Subic Bay Freeport - In the Aeta villages of Pastolan and Kanawan in Subic Bay Freeport Zone, children are learning to merge the ways of the old and new.
Take, for instance, Francine Calubhay, who graduated valedictorian last year from Pastolan Elementary school. She went through the usual rigamarole of students all over the country - waking up at 5 a.m. to do her chores, while her mother prepared breakfast and readied her uniform. After the morning ritual, she would fix her hair, pick up her bag, and head for school.
This year, Francine is off to high school at the Olongapo City National High School.
But that doesn't mean she will stop helping her elders and community catch fish, hunt game and fowl, gather produce in the forest, and attend to filial duties. She also will not cease nor forget how to perform traditional dances and display jungle survival skills to tourists, in the way her elders taught her.
Francine is her village's pride. This year, 230 more Aeta kids might just make their families equally proud as they troop off to attend the elementary school inside the Pastolan Aeta Village found in Subic Bay Freeport. More than 20 of them will be graduating this school year and will subsequently take their secondary education at the OCNHS.
Aeta elders believe that educational advancement and development should not clash with the Aeta culture. The youth are reminded to hold on to their identity and be proud of their heritage.
Mizpah Diago, Pastolan Elementary School's first Aeta teacher, is an inspiration to Francine, who also aims to help develop the education in the village. Like her, Diago started as just a student of the village, gaining honors during her elementary years. But, just like this new batch of graduates, she had to take her secondary education in Olongapo.
Francine's and Diago's advancement would not be possible without the help from the government and Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA). The SBMA is the benefactor of all indigenous communities within the Subic Bay Freeport Zone. A part of the income generated inside the zone is allocated to the indigenous people here, as stated in the Joint Management Agreement (JMA) signed between the village captains and officials of the SBMA.
One of the SBMA's plans for Pastolan Elementary School is to add a high school department so that its graduates don't have to transfer to OCNHS.
It's already achieved that for the fishing village of Kanawan, whose school now has a high school department. Just like Pastolan, Kanawan only had an elementary school last year.
Kanawan, which had around 150 students last year, produced 17 elementary graduates.
Stereotypically cast as nomadic vendors selling knickknacks to tourists in the Subic, it looks like Aeta kids are out to change that impression.
Next time an Aeta comes up to you in Subic, take a good look - he or she may just be one of the most hardworking students in the province, and the hope of his village. (Jonas Reyes, MPD)