'Our girls are the real gold'

libudsuroy
Posted April 22, 2013 from Philippines
Vangie Bago-Porogoy, Mamanwa leader
Vangie Bago-Porogoy, Mamanwa leader
Vangie Bago-Porogoy, Mamanwa leader (1/3)

Vangie Bago-Porogoy has survived an ambush. She lifts her shirt, showing me where the bullets pierced through skin. The scars are like bleached centipedes encrusted on her dark brown flesh.

“Some people want me dead,” she tells me. “And they could be my own kin.”

Vangie belongs to the vanishing Mamanwa tribe, who number only around 55,000. In northeastern Mindanao, the Mamanwa are forest dwellers who survive by relying on swidden farming, hunting wild animals and gathering bamboo, wild honey and firewood.

“We cannot let our children remain illiterate. With the forests soon gone, they have to find jobs and they cannot find good jobs if they are unschooled,” Vangie recalls how she tried to persuade the village assembly. “We must send every girl to school, make sure they stay in school.”

About 300 families of Vangie’s clan have resettled elsewhere as their 20,000-hectare mountain territory became a mining site. Recently, the company extracting gold and nickel from their ancestral land has paid them royalty, amounting to PhilP51-million (about US$12M).

“I disagreed on how this common fund would be spent,” she reveals. She is convinced her dissent explains the attempt on her life.

How would her impoverished clan want to spend that instant bonanza? Most wanted to divide the funds among themselves but Vangie, 28, the village’s documents-keeper, asserted instead that the fund be allotted for their children’s schooling, health and nutrition, aside from providing houses for the ageing elders.

As the Mamanwa are matrilineal, Vangie prefers educating girls. “The girls, they are the real gold. They are our reliable savings bank,” she says. Even as public primary school is free, few Mamanwa children enroll and those who do, drop out early. Girls endure longer, finishing the elementary grades till they get married, usually still in their teens.

Vangie waited till she turned 20 to get married. “That’s already considered very old in our culture,” she recalls. She was half-way through high school then, and now she dreams of school again and getting a diploma.

She lets out a big laugh, saying, “Can you imagine me? I’ll be my eldest child’s classmate!”

RESONANCES AND MEMORIES Vangie’s zeal brings my mind back to schoolgirls Maricel and Cheska Montenegro, both aged 10. The cousins missed classes to join the protest rally against the logging corporation that fell trees on another Mamanwa ancestral forest.

It was drizzling but the people stood their ground. Shivering in the slight rain, Cheska was clutching her pencils. I asked her why she wasn’t in class and she answered, “Because I want to be a teacher. If we keep our forests, my father can gather firewood and wild honey and he will have enough money to send me to school.”

The phrase, ‘girls-as-the-genuine-gold’, reverberates too, flashing back memories of my aunt, Tia Yaying. In a circa 1952 photograph, Tia the teacher sits among her clutch of 48 pupils, posing before the bamboo school hut in a village as remote as Vangie’s own.

I imagine the long hours she spent daily, walking on a forest trail to reach the school house. She was my grandparents’ golden egg that has hatched: sending to college her three siblings, including my own mother, as she taught hundreds of children in far villages.

VIABLE (RE)SOLUTIONS Vangie sees her redemption from danger in resolving the conflict within her clan. I tell her to wager her hopes on a peace pact stipulating that the clan invest their windfall on the next generation.

They can create alternative, safe, girl-friendly virtual classrooms. A community-managed digital or internet radio can be its hub, exploring the Mamanwa’s orality, their affinity to the Spoken Word. They can hold classes-on-air and online, linked by computers and mobile phones.

Beyond functional literacy, I suggest further a girl-oriented education, one that brings about authentic empowerment. They can build a web-based Women’s School of Living Traditions, nurturing their own heritage of songs, rituals, epics, crafts, games, genealogy; preserving in their mother tongue the names and uses of forest trees, medicinal herbs, wild animals. Online, they can discuss about rights, family planning and domestic violence. They can harness the interactive technology to network with other women Indigenous Peoples worldwide.

