have these beautiful classrooms that give us great pride and dignity,” she said.
The buildings have become conducive areas where cultural knowledge and tradition can be shared. Balunto pointed out that sometimes they play Blaan musical instruments and sing songs in the classrooms. Through this, the youth get to deepen their appreciation and understanding of their culture, becoming guardians of their heritage for future generations. And with over 100 families that have moved around the classroom, it’s safe to say that more children will get to strengthen their sense of identity as well.
To keep the education going and their cultural pride growing, the school administration continues to do everything possible to encourage more Blaan students to enroll. They even reach out to the leaders of the Blaan tribe for extra support. “We make it a point to reach out to them because sometimes, they feel inferior because they’re indigenous people. However, since we are IP as well, [the families and children] feel comfortable with us because they have the confidence to show who they truly are,” shared Balunto.
When asked about her HOPE for Colot, she said, “[Stability] for everyone, and for more students to join the school and return to the classroom. The children are the hope and the pride of the school. In five years, I see them studying or working after finishing a tertiary course. Their world is not limited to the confines of our location. They can go out and work wherever they want.”
For the Blaan people of Barangay Bawing, General Santos, quality education is not only a gateway to a bright future for themselves but a way to cultivate cultural pride. Through their classrooms, more students like Nicey can reach their dreams and proudly proclaim their roots.
Colot currently has four classrooms made possible by Vita Coco. As of writing, the school is gearing up for school year 2022-2023, which expects a total of 90-100 enrollees.