Mangyan Center for Learning and Development

Philippine tribal groups build their dream school

By Madonna Virola, Asia Calling
August 11, 2007


In the Philippines, indigenous people make up just 10 percent of the population. In recent decade their unique culture and way of life has been eroded by Western influences. Their ancestral lands have been taken from them and most have been pushed into the mountains. Today, one of the groups, the Mangyans, in the Southern province of Mindoro are fighting back.

They have created their own school, where young people taught about their ancient culture and their modern rights. Philippine correspondent Madonna Virola takes us on a tour of this extraordinary school on the island of Oriental Mindoro. An animal horn signals the start of classes at the Tugdaan School. Tugdaan means seedbed. This school is where the Mang-yan people’s way of life is being protected.

Ligaya Lintawagin is the principal.
“ This school was created out of a need for a type of education that would prepare young people to develop within our culture and dreams. Young Mangyans wanted to be free from the concrete and closed walls of the schools that German priests built for them. “

The school, built on donated land, opened in 1989 with just 12 students. Today there are more than 170.

It’s a big cool garden, naturally landscaped with nature huts for classrooms and a large performance hall built in Mangyan-Alangan style.

The blue sky is the roof.

There is alaso an organic herb garden, a basketball court, a library, and a waste recycling system.

There is also a farm with chickens and pigs and a handicraft making centre.

This area doubles as a training space for the students and a way for the community to make an income.

Manyan children sing traditional songs. This is the preschool Bisloyte.

Here young children learn about their culture and also to read and write.

Graduating from Tugdaan is a dream for many young Mangyans like Lowie Mabunga.

“ I come from a poor family. My parents never went to school. The piece of mountain land which my grandparents handed down to us is threatened. Non-Mangyans who claim to be educated want our land. Here in Tugdaan, we are taught about land rights in the law and how we can keep it and make it productive.”

“We are happy here. We feel at home, we are allowed to use our traditional clothes, speak our dialect. Most of our teachers are also Manyans and the understand us better.”

Principal Ligaya Lintawagin says often Manyans are treated as second class students in state run schools.

“Living in another culture and the separation from their family and community is also traumatic for them. So here in Tugdaan, we came up with a curriculum that fits the Mangyan people.”

In 1996, Tugdaan received the Most Outstanding Literacy Program award in the Philippines by the government’s Department of Education.

One of the schools founders Benjamin Abadiano, says the school has empowered the whole community.

“Parents help run the school, through volunteer work or by giving a little money. Now even community conflicts are resolved with the help of Tugdaan. I want to see more of our graduates become role models not only for our community but for the Philippines.”

Inspired by the success of the Tugdaan school, Abadiano recently founded the first indigenous people’s college in the Philippines; the Pamulaan Centre in Davao City.