TVIRD scholars graduate


Sustainable development through education

It looks like it’s going to rain. Adela Tumaban Neri needs to put away the homemade foodstuff she sells to employees at the mining firm operating in her village. She knows her makeshift stall where she displays her merchandise would not hold if the rain does pour down. But the rain won’t dampen her spirit today nor in the coming days. After all, her third child, Jenneth, just graduated from her two-year Midwifery Course at the Jose Rizal Memorial State College (JRMSC) in Siocon town proper.

Jenneth and three other Subanons are the first batch of graduates under TVI Resource Development Phils., Inc. (TVIRD)’s College Scholarship Grant for deserving indigenous people (IP) living within the Subanon ancestral domain in Canatuan, Siocon, Zamboanga del Norte where the company operates a mine.

Jenneth Neri during the graduation ceremonies for the Midwifery course she completed under TVIRD’s Scholarship Program: “We will never forget the help the company had extended for our daughter to finish her studies even after it has ceased operating”

Adela’s face lights up whenever she talks about Jenneth’s feat. These days, she has always been filled with mixed emotions of happiness and relief.

Raising and sending their five children to school have not been easy. Adela’s husband, Elmer Sr., is a carpenter. Carpentry jobs in the highlands are scarce. He got work every now and then but only on a contractual basis in a logging concession in the nearby town of Baliguian. To be able to send their children to secondary school, Elmer Sr. drove a sikad-sikad (bicycle with sidecar) while Adela cooked for the school canteen and sold refreshments to students.

Jenneth (in white, third from right) is joined by Venus Olbida (in toga) and Maribeth Falconete (also in white, third from left), two of the other three first batch of TVIRD scholars who graduated last March; as well as by proud parents Elmer Sr. (extreme right) and Adela Neri (second from right), and Lunciana (extreme left and Carlos Falconete (second from left). Not in photo is the fourth TVIRD scholar-graduate, Daniel Dorado.

When TVIRD began operating in Canatuan, the Neris decided to go back to their ancestral domain and try their luck. Fortunately, three of their children – Elmer Jr., Juvelyn, and Jenneth – passed the screening process and entrance examination for the TVIRD Scholarship Program. Both Elmer Jr. and Juvelyn are now in their first year of the Mechanical and Civil Engineering courses they are taking, respectively, at the Western Mindanao State University in Zamboanga City. Jenneth, who became a scholar a year ahead of her siblings, took Midwifery and proudly marched on stage to get her diploma recently.

“Malipayon kaayo kami nga nakatapos gayud ang among anak nga si Jenneth pinaagi sa iskolarship nga gihatag sa TVI(RD). Kani mahimong handumanan namo bisan pa man nga wala kami makatrabaho sa kompanya. Nga bisan pa man mahuman na ang operasyon niini, dili gayud namo kalimtan ang tabang niini kanamo nga makatapos sa pag-eskwela among anak (We are very happy that our daughter Jenneth was able to finish her studies through the scholarship grant of TVIRD. We will cherish this even if we were not able to work for the company. We will never forget the help the company had extended for our daughter to finish her studies even after it has ceased operating),” Adela, eyes moist, says.

She then smiles as she relates that her sister Lunciana Falconete was also overjoyed during the pinning rites in the graduation ceremonies where the latter’s daughter, Maribeth, graduated with Jenneth, likewise from a Midwifery course. “Nakahilak gyud si manang atol sa pinning gumikan sa kalipay nga makatapos usab gayud iyang anak. Daghang gayud nga salamat sa TVI(RD) (My elder sister cried a lot during the pinning because she was overwhelmed with happiness since her daughter also graduated. Thank you very much TVIRD),” Adela said.

The other Subanon students who graduated under the TVIRD Scholarship Program this year are Venus Olbida, Associate in Computer Technology, at JRMSC; and Daniel Dorado, Automotive Mechanic, at the Sibugay Institute of Technology in Ipil town, Zamboanga Sibugay Province.

“We in TVIRD believe that education has a crucial role to play in motivating and empowering our Subanon hosts in Canatuan to participate in the sustainable development initiatives we have begun in their ancestral domain,” Feliece Yeban, TVIRD vice president for Social Commitments, explains. “The company’s scholarship programs seeks to provide poor but deserving Subanon scholars with access to education so that they will be able to help their elders in managing the development process according to their needs and perspectives and within their own cultural and traditional framework.

“These scholars will undoubtedly develop a life-long capacity to fulfill their tribe’s aspirations creatively even as they are given the opportunity to pursue a professional career to better themselves, their families, and their community. Our Subanon hosts have often expressed a positive outlook for their future, and TVIRD’s Scholarship Program is founded on their long-term view of how to improve their living conditions. It is our hope that our scholars, through the guidance of their elders, will be able to combine traditional knowledge with modern thinking for the benefit of their community.”

One of the TVIRD’s major social development programs for its host community is to provide quality education for all Subanons in the area. For nearly four years now, the company has been implementing various education programs, including the construction of a daycare center; the building of school rooms for elementary and high school students; the hiring of company teachers to complement the very few teachers assigned by the cash-strapped Department of Education (DepEd) in the area; the implementation of a Functional Literacy Training Program for Adults and Out-of-School Youths; and the holding of leadership and capacity-building training Seminars. TVIRD currently supports 28 scholars under its College Scholarship Grant.

Other TVIRD scholars flank the graduates. They are (far left) Alfredo Sienes, 3rd year Criminology; (second from left) Marcelyn Anoy, 2nd year Garments and Textile Technology; and (far right) Ernie Candawan, 3rd year Electrical Engineering: “These scholars will undoubtedly develop a life-long capacity to creatively fulfill their tribe’s aspirations even as they are given the opportunity to pursue a professional career to better themselves, their families, and their community.”

For most young Subanons in the hinterlands of Siocon, education is difficult, owing to a vicious cycle of poverty that had been exacerbated by inaccessibility to other basic services such as livelihood, health and sanitation, as well as infrastructure. Through its education promotion projects such as the Scholarship Program, TVIRD hopes to help curb poverty and, with the assistance of other sectors of Philippine society, to be able to bring sustainable development to Subanons who have been aspiring for it for generations. The first graduates among TVIRD scholars prove that hope springs eternal. (Rene Patangan)