The Shock of Culture

Name:Ronan Bennett
Location:Cebu City, Philippines.
Aiming for: Silver Award
About the Author:I am a student teacher in my final year. I enjoy working through mediums of art, literature and theatre in expressing ideas, both my own and with children in class. I look forward to using my experience in The Philippines to enrich the learning of children in my class.

The Shock of Culture

This blog entry will serve as a double update. There was more to see and understand in these two days than I could ever have expected. For the purpose of clarity, I shall split this entry in two.

Education

My experience of education within the Badjao community grows each day and as we gain increasing trust from the people each day, conversations flow freely and unrelentingly.

The youngest of children are highly intelligent. Kindergarten level of ages averaging around 3-4 are already writing numerals and representing them with concrete materials; amazingly advanced. The children in the school adore being there. They arrive every morning in a gleaming white shirt and a navy skirt or pair of shorts. They pray, they sing, they play together and finally they receive a nutritious meal of rice and beans to combat the malnutrition that can present itself within the tribe.

As well as the young children, we are engaged in adult development classes in which adults learn how to speak Tagalog, the official Filipino language, and English. The adults also learn computer skills with us to help increase their employability. Their eagerness to learn is breathtaking as is their receptiveness to instruction; they never argue or complain, they just work very hard. Their culture seeps through into every pore of school life, made most evident by Anita who regularly breastfeeds her baby during classes. Life continues through its own development; there is never a stagnant moment.

In between these two groups are the Badjao high school children who return from school every day to engage in art, drama and music workshops with us while we are here. The fact that they so willingly go from school to workshop is testament to their passion for learning.

Yesterday evening saw the beginning of the art workshops in which I both plan and teach. As Edwina, one of the teachers, told me, the high school students rarely get opportunities for self expression and creation in mainstream school so the students relished the opportunity to get creative. We explored emotion and self expression through creating fans with them decorating their fans with symbols representing their lives. This was a great success as we laughed and worked together so that everyone went home with a beautiful finished product. Where there are possibilities for enjoyment in the Badjao community, they will be availed of.

An electrifying day concluded with an electrifying night as a massive thunderstorm rolled in from afar and lit up the night sky with blues, greens and purples in flashes of brilliant white. A real treat to feel some cool, refreshing rain.

Culture

Aside from education, a deep insight into Badjao culture can be garnered through our engagement with them. At present, an upcoming Badjao wedding is what is giving us such detailed insights. We learned that the process for betrothal involves the throwing of a blanket over the head of a prospective girl who can either agree to marry the man or disagree and pay twenty thousand pesos, the equivalent of €40, a huge amount of money.

Today I got the opportunity to visit some houses and gain a deeper insight into the wedding planning. A mat woven from dyed strands of palm leaves of every colour is the most sacred gift the family give to a married couple, something that takes weeks of hard work to complete. I felt an overpowering sense of privilege being invited into their homes and being made so graciously welcome.

Following this visitation, we haunted the doorway of an elder who again made us feel welcome and at home. He has in his house a wooden box which was kept under a green cloth and surrounded by candles and incense. He agreed to let us see inside but on condition that we do not take any pictures; a fair price for us to see something so sacred.

Within the box was a selection of trinkets and paraphernalia all necessary to complete Badjao rituals when people are sick, getting married or something else requiring of its blessings. Clothes of their ancestors, a selection of various oils and a rope to ward of evil spirits are a selection of what was contained inside. To see such things was an honour and a true living experience.

Sitting here now tonight while I concoct this blog entry, I think back to my time with the tribe today and how I understand their situation. Although they face difficulties and challenges, the Badjao choose to focus on what makes them happy, to give them the strength to strive onwards. This is something we could all learn from.

There is much to be learned from the Badjao about living in the moment and taking things slow and steady. I believe it leads to greater life experiences and more laughter which undoubtedly could help us in becoming healthier and happier people.

We have as much to learn as anyone.

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