But I have to concede that it will take more than just the Mamanwa villagers alone to educate their children. It will take a glocal community – a confluence of government agencies, churches, NGOs and foundations working together with them. It will need dedicated teachers like Tia Yaying who would dare teach in isolated villages. It will take highly motivated children like the Montenegro cousins. Certainly, it will require a resident champion like Vangie Bago-Porogoy to shine the golden lantern of learning within the heartland of her own people’s imagination.

Girls Transform the World 2013

Comments 30

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Khaiwana
Apr 22, 2013
Apr 22, 2013

Wow, I felt as if I was reading a cnn article, I felt the action and the sincerity.

Keep up the good work!

libudsuroy
Apr 22, 2013
Apr 22, 2013

Hi, khaiwana,thank you so much for your comment. Yes, I am a reporter and I am shifting to become a citizen journalist. I hope you gain something from my work. I am also learning much from you, especially the positive attitude. Thank you again!

libudsuroy
Apr 22, 2013
Apr 22, 2013

Hi, Taha, Thank you so much for dropping by. Would you believe me when I say that a few months ago I thought I would never be able to write again?

libudsuroy
Apr 23, 2013
Apr 23, 2013

More than a writer's block. I broke down.

libudsuroy
Apr 24, 2013
Apr 24, 2013

Have you read my second essay-assignment? I mentioned it there. I think it was my engagement with the world -- being in a perpetual conflict zone, and doing journalism and a genetic predisposition to depression. I am picking the pieces of my life now. This World Pulse opportunity is like psychotherapy -- it has allowed me to examine my inner life in the past ten years. I am sure it is doing some magic to you, too. It has made you stare the inner conflicts in the eye as well as social tensions that influence or impinges upon your vision of the world. Thank you so much, Tara, for asking.

Aminah
Apr 22, 2013
Apr 22, 2013

Nicely written and moving too.

All the best to you Aminah

libudsuroy
Apr 22, 2013
Apr 22, 2013

Thanks, Aminah!

Rebecca R
Apr 24, 2013
Apr 24, 2013

What did the clan want to use the royalty money for?

"Girls are the real gold"- That is something that I might keep quoting. Vangie is a wise woman. Thank you for telling her story, and for sharing this world with us. I am going to be digging deeper into this. I love matrilineal communities.

-Becky

libudsuroy
Apr 24, 2013
Apr 24, 2013

Hello, Becky, They wanted to divide it among themselves to buy motorcycles, watches, cellphones.

libudsuroy
May 30, 2013
May 30, 2013

According to Vangie, at the time of the interview.

libudsuroy
Apr 24, 2013
Apr 24, 2013

I have some stories about the community as I was present at some of the dialogues before Vangie got shot n broad daylight. I will try to send you the links.

Rebecca R
Apr 25, 2013
Apr 25, 2013

I look forward to reading the stories :-)

Thank you, libudsuroy

libudsuroy
May 30, 2013
May 30, 2013

Hi, Becky,

Here is the link to an early story I wrote about the conflict. http://newsinfo.inquirer.net/inquirerheadlines/regions/view/20100318-259...

Here is another in-depth story about the issues in another part of the island, where the little girl with pencils joined a rally against illegal logging. (Yes, I 'published' it in Facebook when I could not find a publisher.)

https://www.facebook.com/notes/lina-sagaral-reyes/quickie-denr-ncip-docu...
AbbyBrown
Apr 25, 2013
Apr 25, 2013

I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to read your post! It was incredibly moving and inspiring, particularly the way you were able to weave the different stories together with a powerful image -- "girls are gold." Thank you for telling such compelling stories.

Thank you for sharing. Keep posting!

Best,

Abby

libudsuroy
Apr 25, 2013
Apr 25, 2013

Thanks also for appreciating my work, Abby!

kpisinski
Apr 27, 2013
Apr 27, 2013

Great job on this piece. It is a difficult but important position to stand against the masses. Keep sharing and moving forward. Good luck!

