Last Thursday, several of my colleagues and I went to Camp Explore in Brgy. Calawis, Antipolo City. It was part of our school’s formation session for faculty with the idea of helping us reconnect with nature and interacting with Dumagats living in that area of Rizal. We were supposed to go back to town and spend the afternoon of Thursday through Saturday on formation sessions about cosmogenesis and interconnectedness. Once we were there, however, the formation masters decided to just stay at Camp Explore until the weekend.
What started out as a planned half-day interaction with the Dumagats became a three-day getaway of sorts. There was no cellular signal in this part of Rizal, which was situated near the foothills of Sierra Madre. Many of us showed mild signs of withdrawal: sweaty palms, anxiety, and a need to climb up the higher peaks just to get good signal and maybe send even just one text home. By the afternoon though, we all settled into the relaxing tempo of the camp.
You might be wondering what all of these have to do with teaching. The tree days I spent with them gave me a perspective which is always important in the classroom.
It was a lesson on innovation: we were dazzled by how the Sierra Madre inhabitants created fire from bamboo shavings, cooking pandan-scented rice and bilukaw-soured pork sinigang in bamboo segments.
It was a glimpse of our rich history: we listened to stories of how the inhabitants used to live near the sea (dagat in Tagalog. Hence the name, dumagat, literally “people from the sea”) and how they retreated to the mountains when the “lighter ones” came.
It was about the plight of a people: how interaction with the taga-kabihasnan and education has taught them to dream, the tradeoffs being better lives and better opportunities, but loss of heritage and a unique culture slipping into oblivion.
It was about celebrating tradition and custom: we had to take off our shoes or slippers before going inside the mess hall or our cottage. Though we were provided with spoons and forks, we were welcome to use hands when eating.
It was about reconnecting with nature: we were fed sumptuous meals, always with a salad freshly-harvested from around the area. Our cottage, which was made out of wood, nipa, and bamboo – as was most of the structures there – was situated beside a flowing stream. The two nights I spent there were probably the most restful I have ever had in a very long time.
It was the resourcefulness of the Dumagats and how they live in harmony with nature that fuels their innovativeness and creativity – something that is essential for their survival. Conversing with them, listening to their struggles, and learning about their stories is very inspirational and so grounded in the interconnectedness of things that is truly inspiring for a teacher – one who strives to be creative and who tries to let students see how subjects in school relate to each other and to the world. It also was an eye-opener for most of us, listening to how people with a “better” education had driven them from these lands they once owned and called home. It challenges me as a teacher to not only teach my students knowledge of the world, but to equip them with hearts that would truly make them better stewards and advocates of the least, the last, and the lost.