More than the ABCs and 123s
By Nilo A. Yacat
UNICEF supports a literacy program for indigenous women known all over the world for their colorful and intricate weaves.
On that day, however, the sky was unusually radiant. Hiding behind the mountains, the gray clouds seemed to bide their time. In this remote village of Gasi, nobody was as thankful for the genial weather as the 18 Tiboli women who gathered at the center of the basketball court. Seated on wooden benches, they waited anxiously for the special ceremony to start. Garbed in the traditional Tiboli dress called nedem, they sat there, exchanging cursory glances at each other. Everyone wished that the rain clouds would not ruin their afternoon.
It was, after all, their graduation day. At the signal of their mentor Alicia, the women silently stood up, walked to the stage, and arranged themselves in files. They broke into a Christian song to open the program with a thanksgiving. They then enjoined the visitors and the other residents of Gasi to sing the national anthem.
At first, tentative and bashful with their expressions, the Tiboli women soon warmed up to the celebration. They cheered each other especially during the awarding of citations. Zorayda Sugan, 35, one of the graduates, is one of them.
She is now five months pregnant with her seventh child. But this has not slowed her down in the past six months.
When Zorayda joined the FFL (Female Functional Literacy) class, she had one thing in mind. She wanted to learn how to read, write, and count. But she got more than what she wanted. She learned of proper health care for herself and her family. She also gained a priceless gift that she calls self-respect.
"May tiwala na ako sa akong sarili (I now believe in myself)," Zorayda said.
The FFL project has been one of the successful models of literacy-building in the Philippines. Initiated in 1995 as a component of the Fourth Country Programme for Children (CPC IV), the FFL project today is an integrated literacy package that equips participants with functional literacy and numeracy skills and good health practices.
Zorayda cherished most succinctly the national election day in May 2001. Along with other mothers, she went to the local polling section to exercise one important right. This time she owned her decision.
From their own sweat and toil
In the nearby coastal village of Sinalang in the town of Maasim, another group of women was holding an FFL class. They too expressed a sense of ownership in successfully organizing themselves. Sinalang is mostly inhabited by Muslims. Families thrive on marginal fishing, a task dutifully performed by the men of the village.
Left to take care of the household, the Sinalang women relied only on themselves to set up the FFL class. Literacy teacher Hadji Norma Sappayani, 43 years old, commended her students whose ages ranged from 18 to 55.
"They were the ones who built this classroom," said Norma. Buhiana Manggona, 28 years old and mother of six, recounted that they even had to ask for coconut logs from nearby villages. "One time, we even had to carry a piece of log for two kilometers," she said.
With minimal support from the men in the village, these mothers built the structure all by themselves.
In this classroom, Buhiana and her classmates have learned to write their own names. They have learned to perform simple arithmetic operations. They shared tips in treating their children's illnesses like diarrhea.
"We still have a lot to learn," said Jumdiy Nuksan, the oldest mother at age 55.
In many FFL classrooms in the Philippines, women are not only learning the ABCs and 123s. They are also learning to respect themselves.
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Children First Newsletter (Q4 2009 Issue)
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