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2013
Apr 30, 2013

Thank you for appreciating my story. Thank you too for inspiring me to move forward. :)

libudsuroy
May 01, 2013
May 01, 2013

Dear kpinski, I would also like to add, in hindsight, that it is harder to stand against the masses particularly if you are among them, with them as in the case of Ms. Vangie. Vangie's dilemma is mine, too. But what gives both of us the courage to stand our ground is largely the fact that we are able to distinguish the human beings from their preconceived ideas and the encroachment of patriarchal culture into their mindsets. The "masses" are not a homogeneous grouping, it is composed of individuals with huge capacities for change and adaptation to change. In these capacities I invest my hope for the future. Thank you very much for inciting me to think and rethink about my ideas. :)

CeXochitl
Apr 27, 2013
Apr 27, 2013

Aside from your style, which has already been discussed :), I liked that you linked not only cultural values, but also the general political and economic climate to girl's education. As you clearly demonstrated, all of them are connected, and if we are to succeed in educating the girls, it is up to all of the factors to work together. Nice work!

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2013
Apr 30, 2013

I owe you so much for reading my story and enlarging the dimensions of meaning and (re)definitions of its text. God bless your endeavors, too!

Iryna
Apr 30, 2013
Apr 30, 2013

This is very strong story, llibudsuroy! Thank you to share it, I've learned another part of life in Philippines.

A hug, Iryna

libudsuroy
Apr 30, 2013
Apr 30, 2013

You are welcome, my friend across the seas! Thank you for reading this story.

Stacey Rozen
May 01, 2013
May 01, 2013

I'm so glad I didn't miss reading this story! Now that the application process is over I'm finding time to read so many amazing posts. This touches so deeply. I also read your previous story. Your burn out was a fresh start for you dear Libudsuroy. May this be your cleansing start.

libudsuroy
May 01, 2013
May 01, 2013

Hi, Stacey, Thank you for coming by. Yes, I think my illness was a wake-up call. And a gift, a second chance to shift gear!

pamchua
May 04, 2013
May 04, 2013

Libudsuroy, beautiful story! maybe you should do a multimedia version of this story?

libudsuroy
May 04, 2013
May 04, 2013

Hi, Pam, What a great suggestion, Pam. Why don't we do the multi-media as collaborative project? It can benefit from your photography and videocraft! Soon. Probably see you in Davao then?

Anais Tuepker
May 08, 2013
May 08, 2013

This was a very vivid and wonderful post - thank you for telling the story of this community and its challenges. The image of a girl and her pencils, fighting to save the forest, will stay with me!

I am reading this with my own daughter and she liked it too. I hope your writing continues to be a joy to you, it certainly educates and inspires those who read it. best wishes from both of us,

Anais

annabeth
May 13, 2013
May 13, 2013

Hi libidsuroy,

This is a beautiful and encouraging story. Saving the funds for the education and wellbeing of the next generation is one way to ensure continuity and development of your own people. Investing in your girls' education is indeed important. All over the world we find that it is the women that are primarily responsible for community building. We women are so well versed in the care economy that we know intuitively that caring for our families is the only way that we can live in prosperity and harmony. However, I wonder about the boys. I hope that you encourage your boys as much as you encourage your girls. When you have girls outpacing boys in development the foundation of family, of community, of society remains unstable. In Jamaica, gender disparities in our educational system favour girls (regardless of the gender inequities favoring men evident in other parts of the society) and this creates havoc in different ways. For example, boys who drop out of school end up begging on the road or wiping car windows at stop lights or join gangs.

Don't get me wrong, this is a powerful story, a wonderful and necessary cause. I just hope that this cause keeps in mind that the needs of young boys are just as important.

Anna

libudsuroy
May 13, 2013
May 13, 2013

Hi, Anna, Thank you for your thoughts. No, I do not mind your comments. It makes so much sense to me. Your ideas have enriched and widened my perspectives on the issue. The story can stand a re-write to include Vangie's own thoughts about boys and men, including her own.

Ma. Guzman-Callano
Aug 14, 2013
Aug 14, 2013

Lina, I am a Filipino also but I was unaware that your tribe existed and that you are oppressed by the capitalists who want to obliterate your people up until I read your article. I am humbled and enlightened. Your story should reach the Office of the President of the Philippine Republic. President Pinoy might be uninformed too.

I salute your courage to speak the truth. Press on! Do not be ashamed to tell the world about your torment and fears. Tell more!

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