Building hope behind mountains

30 Jun 2016
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MAASIM, Sarangani (June 30, 2016) - Retreating in the mountains is a breath of fresh air for a person who is raised in the flamboyant and polluted city. But for indigenous Tboli people settling in the deep mountains of Sitio Datal Hofo, the reality is ugly and agonizing.

Tribe leader Luna Dunim, teary-eyed, shared the sorrow of his people.

“We feel that we are left behind. We were born very poor and others have died hopeless,” said Dunim. “War destroyed our school.”

Sitio Datal Hofo, a far flung place in Barangay Nomoh, was once a hub of war between rebels and government troops which destroyed everything including the sitio’s edifice of education.

“We want to participate in the world and let them hear our voices,” Dunim added.

It barely took 15 minutes for our team to reach the sitio via helicopter, but it usually takes 8 to 12 hours, sometimes an entire day, to reach the place by walking. The road is very spiteful that riding a horse is the only means of transportation.

There erected the only concrete building in the place, the P680,000-worth community peace center donated by the provincial government thru Kalinaw program of Sulong Kapayapaan, in partnership with the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP)-PAMANA, 1002nd Brigade of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), and municipal and barangay councils.

Sitio Datal Hofo is home to 46 Tboli families. Since its construction in 2014, the peace center has had become a school for Tboli kids from kindergarten to Grade 4.

“They really need education. They need the school.” said project manager Jennifer Kamid of Sulong Kapayapaan. “The provincial government sees their hardships.”

From being a combat area before, now, it is one of the province’s peace and development communities. The sitio is under the sentinel of Sulong Kapayapaan, a component of Sulong Sarangani Program of Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon which promotes sustenance of peace and development in conflict-vulnerable communities, with the partnership of the AFP.

Ludin Logan IP Primary School, named after the land donor, has only two teachers who stay in the sitio for weekdays and go back home every weekend. Despite the hardship in transportation and lack of school supplies, the two educators find joy in teaching their 123 pupils.

However, kids coming from neighboring places like Kanaan suffer for 3 to 4 kilometer walk or more to and from school every day. They have to cross rivers and climb hills with their filthy bags and most of the time, empty stomach.

“Transportation is just one of the many challenges we face,” said Barangay Captain Luna Tabalao.

The remoteness of Sitio Datal Hofo creates many problems for the villagers as it limits access to necessary services, like health and education and access to a potable water system.

“The two-room school lacks books and chairs. The students have no pens and paper, and some do not even have footwear for protection. But other than those, we direly need a comfort room and a potable water system,” said Cedelia Mozo, the former principal of Nomoh Integrated School.

Some have to hide behind a big boulder just to pee and others have to dig a hole on the ground to defecate.

“What we really need is farm-to-market roads,” said tribal chieftain Dunim.

Farm-to-market roads (FMRs) are quality roads or highways that connect rural or agricultural areas to market towns. FMRs improve the mobility of people, goods, and services.

“Help coming from the provincial and national levels will prospectively come,” Dunim added.

Juniel Ranieses, project coordinator of PAMANA Project of the OPAPP, expressed his awe and pity for the villagers during the turn-over ceremony.

PAMANA or Payapa at Masaganang Pamayanan, is a nationwide converged peace-building project of the OPAPP that extends development interventions to conflict-affected communities, isolated and hard-to-reach areas covered by existing peace agreements.

“I have seen how difficult your situation is. I will do my best to further help you,” Ranieses promised.

Ludin Logan IP Primary School is a testament that the government extends its shoulders to far flung villages.

“I am thankful for the leadership of Governor Steve Chiongbian Solon for his initiative of putting up a school for us. But we need more and I believe there is more coming,” said barangay councilor Dioscora Martin.

Sitio Datal Hofo is just one of the many far flung villages in the country that needs relief. There is still a lot to be done. But like this Tboli community down South, there is hope behind its mountains. (Cherry Marie Irish D. Cruz/SARANGANI INFORMATION OFFICE)

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