Philippine Standard Time:

At first glance, Maribel Rebadio, 36, a Sama-Bajau, looks without any trace of her tribe.

What she may have lost in her physical attributes, she has not lost inside her. For Maribel, what she is doing right now is borne out of her dream for her tribe to be free from poverty.

At present, Maribel has been tasked by the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) as a facilitator in Barangay Malitam in Batangas City, where other Sama-Bajau families are also residing. Maribel chose to start a family of her own in this small village away from poverty and conflict in their native land in Mindanao.

Maribel trained under the Empowering Learning Sessions for Indigenous Peoples Initiatives (ELIPI) and she was given the opportunity to apply her newly gained skills by becoming a facilitator.

ELIPI is one of the components of the DSWD Comprehensive Program for Street Children and Sama-Bajaus. It aims to build the inherent potentials and capabilities of the Sama-Bajaus by teaching them about their rights and responsibilities and capacitating them to preserve their culture and develop self-reliance. ELIPI is jointly implemented by DSWD, the local government units (LGUs), and non-government organizations (NGOs).

“Bilang facilitator ng ELIPI, nagagamit ko ang aking mga natutunan. Natututo na ako, nakakatulong pa ako sa aking mga kasamang Sama-Bajaus (As a facilitator of ELIPI, I can utilize what I have learned. As I learn, I also am able to  help my fellow Sama-Bajaus),” Maribel shared.

Maribel admitted that it is hard to introduce new concepts and values to Sama-Bajau parents. However, she learned to be patient with them.

“Halos lahat dito ay hindi nakapag-aral, kaya nilalawakan ko ang pang-unawa sa kanila at ipinapaintindi ang mga gustong iparating ng ELIPI (Almost all of us here did not go to school so I continue to be patient with them and make them understand what ELIPI wants to impart),” she said.

For Maribel,  encouraging the parents to value the education of their children is the most important teaching of ELIPI.

“Mas malayo ang mararating ng bawat Sama-Bajau kung lahat kami ay nakapag-aral. Sa kultura namin, sa edad na 14, puwede nang mag-asawa ang mga kabataan kaya hindi na nakakatapos ng pag-aaral. Natatalo ng kultura naming ito ang kahalagahan ng edukasyon (We can have better opportunities if we are able to go to school. In our culture, young people can marry at the age of 14 so they are not able to finish their studies. Our culture overshadows the importance of education),” Maribel emphasized.

“Pinapaintindi ko din sa kanila na may pagkakataon na kailangang isipin kung ang pagsunod sa kultura ay makakasama o makakabuti sa amin. Ang pag-aaral kasi ang tulay sa mas magandang buhay (I try to make them understand that there are times when they need to think if following our culture will bring good or bad result. I believe that  education is the key to a better life),” she added.

Setting the example 

As Maribel continues to share her learnings from ELIPI, she also sets the example for her fellow Sama-Bajaus by practicing what she teaches.

She makes sure to prioritize the schooling of her three children.

Maribel is thankful that her family became a beneficiary of the Modified Conditional Cash Transfer (MCCT) Program for Families in Need of Special Protection. Among the target beneficiaries of the MCCT are indigenous people like the Sama-Bajaus.

With the cash grants provided by the program, sending her children to school is no longer a big problem.

“Malaking bagay sa aming pamilya na may tumutulong sa pagsagot sa pangangailangan namin sa araw-araw lalo na ‘yung P2,800 na suporta para sa pag-aaral ng tatlo kong anak (The P2,800 cash grant from the program is a huge help for our daily needs, especially the school needs of my children),” Maribel continued.

After two years of faithfully complying with all the conditionalities of the MCCT like having a permanent home, Maribel’s family has been absorbed in the regular Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program.  This increases her children’s chance of finishing high school and getting a better employment in the future.

Like Maribel, some 611 Sama-Bajau families in their community are now also beneficiaries of the regular Pantawid Pamilya.

Her role as ELIPI facilitator extends to providing advice to her fellow Sama-Bajau beneficiaries to comply with the program conditionalities of sending their children to school, bringing them to health centers, and attending the Family Development Sessions (FDS).

Maribel shared that through the FDS, her fellow Sama-Bajau mothers have become more receptive to changes on how they perform their parental roles.

“Natutunan namin sa FDS ang tamang pag-aaruga sa aming mga anak. Marami sa amin ang madalas may problema at dahil doon, napapabayaan na namin ang mga bata. Sa FDS, natuto rin kaming magpasensya (We learned from the FDS the proper way of caring for our children. Many of us have problems, and because of these, we have neglected our children. In the FDS, we also learned how to be patient),” Maribel explained.

FDS is conducted monthly by DSWD and partners-NGOs in coordination with the private sector and civil society organizations. It serves as a venue where topics on effective parenting, husband and wife relationships, child development, laws affecting the Filipino family, gender and development, home management, active citizenship, and electoral education are discussed.

Maribel admitted that more work need to be done to achieve the desired change for her tribe.  As facilitator, she will continue to work with the government to pursue her aspiration of making a difference in her tribe, starting with her fellow Sama-Bajaus in her community.